The BBC will charge for permanent downloads just as it has always done for VHS, DVDs and Blu-ray

The BBC will charge for permanent downloads just as it has always done for VHS, DVDs and Blu-ray

During a gathering at New Broadcasting House in Central London this morning, the BBC’s Director General Tony Hall laid out his plans for the future of the BBC, part of which included some significant upcoming developments.

For example, there was the soon-to-launch BBC Playlister service, which sees the BBC enable users to save songs they like from the BBC, and export them to a range of digital music partners, which include Spotify, YouTube and Deezer at launch.

Then, it revealed plans for the next generation iPlayer, which includes more exclusive content, the ability to create your own evening schedule, an extended catch-up window (30 days), and even the ability to pause and resume TV viewing between devices.

But sandwiched in between all this news was an interesting nugget for sure. While the BBC has flirted with commercializing its online digital archives before in the UK, today the broadcaster shed some light on its plans to open up more content to the UK public via BBC Store, a new service that will launch some time in 2014.

BBC Store: More for more

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“Because we know that people often want to go back and see older programmes, sometimes classics, sometimes something more recent, we plan to launch something we’re calling BBC Store. A new commercial online service, that will offer people in the UK the chance to buy a whole range of programmes, to watch, and keep forever.”

It was the briefest of mentions among all the hullabaloo elsewhere, and Hall didn’t go too in-depth with the plans for BBC Store, but the message was clear. Licence-fee payers – or, indeed, anyone in the UK – will be able pay to download and keep BBC programming. And right on schedule, this is already causing many to question why their annual ‘TV tax’ doesn’t cover such initiatives.

We managed to grab a few words with Ralph Rivera, Director of Future Media at the BBC, after the announcement to see if we could garner more details on the plans and, well, it seems things are still at a very early stage. There’s no word yet on how exactly the service will operate – whether it will be pay-per-show, pay-per-series, a mix of both…or what.

It’s likely there will be a mix of some archived content and newer shows available initially – as alluded to by Hall – and obviously longer term there is scope to open this service up massively to cover everything the BBC has in its digital archives. Though, that will depend on securing the necessary programme rights.

What we do know, however, is that the initiative will be UK-only, and will be in partnership with BBC Worldwide, the broadcaster’s commercial arm, exactly like any content that emerges from the BBC’s vaults on DVD or Blu-ray. And this seems like as good a time as any to touch on the issue of charging for downloads.

There are rights-related issues attached to BBC programming. It generally can’t just decide on a whim to give away its programming permanently, which includes decades of archives, for free. Rights-holders license their handiwork for broadcast on TV, and subsequently for sale. So just as you’ve been buying BBC box-sets for family members at Christmas for years, the same will now apply to the digital incarnations of the content.

BBC Store will essentially serve as an iTunes for the BBC’s digital library, though the full ins-and-outs of the costs and how it will work are yet to be revealed – when it is, that will be the time to judge.

But it is only reasonable to expect to have to pay something to own The Office, Planet Earth and all the rest, just as you would through iTunes and the myriad of other media-downloading services out there.

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