BBC to launch on-demand TV

LONDON (Reuters) - The BBC is to launch a range of web-based on-demand TV and audio services which could revolutionise the way people watch television.

A satellite dish is seen next to the BBC's main offices, in west London, in this December 7, 2004 file photo. The BBC is to launch a range of web-based on-demand TV and audio services which could revolutionise the way people watch television. REUTERS/Toby Melville

The BBC Trust, which oversees the corporation, said on Monday 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 would allow viewers to catch up with programmes from the previous seven days and store them on a computer for 30 days, while cable viewers will be able to use this service on their televisions.

IPlayer, which will be located on the Web site, will also allow viewers to watch programming on the Internet and listen to some audio downloads without anti-piracy software known as digital rights management.

“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 in Britain and the media regulator 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 such as “Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares” online for up to 30 days after the first transmission for a small fee.

Britain’s 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.