The BBC’s plans to develop a Netflix rival has been given the go-ahead by the UK government.
The Beeb’s plans to team up with ITV and possibly NBC first emerged earlier this year, with rumours of talks about a collaborative subscription service, which would offer archive content from the broadcasters.
The service would put the Beeb head-to-head with Netflix, which currently offers a selection of archive BBC content, alongside fellow SVOD service Amazon Prime Video. (For those wanting to watch older titles that are not available on BBC iPlayer, the BBC also recently launched its own pay-per-view online shop, BBC Store.)
Now, the idea has been given the green light from the government, with the White Paper proposing the new revisions for the BBC’s royal charter, published last Thursday, welcoming the notion of “some form of additional subscription services” – a step that could take the BBC away from sole licence fee funding.
John Whittingdale, the culture secretary, tells The Telegraph that the corporation requested the new power to levy subscriptions itself.
“We’re moving into a different world where more and more content is going to be made available on demand. Collaboration with other broadcasters and other production companies we think is important,” he comments.
“If they want to explore that kind of thing, we’d encourage them. There may come a moment in the future where all television is delivered online, and if you do that it becomes a more realistic practical possibility if you wanted to move towards an element of voluntary subscription, which is why the BBC, who see the way the world is changing, have said, ‘Yeah we will just see for the online provision, whether or not there might be a case for additional new content being delivered on a subscription service, via the iPlayer’.
“That’s something they’re going to look at. It was their suggestion, and they have said they will draw up the scope of the trial.”
BBC and ITV to launch SVOD service?
12th March 2016
BBC and ITV could team up to launch their own subscription VOD service, according to The Guardian.
The newspaper reports that the two broadcasters have had talks about launching a Netflix-style streaming platform. Rather than provide first-run broadcast of shows, the site would provide older TV titles from the broadcasters’ archives, although there would also be potential for original commissions. NBC Universal, producer of series such as Downton Abbey, is also reported to be involved with the talks.
The news arrives as discussion surrounding the Licence Fee is renewed, as the BBC and the government prepare for the formation of the new royal charter (Director General Tony Hall, pictured above, announced a range of proposed plans for the BBC’s future last September).
As part of the changes to the corporation’s remit, the government has said it will close the loophole involving BBC iPlayer as soon as July 2016, which would require people only watching catch-up TV online to pay the licence fee. TV shows, however, are removed from iPlayer’s line-up 30 days after their broadcast. From that point, series are available on the BBC Store, the Beeb’s recently launched online shop for purchases – an initiative designed to help generate income from its vast archives. Deals with SVOD services such as Netflix and Amazon Prime Video also help to bring in revenue, although some BBC shows, such as Doctor Who, are currently set to be removed from SVOD platforms in the near future.
Combined with ITV, the scope for a joint, in-house subscription platform is significant, enabling both to cut out third party streamers and bring in monthly payments directly. Talks are only at an “explore and evaluate” stage, but Hall said in his speech last September that the corporation would be open to expanding BBC iPlayer, or other digital platforms, to include third party content – something that could evolve into this subscription service.
In the US, these kind of initiatives are becoming increasingly popular among companies, as broadcasters such as HBO and CBS increasingly digitise (and monetise) their archives of content. In the UK, meanwhile, ITV’s chief executive Adam Crozier has said that the channel is looking for ways to reduce its reliance on advertising revenue, following a 3 per cent decline in the audience share for its channels in 2015.
Speaking at the company’s annual results announcement, Crozier said he would “explore new models for content creation and distribution, through a mix of pay channels and online”.
The reports of talks, though, have not been confirmed by either company. “We never comment on speculation,” a spokesman for ITV told the paper, while the commercial arm of the BBC, BBC Worldwide, added: “There is always speculation about what we might or might not do on all sorts of things, but we never comment on such speculation.”
The news follows a similar attempt to launch an online TV service back in 2007, when BBC Worldwide and Channel 4 tried to pair up, although it was blocked, amid concerns that it would threaten fair competition in the fledgling VOD sector. Now, though, VOD is commonplace and audiences have embraced online streaming. As talks surrounding the Licence Fee continue, the good news for ITV Hub and BBC iPlayer users is that if these reported plans do develop into something concrete, they would not include or impact the existing, free catch-up TV services.