BBC prepping Project Barcelona paid-for download service

The BBC plans to launch a paid for download service, enabling viewers to purchase programmes for permanent use soon after broadcast.

The plan, currently dubbed Project Barcelona, was revealed by director general Mark Thompson in his speech to the Royal Television Society yesterday.

Thompson said that the overwhelming majority of content that the BBC commissioned and broadcast currently ceased to be available to the public upon expiry of its window on the iPlayer catch-up service. He said that the corporation had initiated talks with partners including independent producers and producers association PACT about the new plan, which will be submitted to the BBC Trust later this year.

“The idea behind Barcelona is simple,” said Thompson. “It is that, for as much of our content as possible, in addition to the existing BBC 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.”

Thompson said Barcelona was not “a second licence fee by stealth” but the equivalent of going into a high street shop to buy a DVD of a BBC show. He said the download to own window would be open ended, enabling purchasers to own the content 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,” he said.

Thompson said Barcelona would enable producers and rights-holders to earn additional revenue, and represented a potential new way of supporting UK production. He said the window would not be exclusive and that the content would be made available to other providers, with producers able to exploit the window as they pleased.

In his speech, Thompson also warned against attempts to force the BBC to cut costs further beyond the 20% reduction already planned by 2016. He said the opportunity for additional productivity gains without damaging quality would be “limited at best” and pointed out that the pay bill for senior managers represented only 2% of the organisation’s costs.

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