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BBC Plans iTunes Competitor With Download Fees For New And Old Shows

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The BBC is developing a radical scheme under which UK viewers would pay to download new and old BBC TV shows from a service it hopes will compete with iTunes.

paidContent has learned the BBC executive wants to make all its shows available as download-to-own (DTO) at prices including £1.89 per show, under a scheme called Project Barcelona.

It has been negotiating for rights with independent producers that make some of the shows. They support the aims of the scheme, believing it could represent a new revenue opportunity and a defence against piracy.

But the producers, through their umbrella organisation Pact, have so far declined to give their outright blessing, citing uncertainty over revenue share, exclusivity and the potential for cannibalising DVD sales. They have asked for more detailed assurances.

The project, which has not been announced, could be one of the most radical in the BBC’s 85-year history. UK viewers already pay an £145.50 annual license fee under the BBC’s Royal Charter.

Currently, new TV and radio shows are available to watch or listen to again via the multi-platform iPlayer service for up to 30 days after transmission. After that period, rights are passed to the commercial outfit BBC Worldwide or back to shows’ original producers, who each license them to commercial services including iTunes Store and Blinkbox for paid consumer access.

But the BBC is upset that only seven percent of its archive repertoire is available through third parties in this way. So it wants to make the remaining 93 percent available through an own-brand service. The most notable departure is that even new shows from the public service window, not just old classics, would be available for paid download immediately after transmission. A previous news report had said the scheme would leverage only archive.

The BBC is promising producers a greater share of episode download prices than iTunes Store – an average £0.40 on a £1.89 episode fee compared with £0.28 from iTunes, which takes a 30 percent commission. The corporation would handle operational costs like encoding on producers’ behalf. It thinks it can unlock at least £13 million in revenue in the next five years for independent producers.

According to information seen by paidContent, the project is “about making what is effectively seen as non-commercial programming available to the market at a price and ease of use that will encourage consumers to purchase programmes that the commercial market would not make available due to the poor returns and risk involved”.

Some indies do not want to give exclusive rights to Barcelona. The BBC has promised producers can also go on licensing their own shows elsewhere – for example, to iTunes.

Even if the BBC wins suppliers’ eventual full backing, its executive must still put the scheme forward for the approval of the regulating BBC Trust, which, upon public consultation, would likely hear opposition to any plans to charge a secondary fee for publicly-funded BBC content.

If approved, Barcelona could lay groundwork for a pay-for BBC in a post-analogue, post-linear world. But, so far, it concerns only the download-to-own market – a model that may yet diminish as streaming alternatives, which provide cloud-based access but not ownership, grow in popularity.

After previously capping the BBC license fee, the UK government recently urged the BBC to generate more money for itself.

The BBC later told paidContent: “In addition to BBC iPlayer, the BBC already makes some of its content available on a download-to-own (DTO) basis.

“Any proposal to extend this facility would require not just the support of the industry but formal approval by the BBC executive and the BBC Trust.”

18 Responses to “BBC Plans iTunes Competitor With Download Fees For New And Old Shows”

  1. Shaun Green

    Why don’t the independent producers simply add the other 93% of their content to iTunes. I don’t understand why they are still holding out. I stopped buying DVDs a while ago and moved across to iTunes downloads instead. They are simply losing sales by not putting their content on iTunes. They are also losing money as I know a lot of people simply download the content for free if they can’t find what they want on iTunes or they buy the DVD rip it into iTunes and then pass it round all their friends to do the same. By all means continue to sell DVDs but their is no reason that I can see for not also selling it through iTunes. Having said all that I would be happy to buy the content through a BBC alternative to iTunes if that’s the only way to persuade the producers to put their content online.

  2. S Moffitt

    The BBC in the UK is constrained through its charter and ethos from being too closely associated with any commercial entity. This is, I suspect, one of the factors behind their decision to not put all their programmes on iTunes, or Google.

    • Not sure I get that. So the BBC broadcast the program over the air, you saw it or missed it as a license payer. Now its sitting on a shelf in a library, probably costing them storage space and a/c etc. and you want them to digitize it and pay for bandwidth to broadcast it again to you for free? 

      Doesn’t sound like much of plan except to go bust, or get a bigger license fee. Using the Internet costs money, its not free. Storing, converting, encoding, transmitting costs money… where would that come from or should the BBC just put all its content on YouTube? Wait thats not free either beyond a few home videos…

      • digispyeu

        No, the British population who wish to watch ANY live television feeds has to pay for the BBC first. This means they own the BBC and its programming and yet the BBC now want to charge them again.

        They currently receive £3.6 BILLION ($7 BILLION) a year, how much do the thieving Socialist parasites want?

  3. I wish they would just open up iPlayer to the rest of the world, even for a fee.  I know I’m not the only one who would like access from outside the UK.

    • Agreed. I’m left poking around in the extremes of the Internet for bootleg copies of BBC programs, when I’d happily pay for them. Frankly I was disappointed with ”
      BBC is developing a radical scheme” Then only thing radical about it is that they have not done it before. There may well be legal constraints based on contracts with the likes of WGBH that say the BBC won’t sell or compete in the USA but otherwise its unbelievable. ps. I can recommend TunnelBear if you really need to see something…

  4. This article just goes to show that media owners just don’t get it. And by “it” I mean the internet, and future media.

    Firstly, why would Project Barcelona want to COMPETE with iTunes? That makes no sense at all. They are entirely different things. Why doesn’t Project Barcelona USE iTunes? iTunes just sells content. iTunes has hundreds of millions of users, with hundreds of millions of devices. Why not just go to where your audience already are? And then do that for every single media distribution channel. It’s not complicated.

    Secondly, people are worried about cannibalising DVD sales? Are you joking? Are they joking. DVD is dead. And, even if it wasn’t dead, it’s just a format for media distribution. As is video over the internet. These things are not mutually exclusive.

    Until media companies realise that they A, have to go to where their audience is and B, have to make that content available, then they only have themselves to blame over issues like piracy and lost opportunity cost.

    It’s simply unbelievable.

    • Gunnar fra Toten

      It’s unbelievable that publicly funded shows are not exclusively sold through a service for which an Anerican listed company takes a 30% cut?

      • rattyuk

        Tad more complex than that. A lot of the BBC shows are co-funded from the US and other countries these days so the rights are probably tied up in a whole heap of stuff. A lot of the best of the Beeb’s stuff makes it over to the US through iTunes as it is so it’s not a real issue. Pretty certain that the economics are not as simple as you make out when shown on US TV Channels either. I don’t know if they pay a huge amount of money to the Beeb for the content and then attempt to recoup it through advertising but not entire sure how that would work out as a percentage cut.

        Apple’s 30% for smaller players though is an excellent deal, for independent publishers there is no way you could market your products for that figure. I think Amazon were taking far higher cuts than that as well.

    • Gareth, to paraphrase you, which just shows you don’t get iTunes. While they may be different things, although they are not much, why on earther would the BBC want to give its content over to Apple for distribution? This would effectively give Apple the upper hand in distribution, packaging, platforms and more. It would also mean the BBC could have to pay per play, as they do with app purchases.

      Again, while you are somewhat accurate about future DVD Sales, it’s still far from a dead business. Heck even those dirt bargian bin dvds in places like Walmart turn a reasonable profit as do the kiosks that dispense dvds at gas stations and grocery stores etc. not that usually stock anything made by or possibly even shown on the DVD.
      Mastered for iTunes is better technology, think again. As it relates to sound, many of Apples file formats are a compromise the BBC would have to adhere to if they have their own distribution and platform. I understand why an iTunes user would want the BBC content, but not the other way around.

    • Tim Lewis

      If all distributors simply went to the existing channel/internet shop fronts to go to market (in your example itunes) there would never be any new channels to market – indeed itunes itself would not exist now either.  Moreover you are ingnoring Android. 

    • towergrove

      Home disc sales brought in almost 10 billion dollars last year. That’s hardly considered dead. Still one of the largest industries and will be for many years. Your comment is quite a bit over the top or as my friend Joan Rivers says “a stretch”.

      This bbc deal is about ownership and allowing the individual a right to purchase. It’s giving us more choice.