BBC Announces iTunes-style Programme Download Service

March 15, 2012 Updated: October 1, 2015
BBC Director General Mark Thompson
BBC Director General Mark Thompson has revealed a new iTunes-style download service. (Carl Court/AFP/Getty Images)

The BBC has announced a new video-on-demand service enabling BBC programmes to be downloaded and stored.

The service, codenamed Project Barcelona, will allow viewers to download their favourite programmes and store them permanently, much like Apple’s iTunes.

It was announced by BBC Director General Mark Thompson in a speech to the Royal Television Society on Wednesday, March 14th.

Thompson said that although viewers would need to pay a fee to download programmes, Project Barcelona didn’t represent a “licence fee by stealth”.

“It’s the exact analogy of going into a high street shop to buy a DVD or, before that, a VHS cassette,” he said. “For decades the British public have understood the distinction between watching Dad’s Army on BBC One and then going out to buy a permanent copy of it. Barcelona is the digital equivalent of doing the second.”

At present the iPlayer restricts viewers to a set timeframe during which programmes can be viewed. Project Barcelona will change that, giving viewers an additional “download-to-own” window soon after transmission. Thompson said the window would be “open-ended” and that programmes would be available for a “modest charge”.

Although the BBC hasn’t confirmed the price, reports last week suggested it would be around £1.89 per show.

“Our ambition would ultimately be to let our audiences have access to all of our programmes on this basis and, over time, to load more and more of our archive into the window,” Thompson said.

The new offering will be submitted to the BBC Trust for approval later this year.

Thompson also used his speech to express his sadness at threats to freedom of speech and journalism around the world, saying that the “blackest moments” had been when BBC journalists were at peril in places like Somalia and Afghanistan.

But he remained firm on the BBC’s commitment to on-the-ground reporting.

“When we believe the risks can be identified and managed, we will deploy BBC teams to Syria and to other dangerous places because we believe it is the only way of bringing the truth of what is happening there to the world,” he said.

Thompson revealed that the BBC’s Persian service had been the victim of a sustained attack by Iranian authorities because it reported truthfully on the situation in Iran. “Arrest without charge, solitary confinement, threats and inducements to persuade their relations either to leave the service or to inform on it secretly to Iranian intelligence: this is how the Iranian government is trying to undermine the BBC Persian service,” Thompson said.

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