BT has started charging for replays of BBC programmes on its BT Vision broadband video service. They were previously available for free and can still be freely downloaded or streamed online through the BBC iPlayer. Plans have now been announced to make the entire BBC One channel available online. Viewers will still apparently need a television licence but it is unclear how this will be enforced.

Replays of BBC programmes were until now available for free on the BT Vision service. A BT representative said that this was only as a result of unspecified “technical issues”. Now users will have to pay a subscription of at least £3 per month to view BBC programmes on demand.

The BBC will not be making any money from this, although it has a commercial arm that receives revenue from the sale of programmes to other broadcasters and through retail products.

It raises the real question of why a commercial operator should be able to charge for public service programmes paid for by the television licence. On the other hand, if the public are expected to pay to view these programmes on demand, should the BBC not receive a share of the revenue?

“In line with other TV platforms where BBC programmes are made available on demand, the BBC requires that all public service content should be accessible via the lowest cost subscription tier,” the BBC said in a statement. “In this case, it is BT Replay.”

BT incurs costs in delivering video-on-demand. Not least because the BT Retail division that runs BT Vision has to pay the BT wholesale division for the use of its network. Video-on-demand streams are delivered over a special session that boosts the broadband speed and ensures quality of service.

“Customers are, of course, able to watch BBC shows for free on their laptop or PC in lesser quality on the BBC player in the usual way,” observed a BT representative. Others might observe that the video quality of the BT Vision replay programmes is not that great. Or of course customers could simply record programmes for free at full quality on their digital video recorder.

BBC One online
The BBC is also planning to make its main BBC One channel available online later this year. BBC Three and BBC News are available online. The ITV commercial television networks have been accessible on the web for nearly a year.

As previously reported by informitv, BBC One is already available online through an online service called Zattoo. British broadcasters are understood to be unhappy about this but so far seem to have been unable or unwilling to do anything about it.

The BBC is proposing to include a live channel simulcast as part of its own web site. The plans were outlined in its annual statements of programme policy.

The news has prompted concerns from broadband providers about the impact on their networks and questions about the long-term implications for the television licence.

The scope of the requirement for a television licence has been extended explicitly to include any form of watching television programmes as they are shown on broadcast television.

Some MPs have questioned how this will be enforced. In theory, network traffic can be traced and provide evidence of usage. It is unclear whether it would be either practical or politically acceptable to use traffic logs to determine whether individuals have been watching television over the internet.