BBC Trust gives go-ahead to on-demand TV

The BBC Trust has given the go-ahead for the broadcaster to launch a range of Web-based on-demand TV and audio services.

The Trust, which oversees the corporation, said that it had approved the service after examining the public demand and any impact it would have on commercial rivals.

Broadcaster Channel 4 said on Monday that its on-demand service had been used by ‘well over’ one million people watching a total of 20 million programmes since it was launched six months ago, far exceeding expectations.

The BBC said the new iPlayer system will allow viewers to catch up with programmes from the previous seven days and store them on a computer for 30 days. After 30 days, downloaded programmes will be deleted. The Trust has acceded to a limited amount of ‘series stacking’, allowing programmes in a series to be stored for the duration of the complete series. However this will be restricted to 15 per cent of the BBC’s TV output.

Cable viewers will be able to use this service on their televisions and as the BBC announced last week the service will be available to both Windows and Mac users, unlike the Windows-only Channel 4 offering.

The Trust said that it had received an unprecedented 10,500 submissions from the general public, 85 per cent of which urged it to ensure that the service would not be tied to Microsoft software.

iPlayer will also allow viewers to watch programming on the Internet and listen to some audio downloads, the latter without DRM.

‘We are facing unprecedented rates of change in technology and audience expectations,’ Ashley Highfield, the BBC’s Director of Future Media and Technology, said in a statement.

‘BBC iPlayer responds to a need for greater control and flexibility over how and when audiences access BBC content. It is a critical part of the strategy to maintain impact and relevance in a world where viewing and listening habits are shifting from linear to on-demand.’

The BBC, which will provide the content for free, dominates the broadcasting and radio industry and Ofcom had warned that its entry into a nascent market such as on-demand could harm the competition. But the corporation has since watered down its proposal from allowing viewers to store programmes for 13 weeks to the shorter time period of 30 days.

Broadcasters are turning towards online as viewers move away from the traditional linear access to programming and they hope it will also boost funds at a time of falling advertising revenues on the main television channels.

Channel 4 allows viewers to watch programmes online for up to 30 days after the first transmission for a small fee.

The biggest commercial broadcaster ITV will unveil its broadband portal on Tuesday with the majority of content being offered for free. ITV welcomed the changes made to the initial BBC proposal and said they would ensure fairer competition.

The BBC said the iPlayer launch date would be announced in due course.

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