BBC To Launch On-Demand Media Services

The BBC Trust has given the green light to the networks’ iPlayer system, which will make some BBC television programing available over the Internet. The system will enable a range of on-demand television and audio services and potentially signal a major change in the UK television industry.

The new iPlayer system went through a trail period this January in which 10,500 individuals and organizations participated in a “public value test” of the service. The BBC is a public broadcaster and a major force in television and radio broadcasting in the UK; the public value test was in part to assess whether the networks’ plan to offer the content for free would suppress competition in the nascent digital media market. In response to competition concerns, the BBC has scaled back a few aspects of the proposed iPlayer service, but will nonetheless roll it out later this year.

“The over-riding responsibility of the Trust is to act in the public interest,” said Diane Coyle, BBC Trustee and Chair of the Trust’s PVT Steering Group, in a statement. “This means that, when considering the potential market impact of new service applications from the BBC, we must focus primarily on the effect on consumers who enjoy the choice offered by content and services beyond those provided by the BBC.”

Under the iPlayer system, users will be able to catch up with selected BBC programming from the previous seven days, and store programming on heir computer for up to 30 days—however, only 15 percent of BBC series will be permitted to have all their back episodes available online. Cable users will be able to access on-demand BBC content under the same terms from their set-top boxes. The Internet-based versio of the service, to be hosted at www.bbc.co.uk, will also enable users to stream and download selected DRM-free video and audio programming. Notably, book readings and classical music will not be available in DRM-free formats—although the BBC itself is critical of the Trust’s decision to exclude classical music from the offerings.

The UK’s largest commercial broadcaster, ITV, plans to launch its own broadband video portal this week, with the majority of content being offered for free.

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