The BBC is reportedly planning to charge viewers for access to its archive programming. That may come as no real shock but it is surprising that its commercial arm, BBC Worldwide, is apparently not involved. The BBC says that any plans for such micropayments would need to be developed in conjunction with the industry and rights holders and denies that it would lead to a two-tier licence fee.
According to a report in the trade magazine Broadcast, the payment proposals are thought to have come from the BBC Online Direction Group, which is chaired by Ralph Riviera, the director of Future Media, who joined the corporation in October 2010 from Major League Gaming in New York.
It seems extraordinary that BBC Worldwide, the commercial division of the BBC, should not be involved in plans to provide paid-for access to its programming.
Ever since an online video service was first floated, from the early trials of an integrated Media Player or iMP in 2004, the idea was that there would be a catchup window during which programming would be available for free, after which it was envisaged there could be a revenue model.
At the same time, there were plans for a Creative Archive that would make available programming from its back catalogue. So far, those plans have not amounted to much, as it seems resolving the relevant rights issues remains complex, if not intractable.
The BBC iPlayer has been an undoubted domestic success. In 2011 the iPlayer received nearly 2 billion requests for radio and television programmes, with a record 187 million requests in December. While the majority were from computer platforms, there is significant growth across tablets and network-connected televisions. The BBC used to publish detailed breakdowns of usage, but appears to have stopped doing so in recent months.
BBC Worldwide, the commercial division of the BBC has meanwhile launched its own global version of the iPlayer. This includes a selection of both current and back catalogue programming, presented as a Best of British proposition. This is available on a subscription basis for €6.99 a month, or €49.99 a year. Already launched in a number of European countries, Canada and Australia, it is expected to extend to the United States and other markets.
The global BBC iPlayer subscription is currently only available on the iPad, iPhone and iPod Touch, with Apple presumably taking a healthy 30% of any revenues.
The service will differ slightly for international users compared to those in the UK – some content will be offered for free (supported by advertising), but to gain full access, users will be encouraged to take out a subscription for €6.99 a month or €49.99 a year (equivalent to about $10/month or $71/year USD). Considering that in the UK every household in possession of a TV has to pay an annual license fee of €165 (equivalent to about $235/year USD), the fee for overseas users of the iPlayer looks pretty reasonable – but don’t be fooled.
Sure you get all the BBC content than you’ll ever have time to watch,but, the BBC iPlayer does carry the Channel 4, SeeSaw, ITV, or Catchup content (or the many non-BBC stations) . . . the best option is to pay $10/month for VPN and not limit yourself just to the BBC iPlayer.
Note: I would pay the BBC iPlayer fee if it has a Roku Channel.