The BBC is planning to launch a global version of its online video iPlayer, but initially it will only be available on the Apple iPad, as a monthly subscription service. BBC Worldwide, the commercial division of the BBC, has appointed Jana Bennett as president of worldwide networks and Global iPlayer. She takes up her new role in February 2011, with responsibility the BBC Worldwide wholly-owned channels and its stake in the UKTV venture. The appointment of the director of BBC Vision demonstrates the aspirations that BBC Worldwide has for the Global iPlayer, expected to pilot in the first half of 2011. There is international demand for the service, but informitv questions whether it will deliver a significant return for the corporation.
“We have launched 26 channels over the last four years, and have high ambitions for them,” said John Smith, the chief executive of BBC Worldwide. “In digital services, Jana’s contribution to the launch and ongoing success of the UK iPlayer, and her oversight of the launch of the BBC’s red button service, along with her programming expertise, qualify her perfectly to lead the Global iPlayer.”
Mark Thompson, the director general of the BBC said: “Her understanding of what makes great television and what audiences want has led to a sustained period of creative success, and she is just the person to take our international channels to the next level and oversee the creation of a successful Global iPlayer.”
Jana Bennett joined the BBC in 1979 as a news trainee and went on to become editor of the Horizon programme and head the science department before becoming director of programmes. She left the BBC in 2000 for Discovery Communications, before returning two years later to become director of television, latterly renamed BBC Vision.
As director of BBC Vision, Jana Bennett has overall responsibility for the public service television budget of £2.3 billion, which is more than double that of the Worldwide division. However, her new role has profit and loss accountability, and could be seen as preparation for the possibility of becoming the first ever woman director general of the BBC in the future.
BBC Worldwide appointed Mark Smith as launch director for the Global iPlayer project in September. He was previously acting general manager for programmes and on demand in the BBC future media and technology division. He reports to Luke Bradley-Jones, the managing director of BBC.com.
At a Digital TV Summit in London, Luke Bradley-Jones said that BBC Worldwide would be “adopting a pure paid subscription model for the Global iPlayer for launch”. He went on to say “We will also offer advertisers the chance to partner with us on the ‘free’ areas of the service.”
Initially it will only be available on the Apple iPad. The BBC iPlayer is currently available on the Apple iPad as a web site, but for rights reasons only within the United Kingdom. Anyone expecting to see this available internationally will be disappointed. The programming available on a global version is likely to be more limited, although not restricted to recently transmitted programmes. Among the most successful international brands for BBC Worldwide are Top Gear and Doctor Who. The service could also include programmes from other broadcasters, which BBC Worldwide already carries on channels such as BBC America.
While the iPad is an attractive digital media platform for publishers and consumers, it remains a relatively niche product. Apple sold 4.2million iPads in the last quarter and is heading for sales of over 12 million worldwide in 2010.
The decision to pilot the Global iPlayer on the iPad appears to be a cautious test that will appeal to early adopters and opinion formers, without competing with existing television distribution deals.
BBC Worldwide already distributes some shows through third parties, such as Apple iTunes, and these are already available on the iPad. It is not clear that BBC Worldwide will be able to offer a much greater range through its own iPlayer on the iPad. It will control the presentation of the brand, without having to share the revenues, but it will have to carry the costs.
Whether it will be a major money maker for BBC Worldwide is another matter. In the last financial year, the BBC.com web site received 54 million visitors a month and generated £14.5 million in sales, primarily from advertising, but made an overall loss of £13 million, following a loss of £12 million the previous year. Other BBC commercial web sites, including the Top Gear motoring brand, generated just £3.8 million in sales and recorded a loss of £5.3 million, down from a loss of £15 million the previous year.
The entire BBC Worldwide television channels business, with a portfolio of over 40 channels, only produced a profit of £39 million on sales of £262 million. The sale of programmes and rights to other broadcasters produced a profit of nearly £58 million on sales of almost £215 million. Overall, on a turnover of over a billion pounds the BBC Worldwide division returned a profit of £92million after tax, which is less than half the budget of BBC Online.