The BBC ponders charging UK iPlayer users to watch archived content

The BBC ponders charging UK iPlayer users to watch archived content

2011 was a big year for iPlayer, the BBC’s flagship TV catch-up service, with dedicated iPad and Android launching, and a new global iPlayer app arriving in eleven countries, courtesy of the organization’s commercial arm, BBC Worldwide.

The one key difference between the UK and global versions of iPlayer is that the former typically broadcasts current programmes up to seven days after broadcast, whilst the international version focuses more on delivering the BBC’s wealth of archive content dating back decades. Oh, and the UK one is free to use – well, it’s funded by the TV licence fee – whilst the global version adopts a subscription model.

Now, however, the BBC is considering introducing a pay-per-view model for UK viewers, letting them watch television shows from its massive archive of content, reports the Guardian.

The new system would mean that iPlayer would still be free for the 7-day catch-up service, but users would pay a fee to watch archived content beyond that period.

The proposition is likely to anger much of the UK public, especially given that the £145.50 licence fee which all UK television-owners must pay each year to subsidize the BBC’s commercial-free TV, radio and online services is already seen by some as an outdated model.

However, it’s worth noting that the proposal to charge UK viewers to watch archived content is just that – it seems that it’s far from set in stone, and the organization is likely to observe a big backlash over the plans which may prompt it to go for other options.

Of course, there is an argument that says the BBC should be looking at ways to bolster its coffers by cutting costs whilst still looking to improve its services, and making all its archived content permanently available online would be an expensive initiative to implement.

A BBC spokesperson said that it would merely be a micropayment to cover its own costs, which would include payments to programme-makers for the rights to make it permanently available.

“We never stop future-gazing at the BBC and there are always a number of new ideas under discussion. Any such ideas would need to be developed in conjunction with the industry and with rights-holders and they would certainly not lead to a two-tier licence fee.”

So it seems that the plan isn’t a money-making exercise a la BBC Worldwide, which is responsible for commercialising BBC content for international audiences, and it would only be looking to cover its own costs.

The other obvious option of increasing the licence fee for everyone to fund the new initiative would likely be even more unpopular, so the idea of introducing micropayments to enjoy BBC content beyond the 7-day catch-up window may actually be the best solution.

It’s thought that even if this proposal is to be given the go-ahead, nothing would take place before 2016.

Last August, we caught up with the BBC’s Daniel Danker to discuss the future of iPlayer in the UK, with Danker revealing that 20% of the UK online population use the TV catch-up service, and stated that it was the company’s intentions to get everyone in the country on board.

Read next: Fab buys up community ecommerce site FashionStake