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

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.”