Summary:

BBC Worldwide is planning to launch a pay-for video-on-demand portal, a range of new paid mobile apps and a series of ecommerce partnerships…

Doctor Who
photo: BBC

BBC Worldwide is planning to launch a pay-for video-on-demand portal, a range of new paid mobile apps and a series of ecommerce partnerships overseas, after enduring a “nightmare” year in the depressed international advertising economy.

Similar to iPlayer in the UK, the VOD platform has been under development for six months and would offer…
1) catchup for the BBC’s international channels like BBC America,
2) “premium catalogue material” like Doctor Who, Torchwood and Top Gear and
3) material from the BBC’s deep archives, BBC.com MD and EVP Luke Bradley-Jones revealed to paidContent:UK.
The focus will be on America, where 20 million of BBC.com’s 50 million users are.

It’s inevitable that we, the digital media business, need to move to a mix of paid services,” he said. “There just aren’t enough ad dollars to support traditional media models. Consumers will pay for services they truly value… we can exploit many more monetisable opportunities, including in the paid space.”

The proposal will require BBC Trust approval. BBCWW will be making its intentions clear to the trust in the next few weeks but a formal submission will not yet be compiled…

Charging overseas video: Is this the fabled “global iPlayer”? “We would certainly like to use the brand,” Bradley-Jones said; though the service would be allied with overseas channels and wouldn’t carry domestic UK shows. But it would carry non-BBC shows from the likes of Channel 4, for which BBCWW already has rights to air on BBC America.

Sci-fi BBC shows, which already have a large international fan base, will be at the centre of the platform: “Millions of people love Torchwood and would probably pay 10 bucks an episode rather than two bucks,” Bradley-Jones said, alluding to iTunes, one of the channels through which BBCWW already sells pay-for VOD. BBCWW pulled £10 million in sales from such channels in 2008/09, but iTunes puts a ceiling on prices and BBCWW believes it could charge more.

“It’s possible to offer some videos on ad-funded basis, but it doesn’t make sense from economic or rights point of view. You need real scale to deliver ad-funded content – Hulu’s not there yet. BBC America can’t put its shows online for free (for rights reasons), but can on a paid basis.”

Mobile: BBC Worldwide will launch “BBC News and Sport apps on several platforms in the next few months”, Bradley-Jones said. “It’s very unlikely we’ll move to a charge basis for our generalist news services”. — but audience-specific apps will come at a price, for example, “if you’re creating a specialist soccer app for Asia-Pacific”.

“We see a much higher willingness to pay for content (on mobile)… We’re going to test a couple of pricepoints … it’s likely to be in the region of the CNN.com app” ($2).

The public-service UK BBC has so far been unable to join the apps bandwagon due to disagreements on terms with app store vendors. But: “We have slightly more freedom internationally because we don’t have the same market impact issues (as in the UK)”, Bradley-Jones said. BBCWW already has a commercial iPhone live TV app for the BBC World News TV channel, built by Livestation.

Affiliate ecommerce: BBC.com will also begin sending links to retail partners in the financial and travel services sectors, for example. “It’s what a lot of sites in the UK already do, develop deeper ecommerce relationships with key partners,” Bradely-Jones said. But the BBC, with its public funding model, must walk a fine line between editorial integrity and recommending commercial products. Bradley-Jones said the affiliate drive will be “conservative”: “It’s not about putting it in your core services. In time, we’ll create additional sections that lend themselves to affiliate services.”

Why is BBCWW adding paid services… ?

It began advertising to non-UK users through BBC.com in November 2007 – a method from which it had made £11.7 million by March 2009, according to figures disclosed in annual reports, making up a third of all BBCWW

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