BBC Forced To Syndicate Some VOD; Opportunity For Aggregators

Catch-up TV platforms like BSkyB (NYSE: BSY) and Netflix (NSDQ: NFLX) have won a significant concession from the BBC that may allow them to offer the corporation’s TV and radio shows within their own services.

Rather than syndicate individual shows to third-party platforms, the BBC executive had wanted to give them only one of three varieties of its own, self-managed iPlayer-badged service. The governing BBC Trust had this January provisionally backed that wish.

But, after some aggregators protested – notably, BSkyB – the trust on Wednesday published a revised policy which allows for greater flexibility regarding syndication.

“The trust considers that there is generally public value in syndication and that it is in the interests of licence fee payers that they can access BBC on-demand content from as many platforms and devices as possible,” the trust now says.

The trust says offering only the badged iPlayer product should remain the approach the BBC should take “usually”. “Circumstances may occasionally arise, however, that justify special arrangements that depart from this model,” it says.

Those circumstances are not defined by the trust, allowing the BBC executive sufficient leeway that it can pick and choose which services it syndicates actual shows to. However, the case for or against any such decision must be clearly made, and cost implication will be one particular factor.

Proper syndication will not necessarily mean handing actual videos to third-party aggregators. The same aim could be achieved by serving BBC content from BBC servers, albeit with greater access to metadata given to those services about those videos.

The BBC has already been moving toward such a practice. In August, iPlayer chief Daniel Danker revealed to paidContent how the BBC had started to give out more granular metadata, starting with Virgin Media, so that the cable company can reintroduce BBC VOD to its own EPG, linking out to a single iPlayer show page. The effect eliminates the need for viewers to go through the iPlayer front door. BSkyB told paidContent it was “in dialogue” with the BBC at the time.

Amongst the several third parties to have criticised the trust’s January provisional backing for the executive, BSkyB was the biggest. “The interests of millions of licence fee payers (are) being compromised,” its submission to the trust’s consultation said, calling the executive’s proposed approach “unnecessarily restrictive”.

“The fundamental principle of broad distribution of publicly funded content ought to lie at the heart of the Trust’s evaluation of on-demand syndication.”

Sky has 3.5 million broadband-enabled set top boxes through which it wants to offer BBC catch-up content through its Anytime+ service. Currently, BBC catch-up on Sky boxes requires that viewers themselves schedule recordings through Sky+.

Fetch TV operator IP Vision had complained about the BBC’s policy back in 2009, when the BBC first refused to syndicate individual shows to it.

The partial relaxation may also be a window for Netflix, which is busy rolling out in the UK and which is talking with ITV (LSE: ITV) about acquiring its content despite ITV’s historic reluctance toward the syndication model. Any full Netflix UK offering without the BBC would be relatively incomplete. But Netflix would have to offer BBC content to viewers for free, since BBC public service content cannot be charged for.

These guidelines apply only to the public-service BBC at home in the UK, where the BBC makes its shows available for seven-day catch-up after transmission before commercial VOD exploitation rights pass to BBC Worldwide and independent producers.