Please wait...
Please wait...

BBC eyes back-catalogue service

BBC director general Tony Hall has said the broadcaster is looking at ways to create a paid-for service along the lines of global streamer Netflix, allowing viewers to access its back catalogue.

Tony Hall

Hall said today the BBC was looking to “experiment with those services” as a way of making its extensive library available for a fee, within the rules permitted by the UK pubcaster’s charter.

“We’re looking at ways to allow people to access [our] back catalogue, knowing that costs something because you have to pay for that access, but also knowing that could help build the BBC in this country,” he explained.

The director general was responding to a question from Damian Collins, the chair of the UK government’s Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee hearing, about whether the BBC was actively looking at ways to create a service that would allow audiences to access the broadcaster’s library.

At present, BBC programmes are available for a month after their airdate on its catch-up service iPlayer and are then sold to independent services like Netflix and aired on linear channels belonging to UKTV, which the BBC owns 50/50 with Scripps Networks Interactive.

Hall appeared to confirm that there was no “in-principle objection,” as Collins put it, from the broadcaster to offering a paid-for service for programmes not currently available on iPlayer.

“I think there’s a lot more to do in the secondary market,” Hall said. “How we give you access, through a BBC vehicle or something similar, to that catch-up of things beyond a month, would be an important step for the future.

“At the moment, the way to access older programmes like Dad’s Army and EastEnders is through UKTV and we need to look at how we extend what we do there in the linear environment into an on-demand environment as well.”

The new service would differ from BBC Store, the broadcaster’s download-to-own service, which closed earlier this year after 18 months in operation. Hall said that Store was “an experiment” which “we got out of quick” when it became clear consumers had the ability to download programming from streamers such as Netflix and Amazon.

Hall told the committee streaming on-demand was a more viable approach than download-to-own.

“It’s exactly that. What Netflix, Amazon and others have done is utterly brilliant, but it’s transformed the way we all consume things, in a way that, certainly when the idea of Store was being pushed forward, we couldn’t have predicted,” he said.

Hall also rebutted earlier criticism the pubcaster had received from Gary Davey, MD of content at European satcaster Sky, about the potential threat to linear TV from streaming giants Netflix and Amazon, which Hall had outlined in a speech at Liverpool John Moores University last week.

Drawing on figures from a BBC-commissioned report by analysts Mediatique, Hall issued concerns about the “substantial gap” that will open up between the amount spent on UK content now and the amount that will be spent in the future. Hall said the funding shortfall on UK content would be around £500m.

In response, Davey said though the emergence of these streamers had shaken up the industry, it has given customers more choice and afforded more opportunities to British writers, producers and production staff to make shows for a global audience.

Hall told the select committee his speech had been “oddly characterised” by Davey and that he didn’t think had “quite read the arguments as clearly as they might have ought to.”

“Can we be certain that we will continue to have investment in UK drama about the UK, comedy, documentaries, which reflect who we are to ourselves? There’s a danger that that could diminish, and we get more of the things that are more global, more transatlantic,” he said.

“I was doing it as a clarion call to us all to think very hard about how we can ensure the long-term viability of UK production about the UK.”

Please wait...