The BBC is considering plans to launch a paid subscription streaming service featuring old shows from its archives.
The corporation is currently facing the squeeze, as it fights growing competition for viewers’ attention from Netflix and Amazon, but also finds its budget under pressure from the government. Closing the Licence Fee loophole, which means that people now have to pay for a TV Licence to use BBC iPlayer, has helped support funding for the Beeb, but Director General Tony Hall has revealed that it is now considering combining both audience expectations of a streaming platform with a paid solution.
Hall spoke to MPs yesterday about the need to retain young people, as they leave traditional, linear TV for on-demand services, saying: “We are looking at ways… to allow people to access the back catalogue [in a way] that costs something because you pay for that access.”
The charter agreement allows the BBC to experiment with such services: the BBC recently launched BBC Store as a pay-per-view shop to allow people to buy programmes digitally. With the majority of streaming driven by the affordability and flexibility of monthly subscription platforms, though, the idea of paying for each individual programme holds less and less appeal. The BBC Store was closed earlier this year.
“We made the decision to go into download-to-own when the market looked like [it would work] ,” admitted Hall. “It was an experiment. We got out of it quick.”
“At the moment the way to access programmes like Dad’s Army or EastEnders is through UKTV and we need to look at ways of doing what we do there, through UK TV linear services, into an on-demand environment,” he added.
As for the move from scheduled to on-demand entertainment, Hall said “we are not in a position where we say ‘it’s all over for linear TV’”.
“Linear TV is still the way you reach most younger people,” he continued.
The comments follow the launch of Britbox in the USA, a streaming service from both BBC Worldwide (the BBC’s commercial arm) and ITV that offers programmes from both broadcasters to subscribers.
If paid-for archive service does launch in the UK, it would likely be tied to BBC iPlayer, said Hall, who wants it to become “the place you go for your complete experience with the BBC”. A premium add-on focused solely on older shows would be different enough to the main iPlayer platform, where shows expire after 30 days, to make an appealing proposition – and would also build upon the popularity of the recently launched archive section on BBC iPlayer.
As for anything more specific, a senior source at the BBC told the RadioTimes: “At this stage we’re thinking about how we best use our archives but it’s far too early to pin that down.”