BBC reveals for-profit business plan for Project Barcelona

Today the BBC gives more insights into a for-profit business model for ‘iPlayer 2.0’ Project Barcelona, and reveals changes to the standard terms of trade to include DTO-rights.

Back in March I wrote about the out-going BBC Director General Mark Thompson’s pledge to make “a dramatic leap forward in digital capability” with the launch of an ‘iPlayer 2.0′ called Project Barcelona.  The DG claimed “the iPlayer is the most successful and most intensively used catch-up service in the world” and signalled an intent to monetise its success.  The idea behind Barcelona is simple: after the 30-day iPlayer window closes, another non-exclusive paid download-to-own window will open.

Today the BBC has begun circulating a more detailed business plan for Project Barcelona, ahead of possible launch at the end of this year.  Project Barcelona will allow users to pay a small fee to download and keep programmes, from both the recent and deep archive.  It has been given the slogan “making the unmissable, unmissable forever” – a twist on the current iPlayer moto.

The BBC is hoping to introduce a clause in its next Terms of Trade for non-exclusive download-to-own (DTO) rights, meaning all original BBC commissions could feature on the new platform.  The proposals are understood to include sliding-scale price points and potential profits for rights holders.  And as discussed back in March, the BBC service is expected to give producers a greater share of the episode download price (around 40p from £1.89) than Apple currently does (28p on the same price).

Originally described as a not-for-profit exercise, the BBC is now aiming to make profit out of the initiative, which it will feed back into its original programming budget.  It has been reported that a new subsidiary may be formed to manage the platform, operating similarly to subsidiaries BBC Studios & Post Production and BBC Worldwide.

The news comes days after Dan Heaf, EVP and managing director of digital for BBC Worldwide, commented on the threat posed by commercial VOD services.  He reportedly said that if all users got their BBC content via services like Netflix at its current subscription rates – the equivalent of £5.99 per month – it could wipe out 80% of BBC Worldwide’s revenues.  BBC Worldwide’s 2011 annual report indicated that it made total sales of £1.15 billion in that year, from which digital entertainment accounted for just 2.3% of revenues (£27.1 million).  Heaf’s remarks came at the launch of BBC Labs, a new incubator/mentorship program to find innovative and potentially revenue-generating digital content services.  Central to this must lie an ambition to replace the £192.3 million Worldwide is reported to make in physical (DVD) sales currently.

It is crucial that digital innovation and commercialisation lies at the very heart of the corporation’s longterm ambitions.  The BBC awaits the green-light from the Trust over today’s announced plans for Project Barcelona.

Update:  The BBC widens its digital offering by launching a live interactive video player in advance of the London 2012 Olympics. The player combines HD video with relevant data designed to enhance the viewing experience. 

Update Oct 2012: BBC rumoured to be expanding on-demand strategy further by developing music-streaming service Playlister

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