BBC iPlayer app gets European launch, but US beckons

28 Jul 2011

The BBC’s worldwide commercial arm BBC Worldwide has launched the new global BBC iPlayer app exclusively on the iPad. Available in a select number of European countries at first, analysts believe the BBC is only scratching the surface and the fireworks will really begin when it debuts in the US.

The brand-new video on demand subscription service, launching first in Western Europe, will deliver the BBC’s award-winning programming to viewers in 11 markets for €6.99 a month (or €49.99 for an annual subscription).

The app will initially be available in Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg, The Republic of Ireland, The Netherlands, Portugal, Spain and Switzerland.

Designed to be intuitive and easy-to-use, a key feature of the app allows subscribers both to stream and to download shows for offline viewing for when they can’t access Wi-Fi connectivity. The stylish and simple interface enables users to build a personal library of shows.

John Smith, CEO, BBC Worldwide said: “I’m proud that we’re one of the first international broadcasters to give access to our shows in a perfectly packaged app. This launch is an important route to market in our strategy of pursuing multiple platforms for our programmes and brands, taking British programmes to new digital audiences around the world. Today marks a significant next step on a digital journey that has already seen 12m BBC Worldwide apps downloaded across brands as diverse as Lonely Planet and Good Food.”

“Based on the soaring success of the UK’s pioneering BBC iPlayer service, the app combines technical innovation with editorial creativity to transport users to the heart of the BBC and British television and on a journey of discovery, wherever and whenever they want,” said Jana Bennett, BBC Worldwide president of Worldwide Networks and Global iPlayer. “We have an exciting vision for what this service could become and will develop it based on feedback from within the markets.”

Subscribers will be able to access a rich selection of captivating English-language programmes across eight genres: News Specials & Documentaries, Entertainment, Drama, Comedy, Science & Nature, Family & Kids, Music & Culture and Lifestyle.

The app brings together classic comedies such as Fawlty Towers and Only Fools & Horses, drama series Sherlock, Luther and Pride and Prejudice, recent episodes of the UK’s famous soap EastEnders, global motoring phenomenon Top Gear, the Doctor Who archive and the children’s show Charlie & Lola.

Hours of new programming will be added to the service every week, along with themed collections curated from the BBC’s extensive archive, including David Attenborough and the story of the Royal Family.

The global BBC iPlayer App is now available to download for free from the App Store in the launch markets on iPad.

Warming up for a bigger prize: the US market

Nick Thomas, principal analyst for TV & Digital Media at Informa Telecoms & Media, says Europe is one thing. With a US rollout in the pipeline, this is a great opportunity for BBC Worldwide to find out how to build a successful premium service for non-UK audiences.

“Tablet devices such as the iPad are generally seen as ideal devices for consuming high-quality video but no major video aggregator has yet built a premium service targeted solely at iPad users. The industry needs to find a way of making such services work: Tablet manufacturers need strong video services to showcase the capabilities of their devices, while content providers need to find new app-based revenue streams.

“This feels like a soft launch of the global iPlayer, with the bigger long-term opportunities for BBC Worldwide lying in the US market. It remains to be seen what appetite there is for a service based largely around on-demand archive content, however high the quality, since most online catch-up TV services closely reflect linear TV schedules, but in the meantime the BBC’s record of innovation in content distribution continues.”

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years