To help it compete with Netflix, media regulator Ofcom is allowing UK pubcaster BBC to keep shows on its iPlayer streaming service for up to a year after linear broadcast, instead of the previously mandated 30 days. Kids content gets a special exemption, and will be available for up to five years.
The decision comes after Ofcom gave the BBC a provisional green light in June to transform iPlayer from a 30-day catch-up service to one that offers content for at least 12 months.
In its 2019/2020 Plan, the BBC stated its intention to remodel iPlayer from primarily a catch-up and linear TV service, to a destination for its license fee payers. It proposed to make individual programs and box sets available for longer to “reflect changing audience expectations and ensure the BBC can continue to serve audiences.”
Ofcom estimates that children’s content viewing will increase 6% to 9% on the streaming service following the multi-year extension. According to the BBC’s 2019/2020 Plan, a third of all CBBC viewing for kids ages six to 16 is on iPlayer. Providing more digital content for teens was a major part of the pubcaster’s recent US$44-million funding commitment to keep pace with YouTube and Netflix. Last July, it ordered a raft of bingeable teen content for iPlayer available in box sets, including Logan High (pictured). All of CBeebies’ preschool content is also available on the service.
In terms of exclusivity, Ofcom expects that most new shows will be available on iPlayer exclusively during the first 12 months, or the first five years for children’s content. It also expects that the majority of returning series, non-returning series and archive series wouldn’t be exclusively available on iPlayer after the initial year-long period.
“In line with our provisional view, we have concluded that the BBC’s proposed changes to BBC iPlayer could deliver significant public value over time,” Ofcom stated in its decision. “They could increase choice and availability of public-service broadcast content, and help ensure the BBC remains relevant in the face of changing viewing habits.
Despite the potential advantages of the extension, the watchdog is still concerned about its impact on competition, specifically other public service broadcasters’ video-on-demand services and “new UK entrants such as Britbox.”
The plan was initially laid out last year, but was subject to a public interest assessment ordered by Ofcom. In its review, the watchdog pinpointed “a risk that this increase in viewing [on] BBC iPlayer could come at the expense of its competitors—particularly other UK video-on-demand services such as ITV Hub, All 4, My5 and Now TV. As a result of the BBC offering substantial amounts of extra content, free of charge and free from advertising, commercial video-on-demand services—both advertiser funded or subscription models—may be squeezed and find it harder to make money from their own content.”
Ofcom’s assessment mirrored recommendations it made 12 years ago prior to the iPlayer’s launch in 2007. At the time, BBC management requested a 13-week catch-up window for individual TV shows. Following a public value test and a public consultation from Ofcom, BBC Trust (the independent governing body of the BBC from 2007 to 2017) stated that the service should move forward because it was “likely to deliver significant public value”, but it agreed with Ofcom that a 13-week window could negatively effect commercial TV competitors and the DVD rental market. Britbox is the BBC and ITV’s JV subscription streaming service that will air programs from both broadcasters following their linear runs and catchup availability. ITV owns a 90% stake in the service, which is expected to launch between October and the end of December for US$7.20 (£5.99) per month.
To curb some of the concern, the BBC’s new iPlayer strategy is subject to conditions and guidance, including the creation of new performance measures in consultation with Ofcom by the end of the year. These will include the tracking of content availability and consumption on iPlayer.