Will BBC Open Up iPlayer to Compete on Global Stage?

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A Netflix-style business model for iPlayer is at the centre of the BBC's bid to both streamline its operational costs and to better compete against internet-first players on the global market.

To shave 20%, or £650 million, from its budget before 2020 in line with an agreement reached by the conservative-led government in July, BBC Director General Tony Hall set out how the Corporation would respond to the challenges and opportunities posed by the internet era.

The proposals, outlined in a report include:

  • Opening up the iPlayer to third-party content providers
  • Introduction of a online news channel BBC Newstream to replace the current 24-hour news channel
  • Launching a version of iPlayer designed for children dubbed iPlay to replace linear channel CBBC
  • A new digital music discovery service.
  • A partnership with organisations like museums, universities, the Royal Shakespeare Company, and the British Science Association, to deliver an online "Ideas Service" described as offering people "new ways to participate, engage and learn." This may eventually replace linear channel BBC4.

"We will make a transition from rolling news to streaming news," Hall said. BBC Newstream would become "the backbone" of the corporation’s global news operation, streaming mainly video-based news content to mobile phones, he said. "This will be complemented by audio, graphics and text live from BBC News."

Hall said Britain was "losing out to global players, who are busy building platforms that could become gatekeepers to British content." He offered to put the iPlayer at the disposal of British content providers through its brand and technology. The BBC could also offer paid-for content alongside the usual iPlayer content.

The BBC will experiment with launching entire seasons of programming online to allow for "binge watching." While the iPlayer platform is the logical candidate for distributing this new content, "there are other ideas too," which the BBC is currently discussing with partners.

The spin from Hall was that the proposals will lead to a "more creative, more distinctive BBC, and a BBC which is more personal to all of us."

"Our size relative to the giants of the media world is small and over the next decade will diminish both relatively and absolutely," said Hall. He acknowledged that the funding deal the BBC had struck with the government was "tough" but would not say what services the corporation will cut back, or close, until "before Christmas."

A review process is now underway considering the options. "However, as the BBC3 proposals demonstrate, there will inevitably be a move from linear to on-demand services," the report noted.

"I wonder whether there has ever been a technological challenge as bracing, and exciting, as this," said Hall. "As bracing as the challenges—and the opportunities—posed by the internet."

He added that he wanted a "more bespoke BBC" with services tailored to the users' needs, and to develop a more "collaborative relationship with its viewers and listeners" through a public engagement program.

"Where Google’s mission is to organize the world’s information, ours, in a smaller way, would be to understand it," Hall said.

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