BBC Trust Rejects BBC's Proposal for Opening Up iPlayer to Other Public Service Broadcasters

--Reiterates Its "Support for the Principle of Sharing the iPlayer More Widely"

The BBC's governing body, the BBC Trust, has rejected a proposal from the BBC Executive which envisioned the formation of an online federation between the corporation and the UK's other public service broadcasters (i.e. ITV, Channel 4 and Five) that would make content from those broadcasters available on the BBC iPlayer catch-up service through a combination of commercial and public service elements. In rejecting the proposal, the Trust reiterated its "support for the principle of sharing the iPlayer more widely" and stated that it is "open to alternative proposals for sharing iPlayer technology," but said that the BBC would "need to find simpler ways" to achieve this goal, and that the proposal "was not the best way to share the BBC iPlayer or to deliver increased public value to license fee payers."

The proposal--known as "Open iPlayer" or "Project Marquee"--was presented to the BBC Trust's Strategic Approvals Committee on September 29th. Its elements included:

  • The establishment of a new commercial service (i.e. one that would not be part of the BBC's existing commercial arm, BBC Worldwide) which would license the BBC's iPlayer technology to third parties. According to the Trust, this commercial element of the proposal was "based on securing a number of customers for this service, potentially including UK PSB's and BBC Worldwide" and "was projected to deliver a modest profit back to the BBC, in line with the criteria for commercial activities."
  • Forming a federation of UK public service broadcasters.
  • Implementing links between the BBC iPlayer and other UK public service broadcasters' Web sites that would drive mutual traffic by, for example, allowing users to search for non-BBC content on the BBC iPlayer site.
  • The creation of a new VOD listings Web site to which all public service broadcasters would link and through which a selection of content provided by the federation members and any other VOD provider could be accessed by UK consumers.

The BBC Trust describes its specific concerns about the BBC proposal as follows:

  • "The combination of commercial and public service activities was too complex, and the inter-weaving of public service elements prevented consideration of the commercial suggestions as a standalone plan."
  • "The proposed public service activities were of considerable strategic significance but it was not clear whether they were the best way of increasing the public value of iPlayer for the benefit of license fee payers. This issue ought to be re-assessed in the course of the broader ongoing strategic review, in which the BBC Trust and Executive are looking at the post-switchover world of 2012 and beyond to develop a clear strategy for what kind of BBC could best serve the public, and best support the media sector."
  • "The federation approach was not considered to be a necessary feature of proposals to share the iPlayer technology with others."
  • "The degree of co-operation envisaged between major UK content producers would need to be looked at in terms of its possible effects on competition."

In a conference call with journalists, Diane Coyle, who chairs the BBC Trust's Strategic Approvals Committee, stated that "the federation part of [the proposal] was where the complexity came in--we didn't see the structure as necessary. We have a preference for an open model, open standards, like Canvas," she added. "When proposals get beyond a pretty straightforward definition like that it gets more problematic."

While the BBC Trust says that it "would not be appropriate to put the open iPlayer proposals through an approval process in their current form," it would, however, be "willing to consider any plans for the commercial licensing of iPlayer technology to third parties which the Executive might choose to put forward."