BBC’s iPlayer goes Global, embraces the iPad

After endless development and lobbying from fans around the world, the BBC has finally opened up an international version of the iPlayer — its smash hit video-on-demand service.

It isn’t exactly the same as the British version of the iPlayer — for a start, it’s an app that only works on the iPad — but it’s being put forward as a pilot program that will expand its reach over time. As of today, users in eleven European countries will be able to download the iPlayer app and pay for access to a library of popular shows. Notable territories on this first launch are Germany, France, Italy and Spain, but the corporation hopes to roll out soon in America and elsewhere.

The app is priced roughly in line with other video subscription services, at €6.99 ($9.96) each month or €49.99 ($71.25) for a year. For their money, buyers get access to a range of BBC programming… and although it isn’t all of the business’s domestic output, the corporation boasts that it has more than 1,500 hours of programming available, from classics such as Fawlty Towers to modern hits like Sherlock and Top Gear. It also syndicates some shows from other British broadcasters, just as it does with TV stations such as BBC America (science fiction series Primeval and Misfits, for example).

Oh, yes — and, of course, there’s always Doctor Who. How could we ever forget him?

Global BBC iPlayer for iPad

Shows can be streamed over a Wi-Fi network, but interestingly they are also viewable offline and over a 3G connection. That’s something they believe is really important to making more than just an alternative to other ways of viewing. It’s also an advance on the current British version of the iPlayer, which currently only really does streaming to devices, so local users may start agitating for the offline features.

Executives are keen to stress that this is just the first part of their plan to roll out the app globally, a move which will include regionalizing the player — showcasing different lineups of shows for different countries, depending on their tastes — and potentially expanding it to other platforms too.

More broadly, though, it’s also the latest sign of the increasing globalization of cord-cutting online video services. Just as the BBC has its plans to stretch beyond Britain, Netflix is expanding from North America into Europe. It’s starting in Spain as a way of circling around local competitor Lovefilm, which was bought by Amazon earlier this year, but Britain will come soon afterward. It looks like the pieces are all falling into place for an epic tussle.