A Quick Download on Project Barcelona
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