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A Quick Download on Project Barcelona

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Roly Keating | 11:00 UK time, Friday, 16 March 2012

As the BBC's Director of Archive Content, the teams I work with are always looking for new and better ways to make the BBC’s archive available to audiences, and on Wednesday night Mark Thompson in his speech to the Royal Television Society gave a brief glimpse of one of the projects that’s currently under development.

The idea behind Project Barcelona (no, none of us can remember why it’s called that) is to expand very significantly the range of BBC content that’s available in the UK on a download-to-own basis. 'DTO' as it's often called is the digital equivalent of purchasing a DVD, or a VHS in the old days – a permanent copy of a favourite programme to own and keep.

The research we've done with audiences tells us they're very comfortable with the idea of BBC programmes being made available for purchase like this – there's a clear understanding of the difference between viewing something once and keeping it to enjoy in perpetuity. As Mark Thompson said in his speech, this is not a second licence-fee by stealth or any reduction in the current public service offering from the BBC.

At the moment, although partners such as iTunes offer a selection of the most popular BBC titles for purchase as downloads, we estimate that more than 90% of what the BBC commissions becomes unavailable for download once it’s removed from BBC iPlayer.

We’d like to change that, and get to a point where it’s the norm, not the exception, for shows to be available for digital purchase soon after transmission, with the most comprehensive range of BBC titles being offered via a bespoke online shop.

We envisage this to be a commercial site separate from the licence fee-funded BBC iPlayer, which would of course continue to offer its hugely successful and popular service of recently broadcast BBC programmes to catch up on-demand for free.

Many of those same programmes would also be available for purchase via Barcelona, just as some titles today are released for sale as DVDs or on iTunes while they're still in their catch-up window on BBC iPlayer– audiences would simply have a choice of whether they want an immediate viewing experience on BBC iPlayer, for free, or to buy their own permanent digital copy and watch it whenever they want.

The rights for programmes in Barcelona would be wholly non-exclusive: producers would be free to work with other digital retailers as well, and of course to exploit their programmes in multiple other ways, such as secondary TV channels, subscription services, DVD, video-on-demand, and so on.

Over time the aim would be to make available not just an expanded range of recent titles, but a far greater volume of archive content as well. Barcelona would open up an important additional space for that very broad set of BBC programming that currently isn’t being made available by the market, much of it never seen since its original transmission. We believe there’s value for audiences in that, as well as additional revenues for producers, rights holders and the creative industries.

We’re excited by the potential of the Barcelona idea, but it’s still very much in development, and it’s certainly too early for us to be able to offer further detail on issues such as pricing, technology and timing. There’s much work to be done with our partners across the industry before it’ll be ready for submission to the BBC Trust for approval. We’ll keep you posted.

Roly Keating is the Director of Archive Content


  • Comment number 1.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 2.

    Can you clarify one point. It has been reported that Mark Thompson said DTO from Barcelona would be available "to licence payers" while the official text of his speech did not specify licence payers.
    If it will be the same as buying a DVD in a shop will it be available to everyone in the UK whether they have a TV licence or not?

  • Comment number 3.

    Oh - may i suggest one additional element to this? Let Connected TVs into the party by offering streamed playout of titles either purchased or rented? Maybe offer a per-month model at around the Netflix price point for unlimited access - as well as offering the purchase option? Maybe look at We7's subscription site for ideas?

    Just that I would be using my LG Smart TV as a primary method for consuming this stuff...

    And ensure that Linux users can stay in the party by keeping the DRM to a minimum? (Adobe may be getting out of maintaining Flash for Linux)

  • Comment number 4.

    @zz9 (#2) — technically speaking (as far as the BBC’s Charter and framework agreements are concerned), the group of people defined as “Licence Fee Payers” is “not only a person to whom a TV licence is issued under section 364 of the
    Communications Act 2003, but also (so far as is sensible in the context) any other person in the UK who watches, listens to or uses any BBC service, or may do so or wish to do so in the future.”

    That's article 57 of the Charter, if you're curious.

    I don’t know for sure, but I suspect this was the definition Roly was employing.

  • Comment number 5.

    What sort of DRM is it going to use?

  • Comment number 6.

    I hope that this facility will be extended to those of us who live outside the UK. The ability to legally download content from the BBC will be welcome.

  • Comment number 7.

    I'll open the bidding at 40p per hour of radio drama of my choice.

    If it's YouPayAgain's choice, I'll offer 20p.


  • Comment number 8.

    This is an absolutely wonderful idea and I for one am all for it.

    There is just one minor downside to this again, as with the BBC iPlayer, it will not be available world wide. When my wife and I were living in Germany I contacted the BBC on numerous occassions asking if there might be any conceivable way of accessing the content, rather then having to wait for 10 years and then only be presented with a cut-down-to-50-minutes version which was usually badly dubbed as well.

    Off hand, I'd know literally 100s of people across the globe that would be willing to pay for the right to access such material. Let's face it, the BBC, like 'em or leave 'em, is the best broadcasting corporation on the planet.

    Yes, I am all for it but do think about expanding the accessibility. Not THAT would make a lot of people very happy.

  • Comment number 9.

    It will need to be on time, available globally, based on open standards, and DRM free. If it isn't, there'll still be an incentive to use the unofficial alternatives.

    You can compete with free, but you can't compete with better.

  • Comment number 10.

    Fantastic idea, I'm surprised you have not gone into this market before. There is a huge potential for making money from your great content.

    Please forget about DRM, we just want something that plays on all our devices not something crippled. The music industry found this out pretty quick I don't see why the video industry is any different.

    Looking forward to testing it out.

  • Comment number 11.

    Mo, many thanks for that. Will look out for the launch!

  • Comment number 12.

    Looking forward to the Project Barcelona launched globally in some day! Seriously it's very hard to find BBC programmes from Japan!!

  • Comment number 13.

    How will I as a researcher working on future projects be affected? Will I be able to access content prior to deciding which material to download?


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