The Stack Archive

BBC makes old content available to buy via iPlayer, apparently only to Brits

Thu 5 Nov 2015

Today the BBC launches an important new initiative in its efforts to recover the licence fee losses it has incurred in recent years due to time-shifting, piracy and its traditionally fractious relationship with the government of the day regarding its future. The BBC store gives viewers the chance to permanently purchase digital versions of programs, seasons and even individual episodes of ‘ephemeral’ content such as soap operas.

The service, a spokesman for the BBC confirmed to The Stack, is only for UK viewers: ‘You can buy BBC programmes from iTunes outside the UK and we have BBC channels around the world on which audiences can enjoy BBC programmes.’

It’s not currently clear what disparity exists between BBC content available via third-party outlets and what’s available in the new store, which deposits viewer purchases in the ‘My Programmes’ area of BBC iPlayer for live streaming.

Managing director of BBC Worldwide & ANZ Marcus Arthur was quoted in a new BBC blog post as saying ‘We want BBC Store to do for digital ownership what BBC iPlayer did for catch up. BBC Store makes digital ownership really easy for audiences and means that we can begin opening up the incredible BBC television archive.’

The iPlayer service, which has recently started its first attempts to reject users employing VPNs, permits UK viewers to temporarily download encrypted digital versions of recent programs, with varying levels of continuing availability from zero to thirty days, but purchases via the BBC Store represent the first time that any ‘permanent’ content will have been made available to users. It’s not currently clear whether there is any facility to store permanent purchases locally, even in an encrypted form, or whether the viewer is simply purchasing access, with the need for new buys to be re-streamed at each viewing.

The BBC has over 70 years of potential archive content to sell, and the establishment of the Store means that fans of vintage and new box-set binges can turn away from the likes of Amazon for their classic Doctor Who stories or Dickens adaptations. At this stage it is not clear whether the extra value that the BBC has always been so good at providing in the form of extras will continue to be made available via disc purchases. It’s possible that such extras will be considered ‘legacy’ content and made available eventually, but currently that doesn’t seem to be the case.

tomb-of-the-cybermenThe DVD disc edition of the 1967 Doctor Who adventure Tomb of The Cybermen, available via Amazon, costs £13.99 (and slightly less when bought in the US via amazon.com) and contains a number of extras, including an introduction by the director, a behind-the-scenes look at BBC Visual Effects, a dedicated documentary about the making of the serial, extra footage and photos and a commentary by two of the principal actors. The version of this serial available at the new BBC Store costs £4.99 ($7.67) for all the available episodes, but apparently includes no extra material at all.

The Store catapults Auntie into the streaming age in a serious way, competing directly with the likes of Amazon’s video-purchase services, which also provides no permanent local digital copy for the consumer.

We asked the BBC about the ways in which issues such as music rights are likely to affect the availability of programmes in a spread between the Store, iTunes and third-party services to which it provides licences, such as Amazon and Netflix, but have received no answer as yet.

The spokesman’s avowal that the service is UK-only does not seem to prevent purchases being made from viewers outside the UK. Using a VPN which marks my location as Texas (I am in London), I was certainly able to get to the point of payment* via a new account at the BBC Store, though the random ‘Country Queens’ documentary I had chosen for the test didn’t seem worth a ‘wrong location’ flag in my bank’s fraud department.


*Update: The BBC commented to us: ‘I’m afraid you won’t be able to take it further than that.  We are implementing a redirect in the next few days.’


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