The BBC has published its new distribution policy, following a public consultation. It sets out seven conditions that form the basis under which the BBC will distribute its public services. It has also published many of the responses to the consultation. The response from Sky is particularly interesting.

In February 2018 the BBC opened a public consultation seeking feedback on its proposed distribution policy. The significance of this is that it provides the rationale by which the BBC will make available its public services to third-party platforms and devices.

This has evidently been subject to on-going negotiation with services like Sky, which prefers to offer an integrated user experience that is consistent across all programming providers, rather than to bundle the BBC iPlayer app with its platform.

The policy set out seven conditions to govern the way the BBC distributes its services and content on third party distribution platforms:

Prominence — the placement of BBC content and services relative to those of other providers should be in line with audience needs and expectations

Editorial control — the BBC should retain editorial control of its content and its placement

Branding and attribution — users should be able to easily identify which content on a platform is provided by the BBC

Quality — users should be able to enjoy a high quality experience of BBC content
and services

Data — the BBC should have access to data about the usage of its services

Free access — users should incur no incremental cost to access BBC content and services

Value for money — BBC distribution arrangements should maximise cost-effectiveness of distribution to the licence fee payer

That seems fair enough, one might imagine, if somewhat vague. The full policy only runs to 12 pages.

In publishing its final amended distribution policy, which does not significantly shift in position, the BBC has also provided the responses to the consultation.

It said that overall there was broad support for the draft policy from a wide range of respondents but a minority of respondents questioned the extent and clarity of the policy and the BBC’s processes for implementing it.

The consultation response from Sky ran to 36 pages and was remarkably robust.

Sky said the draft policy failed to meet the basic requirements of the Royal Charter and Framework Agreement under which the BBC operates and described it as “fundamentally flawed”. It said it was “unreasonably vague”, “wholly inadequate” and claimed “this lack of transparency leads to tortuous and inconclusive negotiations”.

“In marked contrast to its dealings with every other major broadcaster, with whom Sky has successfully concluded agreements to distribute content across its services in their entirety, Sky has been in negotiations with the BBC for access to its content for over two years.”

Sky said: “the Draft Policy gives effect to the BBC’s Distribution Strategy, which is to prefer the BBC iPlayer app over bespoke applications such as Sky’s integrated service.”

The subscription service provider pointed out that the policy is simply a statement of intent, approved by the BBC Board. It suggested that Ofcom, which now regulates the BBC, had clear and free-standing obligations on the BBC to meet reasonable requests for supply, on fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory bases, enforceable by the independent regulator. It warned “If the BBC chooses not to elaborate further on how it intends to interpret its obligations, it merely increases the likelihood of Ofcom determining these issues by settling disputes.”

The BBC Distribution Policy is available from the BBC web site, together with further information about the consultation and responses.