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iPlayer-to-own: BBC boss explains Project Barcelona

New BBC TV shows will be on sale within days of transmission under the BBC’s plans for a download-to-own companion to iPlayer.

BBC director-general Mark Thompson said the new service – codenamed Project Barcelona – will run alongside other online retailers like iTunes and Netflix.

It will also be used to open up the entire BBC archive of TV and radio for sale online, from its earliest days, and will have a ‘modest’ cost for TV Licence fee-payers.

Speaking to the Royal Television Society, Thompson said: “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.

BBC iPlayer

“On television, despite all of our existing forms of public service archival and commercial windowing, the overwhelming majority of what the BBC commissions and broadcasts becomes unavailable when that iPlayer window expires.

“We want to change that and have started to talk to our partners, including the independent sector and PACT, about a proposal which we will formally submit to the BBC Trust later this year which – for reasons which escape me – we call Project Barcelona.

“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.”

Before it can launch, Project Barcelona will have to go through a BBC Trust inquiry into its benefits for the licence-fee payers and its effects on the TV and retail industries.

Thompson added: “This is not a second licence-fee by stealth or any reduction in the current public service offering from the BBC – it’s the exact analogy of going into a High Street shop to buy a DVD or, before that, a VHS cassette. 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.

“The window would be non-exclusive. The BBC would open up one digital shop, but the expectation would be that all this content would also be made available for other existing providers to sell if they wish and that producers could exploit this download-to-own window in any way they wanted. But the important point is that the window would be open-ended – in other words, the programmes would be available permanently.

“Our ambition would ultimately be to let our audiences have access to all of our programmes on this basis and, over time, to load more and more of our archive into the window.

“If Barcelona gains the support of the UK’s producers and, of course, the approval of the BBC Trust, it potentially adds an important new source of revenue for producers and rights holders. It could also mark an important step in broadcast’s journey from being a transitory medium into a growing body of outstanding and valuable content which is always available and which persists forever.”