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Doctor Who is produced by Britain's public service broadcaster, the BBC

Time to Pay for iPlayer?

Could BBC’s hugely successful iPlayer service be the basis for a new pay-to-download service for new and old BBC TV shows?

Industry website paidContent has learned that the BBC is developing Project Barcelona, a scheme whereby viewers can purchase programming under download-to-own arrangement. The project requires that the rights for some shows are arranged with independent producers who were expected to be on board thanks to the scheme offering new revenue streams and defence against piracy.

However it seems that through the umbrella organisation Pact, production companies are declining to give the project the go ahead due in no small part to the potential for cannibalising DVD sales, a revenue stream that remains strong in the face of downloads and browser-based streaming.

While UK viewers already pay the annual license fee of £145.50, it seems a little unfair to charge viewers twice, particularly with the iPlayer service in its current form. While the details of Project Barcelona’s actual delivery method are unclear, there is a potential here for iPlayer to be superseded by the new service. As things stand iPlayer makes TV and radio shows available for up to 30 days when they are returned to the show’s producer or passed to BBC Worldwide, allowing these companies to license the shows to iTunes, Blinkbox and other paid services.

The Project Barcelona initiative seems to originate with the main BBC organization, the publicly funded portion as opposed to BBC Worldwide. As such there is potential here, if successful, for the broadcaster to take licence fee and additional DTO fee for Doctor Who or any other popular show.

With only 7% percent of the Beeb’s archive available via online third parties it aims to provide the remaining 93% available through its own service. What is striking is that even new shows from a broadcaster that is provided as a public service rather than a profitable entity would be available for a fee rather than for free. This is in disagreement with earlier reports that the new service would only provide archive material.

paidContent, claims to have seen material that states that 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”.

Currently partner production companies working with the BBC can earn 28p per episode from iTunes whereas Project Barcelona averages 40p for an episode fee of £1.89, thereby making the system more attractive to the tune of an additional £13 million over 5 years across all indie producers.

There is a long way to go with this, however, as it would have to pass consultation and require approval by the BBC Trust. It remains, however, a fascinating look at how the BBC is attempting to adapt to the digital marketplace.

(Thanks to Gareth)

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