BBC launches public consultation on ‘reinvention’ of iPlayer

The BBC has launched a public consultation on plans to “reinvent” the BBC iPlayer service, including making content available for at least 12 months after it is first shown as well as extending the availability of box-sets on the service.

The move is the first step in the Public Interest Test ordered by regulator Ofcom on the proposed changes, which the BBC said would be published in the spring.

The BBC is now proposing that all programmes be made available initially for at least 12 months, with complete series box-sets for selected titles for returning series to be made available for longer, along with more archive content.

The BBC also said it would “continue to look at” the amount of content it commissions specifically for iPlayer as viewing habits evolve, even if it makes “very few programmes” for iPlayer only currently.

The public broadcaster wants to be able to show all past episodes from previous series of returning series for drama and comedy shows such as Doctor Who, as well as BBC archive material for 12 months “or potentially longer”, which it says is “in line with market norms”.

The BBC said it would remain constrained about how it put new programmes on iPlayer by the terms of its business framework and the rights obtained from independent producers, as well as by having to compete with other broadcasters and VOD providers for the rights to put content on the service.

The consultation will run from today until February 15. The BBC says in its document that it is proposing the changes because it “must adapt to reflect the expectations and demands of licence fee payers”, with BBC iPlayer increasingly becoming “the front door to the BBC’s content offer” for viewers.

The broadcaster said that the current limit of 30 days for catch-up content “needs to be improved to match the expectations and needs of our audiences” and that it risked “becoming irrelevant” if it failed to adapt.

The corporation also provided a reminder that Ofcom had itself called on the broadcaster to “find new ways of reaching younger people that suit and reflect their viewing…habits” in its first Annual Report on the BBC as regulator.

The BBC said that the consultation would “give stakeholders an opportunity to comment before the BBC carries out a Public Interest Test”.

The broadcaster said that other UK players such as ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5 had already taken steps to improve their on-demand offerings, with ITV planning an SVOD service alongside improvements to ITV Hub and Channel 4 making a wide range of box-sets available on its service.

Charlotte Moore, director, BBC Content said: “We know that in the future BBC iPlayer will be the main way many people will want to watch the BBC. It already is for many younger viewers. These changes are about ensuring we continue to deliver value for money to licence fee payers – and meet expectations of viewers who want to watch full series whenever they choose to. It’s also important that regulation recognises that there should be a level playing field for public service broadcasters – to ensure British stories are being told for British audiences.”

In November Ofcom ordered the BBC to conduct a Public Interest Test on its planned changes to iPlayer,  in a ruling that contradicted the pubcaster’s board’s own assessment of the impact of the proposed changes. The regulator presented a set of interim instructions on what the BBC could and could not do ahead of the Pubic Interest Test at the end of last year.

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