Doctor Who and Fawlty Towers will be made available to Europeans armed with an iPad from later this year, as the BBC begins the process of introducing its international iPlayer to overseas audiences.
Diehard BBC fans living in western Europe will have to pay somewhere under $10 (£6) a month – the fee is still to be decided – in return for a mix of contemporary and archive content on the Apple (NSDQ: AAPL) tablet, all of which will be in English.
Jana Bennett – the former BBC Vision director now working at the corporation’s commercial arm, BBC Worldwide, as its president of worldwide networks and global iPlayer – will tell the Banff World Television Festival on Tuesday that the international version of the online video player will be “a different proposition” from its British equivalent, which showcases recent catch-up content only.
She will add that “the freedom from catchup means that we’ve got a lot more flexibility in terms of what we put on there and how we present it”, with the BBC aiming to put together collections of programmes covering genres such as music, comedy, documentaries and natural history. As a result some familiar programmes which do not fit into this theme, such as EastEnders, are unlikely to be available.
A cautious BBC plans to move slowly with its global subscription experiment, a funding model that some rightwing critics of the corporation have long argued in the UK could be the basis of an alternative funding model to the compulsory £145.50-a-year licence fee. Even Mark Thompson, the BBC director general, has privately wondered how much a voluntary licence fee paid by foreign viewers could raise.
However, no date has been set for a US launch. Bennett will also say that the western European initiative, which could be available to overseas users from late summer, will be “very much a pilot” rolled out “in a careful and measured way”.
At some point, the international iPlayer will also become available on other devices and via the open internet, as it is domestically, where viewing can be conducted through the PlayStation3 games console as well as online.
Bennett spent eight years as the director of BBC Vision division, responsible for TV production and broadcasting, before stepping aside in December of last year. As well as pushing out the iPlayer globally, she is aiming to launch more BBC channels overseas – mirroring the model pioneered by the likes of Viacom’s MTV over the past 20 years.
At the same time, she is involved in commissioning BBC programming with an international appeal to fill the international channels’ schedules. Plans are already being made to provide coverage of the Queen’s diamond jubilee celebrations next year to an international audience, following the BBC’s live feed of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s wedding earlier this year.
This article originally appeared in MediaGuardian.