Saturday, 28 August 2010

Is an International Version of the BBC iPlayer on the Horizon?

Over on Anglotopia, Dana discusses the exciting possibility that a global version of BBC's iPlayer could be on the horizon (Talking Tellly: BBC head says global iPlayer is coming 'within a year').  Ever since the release of the iPlayer in 2007, I have been pressing for some kind of international version (Launch of the BBC iPlayer, but not for British expats). It has always struck me as something that would be very straightforward for the BBC to organize, and the advantage -- to them -- of the extra revenue stream would be substantial.

The technology is already there.  Subscription based internet television has been with us for some time.  The model used by a company like Willow TV (Watching the cricket in America) could be followed -- enthusiasts willing to pay simply go through a portal locked down by username and password.  Why not offer international users the chance to pay the BBC Licence Fee and then to gain full access to the iPlayer?

As I see it, there are two blocks on getting this done at the moment.  The first is the rights issue.  Certain programmes could just not be shown outside the UK because of the terms that have been negotiated.  This is especially true of sporting events, where rights are negotiated on a country-by-country basis.  But this hardly needs to be a problem.  There is already a model in place that can be followed here, and that model is the iPlayer itself -- the BBC Radio iPlayer.  I can listen to some events on Five Live Sports Extra, like England home test matches, but I cannot listen to others, like foreign test matches.  That's fine.  I understand that, and I will use the means we have here to access coverage legitimately some other way.  Likewise the football.  Much of the British football coverage is locked out to me as an international user, but it is not a big problem because I can access the football through American TV channels like Fox Soccer Channel and ESPN.

The "rights" issue is a red herring.  Any international user of a future iPlayer will understand that there are certain programmes that are blocked for rights issues, and we will put up with that in order to be able to access 90 per cent of the total content that is available.

The other issue is lack of imagination.  Those discussing the issues are not immersed in the kind of expat culture that would enable them to see how these things could work.  Only a short amount of time on the blogs, in the forums and so on would give the powers and authorities a feel for the kind of hunger that there would be for such a service.

The fact is that there are many people who love the BBC and who would pay for access.  It's not just the British expats, like me, but Anglophiles of all kinds.  And many of these people already effectively pay for access by means of VPNs and specialist services that find back-doors into the BBC iPlayer.  And that money is not going to the BBC but to others.

So I welcome the news that the Global Version of the iPlayer could at last be on the way, and if any of the powers that be would like to chat about it with enthusiastic Anglophiles and British expats living in the US, we would be happy to obliged.  And we wouldn't charge a consultation fee, either.