The BBC has launched an online service to allow users to buy, watch and keep copies of current and archive television programmes. The BBC Store aims to translate the success of the BBC iPlayer into a retail opportunity. Whether it will make a material difference to the bottom line is another matter.

The BBC Store launched with around 7,000 hours of programming and will add between 50 and 70 hours each week, to reach a target of 10,000 hours of programming within the first 12 months.

Purchased programmes will can be streamed or downloaded from the BBC Store and will appear in a new My Programmes area of the BBC iPlayer from where they can also be played.

Users will also be able to access the BBC Store directly from the iPlayer, as well as other ‘places to buy’. The BBC iPlayer will continue to offer the same range of programmes to watch live, and view and download for up to 30 days after transmission for no cost.

In August the BBC iPlayer received 226 million requests for television programmes from around 13 million unique browsers a week, of which 43% were from tablets or mobile devices. EastEnders is generally the most popular programme on the BBC iPlayer, receiving around a million requests an episode.

For over 30 years selected BBC programmes have been available for purchase, initially on videocassette, then on disc and subsequently on digital download platforms.

Users will now be able to stream programmes from the BBC Store and through iPlayer, or download them through the BBC Store Downloader, which is available for Windows and Macintosh computers and requires Microsoft Silverlight. Apps for mobiles and tablets are planned.

The BBC Store will feature titles like Doctor Who, Top Gear, dramas, documentaries and natural history programmes. Many programmes will be available to buy on the BBC Store the day after transmission, including for the first time, serial dramas such as EastEnders, even during the 30 period that they are available to view for free.

There will also be a selection of programmes from the archive, such as Morecambe and Wise and Dad’s Army.

People will initially only be able to buy programmes using a credit or debit card registered in the United Kingdom.

Prices range from £1.89 for a single episode of EastEnders through to £34.99 for three series of the drama Orphan Black.

“BBC Store will make more of the treasure trove of BBC programmes available than ever before,” said Bal Samra, the commercial director of the BBC. “This is a result of a collaborative partnership that the BBC has led, bringing together the whole of the creative industry and BBC Worldwide, and which will establish a route to sustainable commercial returns to more of the sector.”

BBC Worldwide is the main commercial arm and a wholly-owned subsidiary of the BBC. In the last year it generated total sales of just over a billion pounds and returned £226 million to the BBC, which has a total annual income of £4.8 billion.

While it is effectively restricted to users in the United Kingdom it seems unlikely that the BBC Store will make a significant contribution to the overall income of the BBC.

The entire UK business of BBC Worldwide generated a profit of £52 million in the last year. That includes profits from its joint venture UKTV channels, television programme sales, consumer products and live events. The existing BBC Shop ecommerce business generated total sales of £4.6 million.