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Interview: BBC Online Controller Anthony Rose On iPlayer Sharing

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The online controller of the BBC’s Future Media & Technology department Anthony Rose rejects James Murdoch’s attack on the corporation, arguing that sharing its iPlayer technology will help rival broadcasters monetise online video content.

Speaking at the launch of the MediaGuardian Innovation Awards 2010, at which Rose won Innovator of the Year for 2009, he said Murdoch was “completely wrong” to accuse the Beeb of stifling market innovation and defended its record of investing in web projects commercially-funded companies wouldn’t touch.

Rose continued his frank comments — and his pitch — in an interview with paidContent:UK, setting out why broadcasters should join the open iPlayer scheme as well as rating the chances of new VOD players from the likes of Arqiva and Hulu and explaining the theory behind encouraging users to share iPlayer content rather than rely on EPG schedules.

Open iPlayer’s value to PSBs: “For a broadcaster you either have to invest heavily in your own site or look to a world where you’re giving away your content and you’re getting revenue for content (through syndication),” Rose told me. “I think open iPlayer offers a way through what I see as an impasse: it fits within their website, it’s their content, it’s their monetisation. We’re not seeking to lock anyone into it, it’s an offer for them to use it.” It’s almost a year since the Beeb announced plans to share the iPlayer, no broadcasters have so far taken the bait — so like FM&T director Erik Huggers, Rose is keen to highlight the benefits.

Multiplatform offer Rose champions the fact that the iPlayer is available on numerous platforms, including the Sony (NYSE: SNE) PS3, Nintendo Wii, Nokia (NYSE: NOK) N96 phones and Apple’s iPhone. And as a key part of the sales pitch, he points out that this portability — as well technical specs like user broadband speed detection — is on the table for prospective partners. But that’s not to say everyone will want to take their content to the PS3, however: “Some might say we only want a PC platform because they can’t monetise the other platforms, but it’s all on offer, absolutely. You might say there is a robust ad model on the web, but that’s yet to emerge on mobile. But others might say, ‘hey it’s an emerging market and we can use it’.”

VOD competition: The UK web TV market will become somewhat more crowded in the coming months as Arqiva launches its part-paid catch-up aggregation service and US VOD player Hulu eyes a UK launch. But Rose is relaxed about new entrants and says it won’t be easy for them: “Ultimately it comes down to content rights: so long as much of the demand is driven by linear, other entrants will have a challenge getting market share”. He adds that commercial VOD players will be welcome to add their content to the Project Canvas IPTV platform when it launches in time for Christmas 2010.

Social viewing: One of Rose’s long-standing aims is to bring more social, content sharing features to the iPlayer and BBC online content generally. No concrete announcements on that, but in a Q&A session at the event he explained the philosophy behind the move: “Demand is created by the scheduler and with iPlayer today the demand is generated by linear… But, as linear ceases to be the driver, we’re hoping to build a base of loyal users so we stay relevant in the age of unlimited supply.”