The BBC Trust has wasted no time giving the provisional go ahead for the corporation to launch its iPlayer broadband video service following the publication of a market impact analysis by Ofcom and the conclusion of its own public value test.
It is the first application of the public value test by the BBC Trust, which replaces the governors of the corporation. The announcement effectively gives a green light to the proposals for the broadband video service, with some concessions.
The Trust has reached the provisional conclusion to approve the new on-demand services, subject to certain conditions and modifications to the proposition. A final decision will be given by May 2007 at the latest, after taking account of further responses received from a pubic consultation.
“Our view is that the BBC’s new on-demand services are likely to deliver significant public value, and should be allowed to proceed, but subject to certain conditions in order to reduce the potential negative market impact,” said a representative of the BBC Trust.
The Trust said that a number of modifications to the original proposals would be required but it is giving its provisional conclusion while inviting further feedback from the public, the commercial sector and the BBC management.
The storage window for programming would be limited to 30 days, rather than the originally proposed period of 13 weeks. The Trust has conceded that there is a need for a tighter definition of which series would be offered for stacking, enabling all episodes to be downloaded at the end of a series.
The Trust also said that it would not approve the ability to bookmark a programme for downloading in advance of transmission, which had been promoted as a feature of the planned service, as this had not formed part of the formal proposal.
In response to concerns that the iPlayer will rely on proprietary Microsoft digital rights management technology, the Trust will require the BBC executive to adopt a platform-agnostic approach within a reasonable timeframe. It said: “This requires the BBC to develop an alternative DRM framework to enable users of other technology, for example, Apple and Linux, to access the on-demand services.”
The BBC has indicated plans to develop a Real Player alternative in the near future. The Trust said that it understood the BBC aspires to offer an alternative digital rights management framework in the future but has yet to identify a satisfactory solution. “In either case,” said the Trust, “we will expect this to have been addressed within 24 months.”
The Trust accepted the recommendation from the communications regulator Ofcom that audio books and classical music should be excluded from downloads that would be made available without digital rights restrictions as the public value was not sufficient to justify the potential negative market impact.
Regarding syndication of content to third-parties, the Trust said that “BBC content should be available to all significant players on a non-discriminatory basis”. It will develop and publish a syndication policy and consider its actions on each occasion where syndication is proposed.
The Trust notes that the proposals will enable consumers to watch television programmes without necessarily requiring a television licence. However, it concluded that “any risk to licence fee revenue is not material at the present time”. It said: “Whatever the legal position, the proportion of viewers who will completely abandon their televisions in favour of viewing over the internet is currently expected to be very small.”
The Trust has decided not to issue a new service licence for the proposed service, but instead to amend the existing licences for television, radio and online services. This suggests that the BBC will not be obliged to publish the budget or specific performance parameters for the service.
Details of the decision, together with information on how to respond to the consultation, are available on the BBC Trust section of the BBC web site.