BBC to launch Barcelona download service for TV shows

The BBC is working on a service to let people to pay to download programmes from the broadcaster's archives, to own forever rather than with an iPlayer-like playback window
Written by Ben Woods, Contributor

The BBC plans to launch iTunes-style downloads for its programmes, but they will not be free, the broadcaster's director general Mark Thompson has revealed.

Redesigned iPlayer for PS3

While the BBC's iPlayer (shown) provides free downloads for a set period, the Barcelona service will let people buy a programme to own. Photo credit: BBC

Thompson outlined the plans for the 'download-to-own' service during a speech at the Royal Television Society on Wednesday. Code-named 'Barcelona', the service will allow people to get copies of programmes from the BBC archives, such as Dad's Army, for a fee.

"The idea behind Barcelona is simple. It is that, for as much of our content as possible, in addition to the existing iPlayer window, another download-to-own window would open soon after transmission — so that if you wanted to purchase a digital copy of a programme to own and keep, you could pay what would generally be a relatively modest charge for doing so," he said.

The broadcaster already provides on-demand downloads of recent shows via its BBC iPlayer desktop service, which allows people to keep programmes for playback for a set number of days after the shows were aired. Its online-only iPlayer provides the shows for seven days.

Thompson said he hoped the new service would help the BBC's content reach a bigger audience, by not being constrained to a set window for playback.

"The BBC's iPlayer is the most successful and most intensively used catch-up service in the world, but it's true that, after that seven-day public service window, a large proportion of what the BBC makes and broadcast is never seen or heard of again," he said.

Thompson did not say how much the service would cost to use. The BBC told ZDNet UK on Thursday that the project is still in the planning phase, and as such it is too early to say what the pricing will be.

Barcelona on the horizon

Pre-empting complaints, Thompson reassured attendees that the Barcelona service would be like buying a DVD from a shop, rather than an attempt introduce "a second licence fee by stealth".

"For decades the British public have understood the distinction between watching Dad's Army on BBC One and then going out to buy a permanent copy of it. Barcelona is the digital equivalent of doing the second," he said.

The Barcelona project still requires sign-off from the BBC Trust, which will be sent a proposal "later this year", the director general added.

The shows for sale will not be exclusive to the service and will still be available for "other existing providers" to carry, if they wanted, Thompson said, suggesting there will be no bar to service providers such as Netflix.

He added that if successful, the Barcelona service could provide another source of revenue for rights holders and producers, as well as being part of a bigger picture for the BBC's digital strategy.

"Freeview, Freesat, DAB, YouView, iPlayer, Radioplayer and Barcelona are really all part of one strategy and one big idea — which is that free access to high-quality content matters more now than ever and that the BBC must constantly seek new ways of keeping that door open, not just for itself, but for the industry and every household in the country," Thompson said.

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