The BBC is set to opens its archive for Project Barcelona, a pay-to-download competitor of iTunes that could supersede iPlayer.
Project Barcelona will let viewers watch old and new programmes – like Fawlty Towers, Sherlock and Doctor Who – for a “relatively modest fee,” according to BBC Director-General, Mark Thompson. Though no launch date has been pencilled in yet, early speculation says that episodes could cost around £1.89.
While only 7% of the BBC’s archives are currently available digitally, the initiative aims to fill in the remaining 93%.
The scheme was revealed exclusively by paidContent last Thursday, and has since been announced officially by the British Broadcasting Corporation. The proposed project must still be approved by the BBC Trust and the production companies that supply the broadcaster.
Speaking at the Royal Television Society, Thompson called Project Barcelona a “digital shop” of programmes. The consequences of such a scheme will be far-reaching, combating the sales of DVDs and other digital services like iTunes and BlinkBox. Thompsons has tried to reassure those companies by saying:
“The expectation would be that all this content would also be made available for other existing providers to sell if they wish and that producers could exploit this download-to-own window in any way they wanted. But the important point is that the window would be open-ended – in other words, the programmes would be available permanently.”
The media giant has denied claims that Project Barcelona is a guerrilla-tactic to make licence fee-holders pay for shows twice, further stating:
“This is not a second license-fee by stealth or any reduction in the current public service offering from the BBC – it’s the exact analogy of going into a high-street shop to buy a DVD or, before that, a VHS cassette.”
It’s likely that Barcelona would run in conjunction with iPlayer – which makes shows available for a week after transmission – though there are concerns that it will eventually absorb the popular, free service run through the BBC website.
This may seem an ill-considered move, but there are positives to the initiative, aside from making the archive available. If production companies agree to the project, it could open up a new source of revenue at a time where the BBC is making large cutbacks.
Production teams partnered with the corporation currently earn 28p per episode from iTunes, whereas a £1.89 show through Project Barcelona could earn them 40p, instead; a move which digital expert, Christian Cawley, predicts could make the system “more attractive to the tune of an additional £13 million over 5 years across all indie producers.” This should go towards funding quality television.
It remains to be seen how big an audience there is for Project Barcelona, and all eyes will be on the BBC Trust as they consider the consequences of the initiative.