Blog Post

BBC Planning Pay-For Global iPlayer; $10 For Doctor Who?

BBC Worldwide, the corporation’s commercial wing, 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. The BBC must walk a fine line between serving its domestic license fee payers and commercialisation, through which BBCWW hands profit back to the UK for public service investment.

Is this the fabled “global iPlayer”, the VOD platform that has taken Britain by storm and almost single-handsedly popularised mass time-shifting? “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.” BBCWW already syndicated pay-for video to channels like iTunes and YouTube (it pulled £10 million in sales from such arrangements in 2008/09) – but iTunes puts a ceiling on prices and BBCWW believes it can charge more.

More at our sister site paidContent:UK

14 Responses to “BBC Planning Pay-For Global iPlayer; $10 For Doctor Who?”

  1. I'm an American Doctor Who fan. I would gladly pay a flat monthly fee to be allowed access to iPlayer content, so long as it's available to me at the same time it's available to people in the UK. It's only fair that I should cough up some money for it, seeing as I don't pay a BBC licence fee as do UK residents.

    The per-episode idea sounds like a mistake, frankly, whether it's $2 or $10. Make it a flat fee – that'll encourage people to explore other BBC content as well.

  2. I was excited when I first heard about BBC America, but then I discovered it is very nearly worthless. Only a slim selection of the most US-friendly content (repeated multiple times), complete with adverts cutting up the programs.

    An online time-shifting version of the same pre-packaged-for-US-customers content is not something I would get excited about (nor would I pay for it).

    What I want is access to BBC content as broadcast in the UK. I want to see BBC Four documentaries, new comedy like "In the Thick of It," and quizzes like "Never Mind the Buzzcocks." Even great news institutions like "Question Time" would be welcome. I would even pay the same amount as a license fee. In fact, I would buy a TV license right now if I could get one for a US address; as long as there was access to all these shows.

    I suppose we should thank our lucky stars that we do have complete access to Radio 4 and the other radio stations, but what is really needed is access to the TV channels as well. That would be something worth paying a premium for.

  3. RE: $10 an episode — typical British audacity (need I mention Tesco?!). They fail to truly understand the US market and go in expecting to blow away the competition. I would love it if they brought the iplayer over with reasonably priced monthly/seasonal subscriptions, but inevitably they will try to charge more than $2 an episode and watch as their service fails… classic.

  4. I'm willing to pay right now. I will sign up in a heartbeat if they offer a pay per year or per month service. But if they start charging per episode, I will go back to torrents.

  5. tom clarke

    I think that charging $10 an episode is too much, but I'd imagine they meant $10 for the full 5-episode run of Children of Earth (I mean, otherwise that would be $50 total, which for something you can pick up on DVD for $16.49 is just utter madness). But for $10, that would be an extraordinarily good deal. Trust me.

    But saying $10 a month is sustainable for supporting TV shows is probably equally mad though. I mean, that's less than one DVD sale of one season of one series. There's no way they'll lowball like that for absolutely no benefit. Claiming "well, if they lower the price enough, I'll deign to use their service" is horses**t. What are they going to do, make it cheaper than the free torrent? Maybe pay you to use their content. It's the only solution to stop you using their stuff and refusing to help with their production costs, clearly. I mean, it's not like what you're doing is illegal *and* contributing to the decline of niche products.
    For more on this topic: http://www.leasticoulddo.com/comic/20090925

    I'm guessing they'd match iTunes' pricing, and start taking their niche/genre content away from iTunes. That'd be the most sensible solution. Especially if they could get it supported by XBox, PS3 or Pay-Per-View cable.

  6. kathleen

    I would be happy to pay for shows that aren't on itunes but not ten bucks a show. I would happily pay a monthly fee or even up to $5 an episode . Anything more than that is pushing it.
    It would make purchases a rarity . If it was cheaper I would be more inclined to buy multiple times. Also I have more than just an interest in scifi. Doctor Who is lovely but I would want access to lots of different shows.

  7. samarkand

    I really hope that $10/episode business was hyperbole. Execs need to get their head out of the sand about how easily available free downloads are and try to come up with a fee service that acknowledges that fact. I'd pay a flat fee (or watch adverts) for easy-to-access streaming content (heck, I do, with Netflix and Hulu), but I'm not paying $10 per episode of anything when I can spend 15 minutes on the internet and download it for free. There's no way to compete with that on price, the only way to compete is by providing an easier, faster and better way to access content I'm actually interested in seeing.

  8. Christian

    $10 an episode is extortionate. That's twice what the DVD sets cost! That said, I'd happily pay a monthly fee of $10 or $15 to take advantage of the BBC iPlayer overseas, or to have access to things like Welsh language programming on S43, which I currently can't because I live in the United States.

  9. davidwr

    $10 an episode? Only if they ship me the DVD in a gold-plated, signed and numbered limited-edition case.

    Matinee movies are still under $6 in most cities, so for a 2-part Dr. Who episode I'll probably max out in the $2-$3 range. Honestly though, I'll probably say "forget it, let's see what else is available for less."

    If you want to make some real money, remaster the classic episodes and sell them in multiple pricing tiers: Plane-jane reruns for maybe $1/hr, and the same material with behind-the-scenes/director's-cut/DVD-extra material for twice as much. Also offer up a "charity" package which tacks on 50% over and above the DVD-extra cost, with the difference going straight to a reputable charity. The latter won't make you any extra money but it will earn you valuable buzz.

  10. i'd pay 10 dollars a month for the service to watch those shows bbc doesn't show here in america. liked "spaced" and "hyperdrive". 10 bucks a show is why there are several dead media sites.

  11. christer

    BBC America comes with my cable. If iTunes charges $2.99, for an ep I missed, why on EARTH would I go to BBC iPlayer?

    iPlayer runs a distant third right out of the gate. They need to start where iTunes is and then add value before they ever think of jacking the price. Sheesh.

  12. Simon Spoon

    “Millions of people love Torchwood and would probably pay 10 bucks an episode rather than two bucks.”
    This sort of thinking will strangle any global iPlayer venture at birth. People might pay $2 for Torchwood, charge $10 and it's "Bye bye BBC,Hello Rapidshare…"