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Opinion: Why Clarkson, Hammond and May’s Amazon move is a giant middle finger to the BBC

The BBC has been kicked in the balls by Clarkson, Hammond and May by their choice to go with Amazon – in more ways than one. 

Despite Jezza blubbing about how much he likes the BBC in the Guardian earlier this year, it’s hard not to speculate that the move to get into bed with Amazon might have been motivated by more than the money.

Yes, £160 million is a lot of cash – one that’ll hopefully buy a lot of steak dinners – but there are other reasons why going with the deep-pocketed shopping giant makes perfect sense for the classic Top Gear team.  

Indeed, we predicted earlier in the year that the trio would sack off going with a traditional broadcaster in favour of a streaming service. Why? The reasons are many.

1.) You’ll be able to watch Clarkson, Hammond and May whenever the hell you want

On-demand services can be watched at any time, at the viewer’s convenience.

While linear TV is still the primary way most of us consume telly, we’re increasingly seeing more and more people watching content outside of broadcasting schedules.

Our busy lives and long commutes mean we don’t get always get the time to watch what we want in the evenings, so we elect to download show to our phones and tablets to enjoy on the train, tube or bus ride in, or stream them on our lunch breaks. Or whenever we can. We no longer have to make sure we’re watching BBC Two at a certain time on a certain day of the week. 

While Amazon does drip feed new episodes of shows like Ripper Street, Extant and Constantine – the closest an on-demand provider can get to simulating a broadcast schedule – once the content’s out there, it’s out there, for Johnny-come-latelys and fans to watch at their leisure, in its entirety. 

2.) Amazon has a near-infinite catch-up window. With the BBC you get 30 days. 

Going with Amazon means that there’s no expiry date on the new show. Unlike BBC iPlayer, there’s no 30 day catch-up window on Prime Instant Video.

You can catch up within 30 days, 30 weeks or 30 months – there’s no time limit on Amazon’s self-funded content. Even if the new Chris Evans-helmed Top Gear turns out to be amazing, the BBC can’t currently match this longevity. 

3.) Clarkson, Hammond and 4K: Amazon streams in UHD. The BBC doesn’t (yet). 

It’s highly likely that Amazon will be shooting Top Gear 2.0 in 4K Ultra HD. The show, which is due to land at some point in 2016, could well arrive before the BBC launches its first 4K TV channel. 

We know that the BBC is working hard to make 4K TV a reality. We know that 4K streaming is on the roadmap for BBC iPlayer, because the Beeb ‘accidentally’ leaked it in a 2013 presentation

At this year’s DTG Summit we were able to witness a technical demo of a live 4K transmission on digital terrestrial TV. 4K TV is coming to Freeview and it’ll come to BBC iPlayer. We just don’t know when. 

Streaming services on the other hand are already making 4K hay; this weekend BT broadcast its first live football game, Chelsea vs Arsenal in UHD. Netflix has been streaming shows like House of Cards in 4K since May last year

With Amazon, Clarkson, Hammond and May is well positioned to overtake the BBC, which, ironically, is co-helming the UK’s cross industry forum on defining 4K broadcast standards. 

While you’ll obviously need a superfast Internet service in order to stream any Ultra HD content, it won’t cost you any extra to get it from Amazon. Unlike Netflix, which reserves its 4K streams for Premium customers, 4K Ultra HD content is available to all Amazon Prime punters for no extra cost. 

4.) Jezza can finally swear out his welcome.

Related: How to get the new Clarkson, Hammond and May post-Top Gear show from AmazonLet’s be honest, there’s a certain boyish appeal about Clarkson, Hammond and May that’s made Top Gear such a success. Clarkson in particular appears to relish playing the garrulous curmudgeon, thumbing his nose at wishy-washy, liberal PC types.

As Amazon operates an on-demand video service and isn’t a TV broadcaster, Clarkson & Co are allowed to be a little looser with their language than they would have been on the Beeb. 

We spoke to Peter Johnson, chief executive of ATVOD (Authority for Television On Demand) the body which regulates on-demand services based in the UK. 

Johnson explained that on-demand providers like Amazon, Netflix, Now TV and the rest are bound by a certain set of rules, but they’re not as far reaching as they are for TV broadcasters.  

You can’t stream any content that’s likely to incite hatred based on race, sex, religion or nationality. There are also rules in place for things like product placement and sponsorship, as well as rules that would see content become unrated by the BBFC. 

But partly because there’s no watershed, Clarkson & Co can be as downright rude, sweary and irreverent as they like. Comments about the structural integrity of Burmese bridges and Mexican food might be off the menu, but f-bombs, s-bombs and c-bombs won’t be. 

Because Prime Instant Video is a rebranded version of Lovefilm Instant, a UK-registered business, it does in fact fall under ATVOD’s remit, despite Amazon being a US-based retail behemoth.

“The Amazon Instant Video service is an on demand programme service regulated notified to, and regulated by ATVOD,” Johnson told us. 

“As such, it must comply with the statutory rules that apply to regulated video on demand services in the UK. Those rules are not as comprehensive as those that apply to broadcast television services.”

The rules can be read in full here. Johnson added: “The statutory rules do not otherwise restrict provision of material which may cause offence,” meaning moving to Amazon could open the floodgates for swearier irreverence and more off the cuff comments.

In short, expect the new show to be Business As Usual. Only ruder.  

5. You won’t need a TV licence to watch Clarkson, Hammond and May 

If you ask us, the biggest kick in the plumbs for Clarkson, Hammond and May’s former paymasters is that watching their new show won’t require you to have a TV Licence

As the rules currently stand, you don’t need to pay the licence fee if you’re not watching an live TV services. You can perfectly legally opt out and carry on watching on-demand services like Amazon Prime Instant Video. 

All those ardent Top Gear fans who promised to cancel their TV Licences in protest effectively can. We’re purely speculating here, but it wouldn’t surprise me if this aspect of the Amazon deal sweetened things for the trio, if it wasn’t the primary motivation. 

A change in the law might mean everyone working will automatically fund the BBC whether they like it or not. Depending on the outcome of the next BBC Charter Review, which will take place at the end of this year, this point could well be moot by the time Amazon launches the first episode of Jezza, The Hamster and Captain Slow. 

But if that doesn’t happen, don’t be surprised if any of the gang airily suggest that viewers could naff off the BBC entirely. 

The opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of Recombu.



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