BBC May ‘Monetise’ And Share iPlayer, Plans £400 Million Savings

imageThe BBC is now “talking to all the public service broadcasters and others about the practicalities of sharing the iPlayer”, despite initial reticence from Channel 4, director general Mark Thompson told MediaGuardian’s Changing Media Summit in London this morning.

The BBC proposed widening iPlayer to other broadcasters in its December submission to Ofcom’s public service broadcasting review – part of a package of collaborations it said would save rivals £120 million – but, at the time, C4 CEO Andy Duncan said “their assumptions … are inaccurate”. Today, though, Thompson said the talks are “going well”. He thought aloud about “if there was an or a – if the iPlayer could potentially be used by Arts Council of England, the British Film Institute … (sharing) gives them a chance to seize the digital initiative at a time when their own ability to (invest) is constrained.”

And he sprung a surprise: “It will support potentially different forms of monetisation.” That could hint at a pseudo-reawakening of Kangaroo’s advertising or pay-to-download models. But Thompson cautioned: “If you make it completely open, it could undermine some of the business models of the partners … but, in a controlled way which takes account of market impact, opening up that technology.” BSkyB quickly sounded caution on the plans today.

An overseas iPlayer?: BBC Worldwide ad sales chief Chris Dobson also told the conference: “A sort of iPlayer-like device that was made available outside the UK might well have to have a subscription feature to it in order to make the economics work.”

Cutbacks coming: Partnership was a key theme of Thompson’s keynote, in which he also warned the corporation plans to save over £400 million in its upcoming three-year budget. He took pains to stress the BBC is not immune from the economy as some rivals may believe. He said the BBC had already saved £524 million over the last four and a half years: “This efficiency story is by no means complete. We can only meet our obligations over the coming years if (that continues) … Without further significant reduction in our spending, we would exceed our statutory borrowing limit at some point in the next two years.”

Thompson said the BBC “will not be immune to job losses” – “7,200 jobs have gone so far and there are still 1,200 to go” … “the economics are tight”. He acknowledged the privilege of license fee funding but said: “The picture of a BBC swimming in cash … is simply out of date … We knew we could only make investments in products like the iPlayer if we dug deep and made and made efficiencies”. Thompson said he was due to meet the BBC Trust later in the day to discuss the corporation’s budget for the next three years.

Canvas and collaboration: Thompson said there’s an “absolutely explicit presumption from all of (our) scientists and engineers I talk to that their work would be shared by people within this country and, in some cases, around Europe”. The proposed “Canvas” open IPTV standard, currently out for consultation from the BBC Trust, “is well underway”. Asked by paidContent:UK whether the Canvas consultation may be tainted by Kangaroo’s antitrust legacy: “It’s an upgrade to Freeview, in a way that is open – in a way that does not raise the same kind of competition issues that Kangaroo did. I think it’s right there should be a consultation. I think the case for Canvas is very strong … we’ll have to see what the BBC Trust makes of it.” Thompson also said the BBC is talking with Press Association and several newspaper groups about content sharing partnerships.