BBC to launch iTunes-like download to own service

Joseph O'Halloran ©RapidTVNews | 15-03-2012

Rebuffing recent criticism of the BBC’s lack of commercial ambition, Director General Mark Thompson has revealed that the corporation is to launch an iTunes-like service allowing users to pay for content that they can keep and own just after transmission.
In a far reaching speech to the Royal Television Society, Thompson set out a radical agenda for the BBC’s digital services building on the undoubted success that is the iPlayer. He predicted that 2012 would be a milestone year for the corporation, as it would represent the year when “so many” of its ambitions came together, showing what the BBC stands for and what its priorities should be.

Connected digital technologies were cited as transforming the way the BBC serves audiences, redefining what is meant by the term ‘broadcasting’ and Thompson promised breakthroughs in all these areas and what he called “connectedness” in general.
Crucially for the BBC, and answering the many critics who have accused the BBC of being complacent in exploiting its commercial assets, Thompson clearly set out a business roadmap for the corporation based on its digital assets, principally the iPlayer through Project Barcelona,.

The Project, which will be submitted to the BB Trust later in 2012, will look to monetise digital content outside of the seven-day window that the iPlayer covers. The principle is that, for as much of its content as possible, in addition to the existing BBC iPlayer window, another download-to-own window would open soon after transmission.
Explained the rationale behind the move Thompson said: “BBC iPlayer is the most successful and most intensively used catch-up service in the world but it’s true that, after that seven day public service window, a large proportion of what the BBC makes and broadcast is never seen or heard of again. On TV, despite all of our existing forms of public service archival and commercial windowing, the overwhelming majority of what the BBC commissions and broadcasts become unavailable when that iPlayer window expires.”
Alluding to the fact that introducing such and iTunes-like service would need the buy in of a number of rather important stakeholders, each of whom may have vested interests of their own, Thompson added: “If Barcelona gains the support of the UK’s producers and, of course, the approval of the BBC Trust, it potentially adds an important new source of revenue for producers and rights holders – and represents a potential new way of supporting UK production. It could also mark an important step in broadcast’s journey from being a transitory medium into a growing body of outstanding and valuable content which is always available to enjoy and which persists forever. Our ambition would ultimately be to let our audiences have access to all of our programmes on this basis and, over time, to load more and more of our archive into the window.”
Thompson assured that Project Barcelona would not represent a “second licence-fee by stealth” or herald reduction in the current public service offering from the BBC. He also revealed that the expectation would be that all content would also be made available for other existing providers to sell if they wish and that producers could exploit this download-to-own window in any way they wanted. The key issue though would be that commercial window would be open-ended with programmes available permanently.
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