Debate over BBC iPlayer

Commercial Radio body The RadioCentre has warned that the new BBC iPlayer heralds an anti-competitive broadcasting landscape.

They have criticised the scope of the BBC’s plans to deliver on-demand content, as part of its submission to Ofcom’s Market Impact Assessment of BBC Management’s iPlayer proposals.

Whilst accepting that the BBC should play a role in introducing consumers to new means of receiving content, the RadioCentre has cautioned against gifting the BBC a blank canvas with which to dominate the future of content delivery. Whilst agreeing that consumers should be able to download content on a range of platforms, the RadioCentre has called for a debate about the viability of opening up the internet-based iPlayer to commercial broadcasters. This echoes recent calls by the British Internet Publisher’s Alliance (BIPA) for commercial broadcasters to have access to the iPlayer’s Electronic Programme Guide, in order to ensure that consumers are not locked into a BBC-only world.

The RadioCentre has also warned that the iPlayer is likely to affect adversely commercial broadcasters’ ability to monetise their own content. It proposes that the availability of free on-demand content be limited, with access beyond a seven-day window granted on a paid-for basis only. The RadioCentre is additionally concerned that by allowing the BBC to aggregate content within genre, the iPlayer could lead to the creation of pseudo channels, generating unfair competition for specialist Commercial Radio services.

RadioCentre Chief Executive Andrew Harrison said: “It is accepted by Government, Parliament, regulators and industry that a pluralistic broadcasting ecology is essential to any democracy. Whilst the iPlayer represents a tremendous opportunity for enhanced access to BBC content, it could lead to some consumers accessing little else. They would be better served by an iPlayer which opened a world of ideas and views beyond just that of the BBC. We believe that further work needs to be done to ensure that the BBC’s financial strength and ability to develop services across a range of complementary platforms does not give it an unfair advantage as broadcasters explore alternatives to traditional linear programming.”

Harrison has also written to BBC Chairman Michael Grade with his thoughts about the way in which this inaugural Public Value Test (PVT) has been conducted. The PVT process was designed to improve transparency and accountability about new service proposals, but Harrison expressed his concern that the lack of detail provided by BBC Management had made the submission of meaningful and evidence-based responses more difficult. In addition, Harrison recommended that stakeholders be given more time to respond to future PVT consultations.

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