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According to BBC Director-General Mark Thompson, "British ideas are no longer strangers in LA and the world’s other media capitals." But those outside of the UK -- including British citizens -- can't officially get their fix of British content through the BBC's iPlayer.

That's something Thompson hopes will be fixed, and fixed soon. In a speech at the MediaGuardian Edinburgh International Television Festival, Thompson told attendees "Within a year we aim to launch an international commercial version of the iPlayer. Subject to Trust approval, we also want to find a way of letting UK licence payers and servicemen and servicewomen use a version of the UK BBC iPlayer wherever they are in the world."

On the surface, it seems like a no-brainer. Allowing access to content anytime, anywhere is a consumer expectation these days, and as it relates to the iPlayer specifically, the cat is already out of the bag; I've met several expats who have VPNs so that they can access the iPlayer.

Unfortunately, a global iPlayer may not happen as quickly or as easily as Thompson would like. The reason: independent producers looking to retain control of their content aren't ready to give in to Thompson's iPlayer plans.

Shortly after Thompson indicated his interest in making sure that the iPlayer would, as a start, be accessible to British licensee payers anywhere in the world, John McVay, who is the head of trade group Pact, told paidContent:UK point blank: "This has not been agreed with the BBC and we will resist this."

According to paidContent:UK's Robert Andrews, the wording of the BBC's existing agreement may favor the producers' position. Thompson seems to acknowledge this; in his speech he noted "we may need more flexibility from the producers." The question, of course, is whether the kind of flexibility the BBC needs will be forthcoming. That seems quite unlikely, at least in the short term.

But contractual issues aside, there shouldn't be any doubt that Thompson was right when he observed:

Unlike almost every other country in the world other than the US, the UK is a net exporter of television services – but the scale is still pretty small. In 2008, UK net exports of TV services were just under £200 million. Management consultancy was over six times as much, computer services 18 times as much. And please don't ask about the banks.

And that small net export figure is because today we have an industry which is mainly focused on its home market, with programme and channel brands many of which are unknown in the rest of the world. Who is the competition in these global markets? Disney, Time Warner, News Corporation. If we don't invest and organise for success – not on the basis of one format here, one comedy script there, but as an industry – we will remain what we are today: a very talented minnow. Now is the moment to put that right.

While doing that will require much more than a globally-accessible iPlayer, making British content more widely accessible via the internet does have a role to play. Unfortunately, the content business is more complex today than it has ever been. There are plenty of good reasons for that, but these complexities, and the inability and unwillingness of stakeholders to address them, are arguably hurting the content business more than they're helping it. Hopefully everyone involved in the iPlayer conversations going forward will keep that in mind.

Patricio Robles

Published 31 August, 2010 by Patricio Robles

Patricio Robles is a tech reporter at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter.

2403 more posts from this author

Comments (3)

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Colin

But what about the Murdoch's, they wont like this .... they cant make any money out of it!

about 6 years ago

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eamonn

its ok to give the iplayer tp those not in uk but what about the ones in uk who you dont give them the full service on freeview ie the red button lets be far

about 6 years ago

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Kevin Fortune

There is a fundamental problem with Britain today, we don't make anything any more and we are too short-sighted. If you think of various countries around the world you can usually reel off the products and services they are well known for. The UK manufacturing has shrunk to be almost non-existant, our car makers are mostly foreign owned. Retail is one shining example of expansion overseas. All the talk of a bruised economy, we need to back those areas in which we excel to push the UK forward as a contender of great products, services and content to encourage a healthy economy. The UK has always had a great creative community and we need to exploit this more!

The BBC is trying to lead the way and is doing a great job with services such as iPlayer. Getting this relatively new technology out to the masses in the right shape for everyone to enjoy. Yes there are always issues for some users in terms of old infrastructure and outdated media business models, but they need to catch up and see the bigger picture or get left behind. The BBC has always created some of the best content out there, and in the world of online programming the BBC is leading the way in getting this content out there. So why on earth would anyone want to limit success? I appreciate the numbers need to add up for program makers, but surely more exposure equals more DVD sales, and the opportunity to create more content.

I think we are coming to a turning point within the next few years in UK media, if the BBC is 'allowed' to lead the way and not be held back by outdated attitudes where the UK could begin to be a real contender on a global scale in terms of media content creation and delivery.

I applaud the BBC for it's efforts, and hope that some form of hybrid business model, whereby the UK license payer, program makers and viewers are all happy can be found. As mentioned in the article the internet always finds a way, and there are technical ways of allowing the iPlayer to be accessed outside the UK already if you have the technical know how. The cat is out of the bag, so something official needs to be done so the BBC can benefit using a paid model or ad supported version for international users for example.

Competition is obviously good, but you need a player to drive the market which improves things for everyone involved. Surely the result is more and better content for viewers and listeners, and more revenue for content creators. But in this digital age it's all about delivering this content in such a way people can easily consume it based around their lives. Otherwise people will go elsewhere and others swoop in with alternatives and this would be a shame.

Kevin Fortune

about 6 years ago

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