The BBC is reportedly considering plans to allow viewers in the United Kingdom to pay to download old and new television shows a price points around £1.89 per programme. Known as Project Barcelona, it is the latest in a series of initiatives to exploit BBC programming online. In January it was reported that the BBC was planning to charge viewers for access to archive programming, but this proposal seems to include recently transmitted programmes. It comes as the commercial broadcaster ITV is also considering its own micropayment options.
The BBC currently makes the majority of its scheduled radio and television programmes available for free online viewing within the United Kingdom only for a limited time window following transmission. Some television programmes are also distributed commercially, through BBC Worldwide and licensed either through its UKTV joint venture or to third-party platforms such as Apple iTunes or Blinkbox. Internationally, in many countries the BBC now also offers a commercial version of the BBC iPlayer on a subscription basis.
According to reports, Project Barcelona would include not just classics from the archive but new programmes, available for download shortly after broadcast.
The news was broken by PaidContent, which said it had seen information that the project is about “making what is effectively seen as non-commercial programming available to the market at a price and ease of use that will encourage consumers to purchase programmes that the commercial market would not make available due to the poor returns and risk involved”.
It is reported that the BBC would offer producers a share of revenue, an average of 40 pence on a £1.89 download, with the corporation covering operational costs.
The BBC said: “In addition to BBC iPlayer, the BBC already makes some of its content available on a download-to-own basis. Any proposal to extend this facility would require not just the support of the industry but formal approval by the BBC executive and the BBC Trust.”
Any such approval would generally follow public consultation, which could receive opposition to any plans to charge for programming previously funded by the public through the television licence, as well as complaints from commercial competitors.
Independent producers, represented by the trade association Pact, the Producers Alliance for Cinema and Television, say the scheme could provide additional revenue but are asking for more detailed assurances with regard to revenue share and any arrangements about exclusivity.
John McVay, the chief executive of Pact simply told informitv: “Pact actively seeks to work with all broadcasters and other content aggregators to explore how our members content can be made available through legitimate services utilising a range of different monetisation models from ad-funded to pay. This helps to tackle the illicit use of programmes and delivers revenues to the UK’s creative industries”.
Whether the proposed price point and revenue share would prove attractive to producers is unclear.
It could be appealing to some consumers, who might otherwise pay for a box set of discs of particular programmes, or buy programmes from iTunes, where available. For instance, on iTunes you can buy a single episode of the documentary series Frozen Planet for £2.49, or £16.99 for the series, which is only a little less than the cost of the DVD or Blu-ray disc box set.
Paying for online programmes at such price points, often even higher than for than discounted discs and box sets, has so far failed to produce significant returns for most broadcasters.
The annual BBC licence fee of £145.50 per household provides a vast range of programmes on free-to-air television channels, any of which can be legally recorded for private domestic use. The budget for BBC television is around £2.3 billion a year. It works out at around two pounds per week per household.
Some 5.5 million people a week use the BBC iPlayer. If even a small number of these paid for an occasional programme it could produce material revenues, say a million downloads generating a couple of million pounds a week. A reasonable sum but it remains a drop in the bucket compared to the total cost of television production.
The revenue share to most independent producers would be marginal at most. The question is, would they be better off dealing with Apple or Amazon, which would be likely to take an even higher share of revenue?