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Why no Wire?

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Jonathan Murphy Jonathan Murphy | 17:41 UK time, Tuesday, 31 March 2009

Last night BBC2 began broadcasting the critically acclaimed US drama "The Wire" - not just one series, but all five series back to back - that's 60 episodes.

Sadly, this programme isn't available on BBC iPlayer which has sparked quite a reaction on our messageboards, Twitter and even Facebook.

This is down to the thorny issue of Rights. Much of our programming is made or commissioned by the BBC giving us the "primary rights", including the right to make it available on iPlayer and all its various platforms (PC, TV, mobile, games devices). However, in some cases, the BBC will buy in material, where the primary rights may be held by big international commercial organisations - in this case, it's the cable broadcaster HBO. Of course, TV is expensive to make and these companies want to maximise the return on the investment they've made in producing their shows.

As well as that, bear in mind that iPlayer isn't the only TV catch-up show in town, the big studios can also sell their material via DVD or one of a growing number of pay-per-download sites. So, in this case, while we could have BBC2 terrestrial (or "over-the-air") TV rights, on-demand rights may not always form part of the deal.

It's a complex area and there's no "one-size fits all" solution. There is a growing portfolio of Hollywood films on iPlayer but generally they're only available for PC streaming rather than download. Similarly, Heroes is available on the PC but not on mobile or TV iPlayer.

But I think it's important to note that the vast majority of the content that the BBC broadcasts is cleared for catch-up. That's down to years of hard work from the BBC Rights department. Without them, we wouldn't have an iPlayer.

Jonathan Murphy is Senior Editorial Development Manager for iPlayer.


  • Comment number 1.

    Can I ask you why the BBC gave the critically acclaimed US drama The Wire such a late time slot? 11:20 to 00:20 Tuesday !?

    Obviously you don't really expect people to watch it at that time meaning they will need to catch up or record it. If you knew it wasn't to be available on iPlayer surely an earlier time slot would be vital to ensure people get to see all 60 episodes?

    Why bother buying the rights to show it, if you're not prepared to give it a decent slot? C4 would have shown it at a prime time.

  • Comment number 2.

    This "thorny" issue of rights - in other words financiers protecting their interests and ignoring those of the viewer - is a major contributor to the ongoing massive popularity of obtaining content through file sharing.

    And instead of doing anything constructive to adapt, the industries concerned together with their lapdog "agencies", try and find more and more efficient and expedient ways to chase down and prosecute individuals - the same Individuals who could have been contributing to broadcasters' viewing figures, had those broadcasters the wit to put together a business model fit for the twenty-first century.

  • Comment number 3.

    "Why bother buying the rights to show it, if you're not prepared to give it a decent slot? C4 would have shown it at a prime time."

    No they wouldn't. You're not legally allowed to include significant amounts of swearing in a programme within the first hour of the watershed.

    The Wire clearly has. So it either has to go out later than 10pm or be cut to ribbons.

    So it's in the earliest slot it could possibly be in without scrapping Newsnight. Which would be very, very, very bad. Scrapping this country's premiere news analysis programme for a seven year old US import drama would be the sort of thing that would rightly get any BBC staffer who suggested it publically hung.

    I don't see what else the BBC could have done here. If you want to complain, complain at HBO for them not selling the rights. Any complaint group suggesting otherwise is being very dim.


  • Comment number 4.

    Leaving rights issues aside, the scheduling of The Wire is pretty silly.

    Stripping an hour-long show five nights a week means I just won't be able to keep up. I do other things! Yes, I can record it but that still means finding the time to catch up: and inevitably I won't.

    So I'm not watching it.

  • Comment number 5.

    "in other words financiers protecting their interests and ignoring those of the viewer - is a major contributor to the ongoing massive popularity of obtaining content through file sharing."

    It's their content. Who else's interests do you expect them to protect?

    The major contributor obtaining content through file sharing is that lots of people like to rationalise theft beyond that they like stealing things without having to pay for it - which anyone can do here by buying the DVDs if they want.


  • Comment number 6.

    Just to say that strictly speaking comments about the Wire's scheduling are off topic. Please keep on topic.

  • Comment number 7.

    If rights are the problem, get better lawyers. If Apple can persuade the music industry to abandon DRM on iTunes, surely the BBC can use some of its guaranteed income of public money to get a fair deal for its viewers.

    I'd be more ready to applaud the iPlayer if the BBC hadn't spent years digging in its heels, sided with the content providers and offered up limp excuses for every consumer-hostile limitation: why access was limited to specific operating systems and browsers, why there was no browser-based client, why the quality was lower than broadcast, and why streaming and downloaded programmes are only available for a few days.

    The Wire is deserving as any TV show can be to be described as 'important'. Its serial nature (and the gimmicky scheduling decision) makes it all the more vital that its available on catch-up services. If the BBC aren't able to reach an agreement in this case I have to wonder how seriously they take rights at all.

  • Comment number 8.

    "If Apple can persuade the music industry to abandon DRM on iTunes, surely the BBC can use some of its guaranteed income of public money to get a fair deal for its viewers."

    Is it "fair" for the BBC to spend ludicrous amounts of money (since that's obviously what it would take) making HBO an offer they couldn't refuse for the online rights?

    For a seven year old series that people could buy on DVD if they want to? No.

    Stop being stupid.


  • Comment number 9.

    RobCla - streaming and downloaded programmes are available in a seven day window because this was the agreement the BBC made with the BBC Trust and rights holders. Series stacking has extended this for some programmes (See this blog post). Hardly a "limp excuse".

  • Comment number 10.

    @NickReynolds: The link you posted in your last comment is broken because it has a br /> tag in it for some reason.


  • Comment number 11.

    Yes, after years of waiting, very disappointed first about the scheduling and second about lack of i-player. What was wrong with BBC 3 or 4 at 10pm?.

    I understand the rights point (equally frustrating with other HBO stuff like Curb) but without sky-plus or the virgin equivalent I'll be cranking up the VCR tonight and living in the 20th century.

    What happened in episode 1? In fact, I've just read the blog that it's on every night this week. I'll never catch up. Unbelievable. You wait for a series for years then it's on every night at a time... etc etc

  • Comment number 12.

    Phazer, stop playing the internet hard man and calling people stupid, dim etc. The BBC have classified this as an adult blog.

    You don't have to be defending illegal file sharing or trying to rationalise theft to understand that when accessibility is restricted, people will find a way around it. You can argue about the rights and wrongs of that all day long, but that doesn't stop it happening.

    The sensible response to that would be to put in place practices that work with and take advantage of today's technologies. Some, notably the BBC, are making progress in that direction, but there's still a long way to go.

    Unfortunately too many institutions and individuals, including you it seems, try to reduce this to a simplistic black and white issue. That might help you feel smart when writing blog comments, but it won't solve the problem.

  • Comment number 13.

    Disapointing that it isn't available on the iplayer, but I think people can (or perhaps should!) understand that you can't *force* someone to sell something they own. If HBO wasn't willing to sell the rights to have the series on the iplayer, then you either take it or leave it.

    BUT I would suggest that there should be somewhere (e.g. the relevant bbc.co.uk/programmes pages) that will explain *why* a programme isn't available ("sorry, the BBC doesn't own the online rights to this programme, so we can't offer it on iplayer" or "sorry, the rights owner of this programme has placed restrictions that mean we can only offer this on the PC iplayer" etc), rather than simply saying it isn't available (which leads me to wonder "has it not loaded into the iplayer yet, should I try again later, or should I try a pc rather than my iphone etc etc).

    That way beeb folks don't get lots of questions coming in, visitors can see the situation for themselves.

    Just a thought - just a thought...

  • Comment number 14.


    Didn't realise this was coming to the BBC. It's one of those programmes I always liked the look of.

    No advertising. No repeats. No iPlayer. And a 5-night per week schedule which means those who didn't inadvertantly stumble over it on Monday night have got no chance of catching up.


  • Comment number 15.

    mbrodbin - That's why we published this blog post.

    I noticed that some of series 2 of The Wire is available on the HBO section of Virgin's TV Choice catch-up service. Not much help if you don't have Virgin I know.

  • Comment number 16.


    We do answer all your questions in the help pages - http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/help

    What are rights - http://iplayerhelp.external.bbc.co.uk/help/about_iplayer/online_rights

    How do I know what's available? - http://iplayerhelp.external.bbc.co.uk/help/about_iplayer/whats_on This explains Not Available/Coming Soon.

  • Comment number 17.

    "What was wrong with BBC 3 or 4 at 10pm?"

    They aren't terrestrial.

  • Comment number 18.

    Just a quick note to say I completely agree with the first persons comments. Oh and saying scheduling complaints are "off topic" is a bit silly when the very reason people are complaining is because of the crummy scheduling making it hard to watch.

  • Comment number 19.

    'The Phazer' seems to have missed my point.

    We don't know what price HBO were asking the BBC to be able to include The Wire on iPlayer. We don't know whether this was negotiated at all, or if HBO's terms were just accepted straight off the bat.

    If we refer to a show that wrapped last year a 'seven year old show' - in which case surely HBO can't still be asking a premium price for it?

    And yes, why buy the broadcast rights to anything when DVD box sets exist? Perhaps the BBC have some crazy idea that people might want to be introduced to new programmes without having to spend considerable sums of money?

    Anyway, I hope the BBC are at least going to have the sense to repeat the show in a weekly slot after the initial run.

  • Comment number 20.

    @mbrodin, NickReynolds, Jon iPlayer

    I agree with mbrodin, 'Not available' is simply not helpful. And putting blogs etc. after the time isn't very user friendly, not everyone knows that these things are posted on the blog/help pages etc. Having the reason listed on the programme page itself is a much simpler alternative instead of a rather unhelpful link to the possible reasons 'why can't I watch this?'. It also lends itself to openness and transparency which the BBC is supposed to promote.

  • Comment number 21.

    Good point pauljarvis86 - I'll look into this.

  • Comment number 22.

    sorry for the double post, but just to clarify, 'Not available' is fine in the iPlayer schedule page (less clutter), but for the http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes page I think there should be something a little more detailed/exact for each affected programme (expired/no rights/coming soon etc.) instead of the vague "Sorry, this programme is not available to watch again. Why?".

  • Comment number 23.

    There must be a technological solution to this...
    If I have any problems trying to get my VCR to work can you send someone round to have a look?

  • Comment number 24.

    I can't ignore the scheduling issue- my eyes are on stalks here after 3 late nights in a row- I'm going to have to give up watching.

  • Comment number 25.

    Interesting comments here. I can understand the irritation over the time slot and lack of availability of this show but ultimately I feel the complaints are pretty hollow. If it wasn't for the BBC, The Wire wouldn't be on at all.

    I purchased each series for under £20 from a reputable on-line store and sold them on at a marginal loss. DVD-Rs are relatively inexpensive these days too, although I appreciate they're not ideal for a show on five nights a week. But my point is it's seven years since the show debuted - if you were that keen you would've found a way by now.

  • Comment number 26.

    It is on really late but I record it. However because I live in Scotland I missed the third series and cannot see it any where else. This is most unfair. If this is what is to happen how am I expected to follow it. Just when it was getting interesting too.

  • Comment number 27.

    Yup. I'm in the same boat. PVR didn't record episode three. Any chance of a repeat? Any helpful suggestions?

  • Comment number 28.

    I knew the wire was coming to BBC from the news a few months ago and was planning to watch.

    I can understand why it isn't on the iPlayer and its poor time slot, but an advert or two letting me know when it started would have been nice. Now I have missed the first four episodes so won't be watching.

  • Comment number 29.

    I'm sorry if this is off topic slightly as it doesn't relate direcetly to IPlayer - I do understand the reasons provided as to why it isn't available via IPlayer.

    My issue however is (like most of Scotland apparently) that S1 E3 was not broadcast. Having watched the first 2 episodes I was most definately committed to watching the remaining 58. I'm bitterly disappointed to have missed episode 3 however and wonder if it's worth watching the remainder having missed one of the early (no doubt crucial) episodes.

    With IPlayer not showing it I have no other means to catch up. I refuse to use illegal means for obvious reason. This leaves me with no method with which to watch episode 3 and get back up to speed.

    Please please please BBC - Is there no solution?

  • Comment number 30.

    You are off topic but I'll let you off. I'll try and find the right place for you to go.

  • Comment number 31.

    How practical is it to have it on at the same time, so at least we can set our PVR's/VCR's to catch what is supposed to be an excellent programme?
    It seems that a) it'sappearance has been a well kept secret (it certainly didn't get the promotion that Peggy Mitchell's wedding got - I'm not an Eastenders person, but I think I heard every Radio 2 advert for it) and b) like others, I have missed Episode 1 & 3 (I thought it was a weekly thing - caught me on the hop!!)

  • Comment number 32.

    The Wire is the only american police drama i have watched since the original Hill Street. It is also the only program i set up to record with Video+. Only 50 odd episodes to go. Great.

  • Comment number 33.

    The BBC's scheduling of this show is stupid, stupid, stupid. I have yet to meet a single person who thinks it's a good idea. Four to five times a week, for an hour-long show, very late night, for sixty episodes - is too much. This isn't a soap. This isn't Eastenders. It's exactly what you market it as - a gritty crime drama. I can't imagine the ratings are worth the small fortune of licence-payers' money the BBC inevitably wasted on it. And yet things could have been so different!

  • Comment number 34.

    daylightsaving - you're off topic. This thread is not about scheduling of the Wire in general.

    Try this thread on Points of View.

  • Comment number 35.


    Episode 3 of The Wire was shown in Scotland but it was 10 minutes later than billed (a correction was issued that day so all EPG's and ceefax listings were correct).

    Newsnight Scotland was extended by 10 minutes to cover the North Sea helicopter crash.

    No more comments about scheduling please!

  • Comment number 36.

    Like many of the previous comments, I have also missed a couple of episodes - the first two.

    Is there any possibility of getting some form of catch-up in the near future ? Maybe in the form of a repeat during the night, in a couple of weeks time ?

    If so, I will persevere with recording the episodes, otherwise I will just give up.


  • Comment number 37.

    I missed ep.1. 2-5 on sky+ but no way of finding ep.1

    2 annoyances here
    a) That the series isn't on iPlayer. Thanks HBO you've given me a lasting impression. (and the industry's worried about piracy... um.. )
    b) the scheduling of 5 x 1 hour per week. That's a heavy schedule to keep up. I'd much prefer 1 or 2 per week.

  • Comment number 38.

    I agree that The Wire should have been shown on BBC 3 or 4 at 10, rather than BBC 2 at 11.20, given that it is broadcast during the week and most people still have jobs to get up for in the morning. As for the failure to get the rights for iplayer, that does not show the BBC commercially at its most competent.

  • Comment number 39.

    As regards communicating non-availability on the iPlayer the BBC could quite simply have made this clear in its own puff pieces about having acquired the rights.

    But, under the circumstances, should they have bought the wire at all? Missing a single episode is, well, a bit like reading a book and skipping a chapter. Given the (off topic) scheduling and failure to acquire iPlayer rights, all but the most determined of viewers are going to find it hard not miss out at some point. So what do you do when your hooked and miss an episode? Buy the DVD set of course! The Wire, as advertised by the BBC, leaving HBO laughing all the way to the bank. Brilliant!

  • Comment number 40.

    Due to the above issues, I am unable to catch up on a missed episode 7, I have been recording them on my PVR to keep and refer back to. I have all the other episodes on DVD. Does anyone have Ep 7 and could give me a copy. I am willing to give copies of any episodes missed.

  • Comment number 41.

    Chill out everybody. Clear your diaries for the next 12 weeks, buy yourself a case of Irish whisky, and settle down with a measure or two a night with McNulty and co for the the best television ever made.

  • Comment number 42.

    Can we please keep comments on topic please. This post is about The Wire and the BBC iPlayer.

  • Comment number 43.

    Perhaps on the iPlayer page, instead of no link, the words 'The Wire' should link to the programme page, which shows when it is on next on BBC2.

  • Comment number 44.

    @NickReynolds - the topic of iPlayer & the schedulding of The Wire are related. People who want to watch the show may struggle due to the schedulding and then can't make it watching on iPlayer. I fell asleep during Thursday nights episode because of the scheduling - what am I to do now?

  • Comment number 45.

    Although I can understand why it is shown late due to the graphic content, it is difficult to understand why the Wire is not shown again on BBC iplayer or BBC Three or Four. The show is barely even advertised which is disappointing, given the endless promotion of the other US imports such as Heroes or even shows like The Apprentice that are well past there sell by date as well as subpar programming such as Strictly Come Dancing and other shows of the ilk. I know a lot of people who are not aware of the show; it is almost as though you don’t want people to watch it.

  • Comment number 46.

    I don't really care about The Wire not being available on iPlayer, as I have Sky+, but the article by Jonathan Murphy at the top of this link says that BBC Two will be screening all five series "back to back", and it isn't; the first series ends tonight, and the second series doesn't begin until mid-May. Why is this?

  • Comment number 47.

    BenMcCrory - BBC's coverage of the World Snooker Championships starts on Saturday. This annual feast of 'stick and ball fun for insomniacs' usually monopolises the post-Newsnight schedule for duration of the tournament.

  • Comment number 48.

    Having already sent a complaint re both the scheduling and lack of iplayer access, it is to be hoped the BBC will now realise they have gold in their hands and come to their senses. i.e. Repeat Series 1 on bbc4 at 9 p.m. before they start showing series 2 in the post Newsnight spot on bbc2 in mid May and thereafter repeat each episode as aforementioned at 9 p.m. the following day on bbc4. Further succumb to HBO demands for showing the most entertaining, enlightened and educational show to reach these shores for years on the iplayer.

  • Comment number 49.

    <RICHPOST>@NickReynolds: Could you (or whoever works on the blog software) please investigate a bug that I have seen from time to time on this blog (and maybe other BBC blogs, I'm not sure) where some URLs posted in comments have <br> added in the middle of them, which of course breaks the links and gives you a 404 if you click on them, e.g. the links in comments 9 and 34 have <br> added.<BR /><BR />Also, (only slightly) off-topic, could Mr. Murphy (or whoever would know about the rights situation) answer the very relevant question prompted by wolfcharizma's comment 45: Does the BBC have repeat rights to The Wire? If so, it could be repeated at a slightly earlier time on BBC Four (10pm say), and maybe only once a week, which would answer some (but not all obviously, as it is disappointing for it not to be available on iPlayer) of the concerns raised.</RICHPOST>

  • Comment number 50.

    Oops, I forgot that the software would parse it, what I typed was the br / tag (but with an opening less than sign and a closing greater than sign of course). Out of curiosity, is there a way to stop the software from parsing something (like on Wikipedia with the nowiki tag)?

  • Comment number 51.

    andrew646 - Since Jonathan only deals with iPlayer I think he's unlikely to be able to answer that question and as I've said before this post is not for general questions about scheduling of The Wire.

    I'll investigate the linking question.

  • Comment number 52.

    When does series 2 hit bbc2.

    I thought the series were running back to back.

    I need a fix.

  • Comment number 53.

    @dorris101: There's still the last episode of series 1 tonight, remember:

    As for when series 2 starts, I have no idea, but it will have to be after the World Snooker Championship, which runs from Saturday until 4 May.

  • Comment number 54.


    to late for me bt box is ready to run.

  • Comment number 55.

    When is the 2nd series of the Wire starting on BBC 2? I'm hooked!

  • Comment number 56.

    ** This post contains strong language, dont read on if u dont like that **

    This is not back to back is it? We all were having a hard time not having our shot last weekend. Now we have to wait untill when for our next fix? Cmon yo BBC n*gga's & w*gga's when do u have your re-up? Changes are we find some towers to score if there is no more packages in the low rises. Barksdale crew would never let that happen.

    polite version: changes are i'll buy the DVD set and never watch BBC again, when i dont even know when to watch again...

  • Comment number 57.

    Why are the bbc saying they're showing all 60 episodes 'back to back' when series 2 apparently won't start for another few weeks?

    Incidentally,last week's guardian tv guide said series 2 starts on 20th april. Does anyone know when it actually does start?

  • Comment number 58.

    Best series ever I never bothered to switch to FX when it was on their but thank god for the bbc!

  • Comment number 59.

    @Dublina8 and missbeento: See post 53 for the earliest date series 2 could start.

    @FransJ and missbeento: And I might be wrong, but when did the BBC say that the episodes would be showing 'back-to-back'? I couldn't find any mention of that in the press release:


  • Comment number 60.

    Oops, my bad, right at the beginning of this post:

    "Last night BBC2 began broadcasting the critically acclaimed US drama "The Wire" - not just one series, but all five series back to back - that's 60 episodes."

  • Comment number 61.

    Dexterperrin claimed that C4 would do The Wire Justice. Is this the same C4 that couldn't be bothered to run the whole series of 'Homicide, Life On the Street' or so badly butchered showing 'NYPD Blue' that they showed episodes at 01.00 + in the morning and then crammed the last couple of series on to More 4 so we could get more 'Big Brother'? If your worried about the late time, ask your mum to let you stay up late once you've done your homework.

  • Comment number 62.

    This is turning into a general message board thread about the Wire and is off topic. Go to the Points of View message board please if you want to continue in this vein. There's already a discussion about the Wire there.

  • Comment number 63.


    I dont think most posts here are off-topic. We are not discussing the characters, the plot, or why this is or isn't the best series ever.

    The posts about the sceduling are tied to the iplayer thing. Some people comment they really needed the iplayer here because they couldn't keep up with the scedule; Some people commented that other TV stations have better solutions if there are no streaming rights; Some people commented that repeating the series might be a workaround in this situation;

    The main point though is the opening paragraph of the blog by Mr. Murphy:

    "Last night BBC2 began broadcasting the critically acclaimed US drama "The Wire" - not just one series, but all five series back to back - that's 60 episodes."

    Why keep telling us we cannot comment the scedule? Mr Murphy starts his blog by mentioning the scedule. Some people made comments about this, mainly because Mr Murphy 'promised' us a bit more than the BBC delivered.
    The best thing to do here, in my opinion, is letting Mr. Murphy find out the right scedule, and post that here. That would stop the discussion.

    (Excuse my bad english, im just a white guy from Holland, trying to talk like a afro-american kid from Baltimore USA)

  • Comment number 64.

    I am LOVING the wire! When people said it was better than the Sopranos I didn't believe them - more fool me!

    What I want to know is, when is Series 2 starting??? I need my Wire fix!

  • Comment number 65.

    I'm with the dude asking when's series 2 start?
    The BBC Website is all singing, all dancing, but there's no obvious link to this info.

    All you people whining about how late it's on get a grip. Stay up or record it. Techno Bores who gives

  • Comment number 66.

    I have been waiting for this series to air for a while; after watching the first two episodes I knew just how good it really was. I'm grateful that the BBC decided to buy the rights to air it - but what a waste to show it at 11.20!

    When does the second series start? I have searched the BBC website, but can find no information. The result, I have just purchased the second series on DVD from well know retail website. This doesn't seem like a good way to keep viewers.

  • Comment number 67.

    I missed episodes 3 and 4 so bought the first series on DVD. Only have the last 2 episodes to watch then it is available if anyone wants to buy it from me!!

    The series is brilliant and I am now annoyed that series 2 will not be on for a couple of weeks until after the snooker by the look of things !

  • Comment number 68.

    When is the next THe Wire programme transmitted?
    We are totally hooked and have just watched the last episode of series one. When will the next series start?
    Regards to all Wire watchers

  • Comment number 69.

    This really is off topic I'm afraid.

    I'm going to close this post later today.

  • Comment number 70.


    Mmm just telling us again to stop commenting the scedule. No arguments for that, nor replying to our arguments. Thats not that strong I think.

    Some further arguments why this is the place to comment the schedule:

    - On the Wire page, http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00jnwlc there is a direct link to this page. It mentions the iplayer, but we are not all techies. You are bound to get this kind off comments, putting that link on The Wire page.

    - The link you provided in your previous post doesn't help much:
    Searching on the points off view page, gives me hundreds off links. One to the webpage for 'the wire', one back to this page, the others are links to a radioshow with the same name. (I didnt check them all really)

    - The other link to the discussion of 'the wire' leads me to a page with one comment. Its from april 1999 and reads: "Flink!! Err, I meant Flonk!!" That seems quite off topic.

    - The title off ths blog is "Why no Wire?"
    Commenting the scedule fits this title. That is exactly what we are complaining about. Why no wire?


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