The BBC has applied to its governors for formal approval to launch a BBC iPlayer to provide its audio and video programming over the internet within in the UK. It will be the first application of a public value test for new services from the public service broadcaster.
The application proposes to provide simulcast streaming of radio and television channels over the internet, with a seven-day catch-up window for selected programmes and audio downloads without any time restrictions.
The three elements would be combined into an online BBC iPlayer that would incorporate existing audio and video players a provide a consistent look and feel.
The application also covers a seven-day television catch-up offering on cable, but does not appear to reference other broadband video services.
A deal with independent producers means that most programmes would be available for download for seven days after broadcast. Downloaded programmes could be retained for up to three months but once opened would only be available to view for a further seven days.
The public value test anticipates a new system of governance that will come into effect under the new charter which will replace the governors with a BBC Trust from 2007.
It is expected that the final decision on the on-demand proposal will be a matter for the new BBC Trust to consider in early 2007.
In the meantime, the BBC governors will be seeking representations from interested parties on a public value assessment which aims to measure the public value which would be created by a new service.
Ofcom, the communications regulator, will undertake a separate market impact assessment that aims to measure the wider potential market impact.
The BBC is orientating itself to an on-demand future that will represent a significant shift in patterns of television consumption.
At the Edinburgh International Television Festival, Ashley Highfield, the BBC director of new media and technology, predicted that by the end of the decade only two programmes would have audiences of over 10 million viewers in the UK: the Royal wedding and the England World Cup final.
We will have to wait and see whether either is on the cards, but the decline in the audiences of the highest rating programmes is demonstrable and inevitable. The BBC executive suggested that the ‘long tail’ of niche and archive programming would by then account for 25% of television consumption and 33% of revenues for commercial operators.