BBC Worldwide, the commercial distribution and publishing division of the BBC, is considering launching an advertiser funded international web site and offering programmes for purchase online.
From Little Britain to Planet Earth, BBC programmes could be available internationally for online download over broadband as well as on DVD.
The BBC has made no secret of its plans to offer programmes for free download within the UK for up to seven days after first transmission and there have been hints that this could be extended to support commercial activities.
In a recent speech the BBC director general Mark Thompson described the ability to download programmes as a watershed. He said it was “a major expansion of choice and functionality and a recognition that on demand is going to become an important — perhaps ultimately the most important — way in which we will put great content in front of the public.” He said the corporation was headed towards BBC 2.0, a reference to second-generation web technologies.
Following a successful trial, the plans to offer online streaming and programme downloads are due to go before the BBC governors, where they will face a public value test. The proposals will also be subject to a new market impact assessment conducted by the communications regulator Ofcom, which will take into account the views of the commercial sector.
Meanwhile the commercial arm of the BBC is planning to offer programmes for sale online outside the initial broadcast window and in territories outside the UK. It is understood that this would not be subject to the same public value test but would come under terms of fair trade.
BBC Worldwide is already a significant distributor of DVDs of programmes in the UK and internationally. On total sales of £706 million in 2005, £161 million of which was from home entertainment, children’s and new media products, BBC Worldwide made a profit of £55 million and returned £145 million to the BBC, which receives nearly £3 billion a year in licence fee revenues.
The commercial arm of the corporation has also been considering the advertising opportunities on the BBC web site for several years. As one of the world’s leading content web sites, the BBC attracts visitors from all over the world, with a third of all page views coming from outside the UK.
David Moody, director of strategy at BBC Worldwide told The Guardian newspaper that they were investigating whether the BBC should make money from these people and return it back to licence-fee payers to invest in programmes. He said: “Given the scale of traffic to our site, we have the ability to establish the BBC as a global brand for our content.”
The BBC checks internet addresses to offer visitors from outside the UK an international version of its news site. This has now been extended to its home page. Visitors can still select which version to view and the navigation and branding is different for each version. This approach could be adopted to display advertising only to overseas visitors.
The site says: “The International version gives prominence to world news, sport and weather along with the BBC’s international radio and TV services. You may prefer this version if you live outside the UK.”
The BBC purchased the bbc.com domain name for over £200,000 during the dotcom boom. It currently redirects to www.bbc.co.uk, but could be used as the address for an international site. “At a later date it might become a portal for video on demand for international users,” a BBC Worldwide spokesperson told the BBC News web site.
The proposals, which come as the BBC is negotiating the renewal of its charter and an increase in the television licence fee, have drawn criticism from commercial rivals that are concerned about competition from the publicly funded broadcaster.