The idea first started to float earlier this year: the BBC was apparently pondering charging UK iPlayer users to watch archived content beyond its initial catch-up period of 7 days.
Despite it being far from confirmed, the licence-fee-paying public were up in arms about it, pointing out that they already pay £150+ year, so why should they pay even more? Indeed, this led to a fresh wave of criticism about the licence fee in general, with people questioning why they’re forced to buy one when they’re already subscribing to Sky, Virgin, Netflix, LoveFilm and a plethora of other subscription media services. For the record, we argued vehemently that the the BBC licence fee must be preserved.
However, the BBC did finally announced plans to monetize its digital content this week, when BBC director general Mark Thompson officially confirmed that the broadcaster is working to launch a service that will let users download individual TV programs for a fee.
The idea is that Project Barcelona, as it is currently known, will offer an iTunes-esque service not just for archived BBC content, but also programmes that have just been broadcast. However, as with any BBC announcement these days, the critics were out in force:
Not sure about BBC download pay TV service gu.com/p/367gv/tw Selling on iTunes soon after shows been on air. But we’ve paid for them…
— Dan Sabbagh (@dansabbagh) March 14, 2012
Many have been arguing that it’s like charging for content that’s already been paid for – a sort of second licence fee. Surely, though, nobody can have any complaints about this move? If it was to start charging extra to access, say, iPlayer then okay, fair enough. But all it’s doing is letting you buy content to own in a digital format. This is what it already does, except it places the content on DVDs for you first. The DVD is just the medium though, it’s really the content you’re paying for.
But here’s the key point. According to Roly Keating, Director of Archive Content at the BBC, in an announcement earlier today, 90% of its commissioned programmes are unavailable for download once it’s removed from iPlayer. “We’d like to change that,” he says, “and get to a point where it’s the norm, not the exception, for shows to be available for digital purchase soon after transmission, with the most comprehensive range of BBC titles being offered via a bespoke online shop.”
I really can’t fathom why anyone would be against the BBC charging money to ‘sell’ (not ‘broadcast’, or ‘hire’) its content. Remember, you can still watch it for free on catch-up via iPlayer, or record it yourself during the broadcast through your set-top box or, dare I say it, VHS recorder. Ha.
Download-to-own (DTO) is just the same as buying a physical format recording of a programme. The download service won’t be linked to iPlayer. It will be a standalone service, similar to one of its walk-in stores in London. Except you gain access to the content within minutes of broadcast.
Either way, it’s still early doors and the full ins and outs of the proposal have yet to be clarified. But the idea itself makes a lot of sense, and it’s entirely in-line with developments elsewhere in the digital world.