Entertaining reactions to BBC Worldwide's P2P move

Martin Belam  by Martin Belam, 20 December 2006

There has been a lot of entertaining reaction across the web to the announcement that BBC Worldwide will be distributing some shows via the Zudeo service in the USA.

On TechCruch, Michael Arrington sparked another U.S. vs U.K. flame war with his (tongue-firmly-in-cheek I'm sure) comment that:

Under the agreement, BBC will license a number of television shows to U.S. users, including Red Dwarf, Strange and Invasion Earth, Little Britain, Doctor Who, Fawlty Towers, Coupling, Keeping Up Appearances, League of Gentlemen and Ideal.
It is a tragedy that they didn’t include the only BBC show worth watching, The Office.

Mind you, even I was shocked to see that someone thinks there is an American download market for 'Keeping Up Appearances'.

My favourite comment in the ensuing fall-out was from Chris:

This stuff better not be free. We in the UK have to pay a license fee (TV tax) to the BBC every year. If they start giving it away like some $3 whore on the Internet they can stick the fee.

Obviously it is the BBC's commercial arm involved, and so whatever revenue is generated, or at least some of the profits from it, should get paid back in to the BBC's public service coffers.

It has also sparked off an interesting debate on the BBC's own backstage.bbc.co.uk mailing list - which can be peeked at via the unofficial archive. Basically it boils down to some people saying "Let everything be downloaded for free now", and a few BBC net-heads asking "Have you ever sat down with a performance rights lawyer to try and get that kind of things agreed?". It has been, after all, only in the last year or so that a deal with PACT started allowing the BBC to experiement with things like catch-up TV on the BBC Two site.

By far the funniest comment though, if unintentionally so, is Bobbie Johnson's piece in the Guardian's technolog blog - "BBC deal with filesharing site: but what about Brits?":

My question is "what about us in the UK?". As far as I can ascertain, none of this applies to UK consumers. We're still waiting the long-trailed interactive media player - which will let home viewers download and watch BBC programming over the net. Years after work first started, it's still not out for general consumption. Instead we have to watch as the Beeb makes deals with outside interests while we twiddle our thumbs waiting for the Real Deal.

Isn't it madness when British viewers are the last to be able to get hold of BBC content?

It certainly does seem like madness. But then that madness is partially due to the fact that once the BBC had trialled their iMP technology, they had to shut it down for a period of evaluation. Getting the iPlayer to the public has involved a lengthy consultation period with OFCOM over the market impact of the proposed new service, and requires the approval of the new BBC Trust in a 'Public Value Test'. And why does it have to jump through those hoops? Well, that is due in no small part to the frantic lobbeying by BIPA against the iPlayer and bbc.co.uk in general - an organisation of which Guardian Unlimited itself is a prominent member.

6 Comments

Well, Martin, I'm sure you'll forgive me for having opinions that differ from that of the company I work for or a trade association which represents them. Such things do happen from time to time, I've heard.

Like most people, I'd rather see an iPlayer that was out there delivering BBC programming to the British public right now. But the rights issues, as I'm sure you are aware, are also hugely problematic - and, of course, there's a funding model for rights owners in the Zudeo case.

>> Well, Martin, I'm sure you'll forgive me for having opinions that differ from that of the company I work for or a trade association which represents them. Such things do happen from time to time, I've heard.

Yes, I have heard of that happening - I'm pretty sure that Sony and I don't see eye-to-eye on their browser support standards ;-)

>> Like most people, I'd rather see an iPlayer that was out there delivering BBC programming to the British public right now.

Me too. I never worked on it myself but I understand iPlayer development has been absolutely fraught with complexity. I think the real problem with the whole "Public Value Test" regime is that it completely runs counter to the emerging "constant beta" culture of the web.

In contrast to the RadioPlayer, which just appeared with a little bit of content and then evolved over time, the whole PVT test really ties the BBC into delivering the whole thing in one big bang, rather than allowing for it to be released initially with only limited catch-up programming and gradually add more stuff as the rights get cleared and the technology matures.

In the meantime, of course, the BBC is still stuck with various different video players and consoles dotted around bbc.co.uk some of which do on demand and some of which don't, some of which use Flash and some of which use Real/WMP etc. I guess that all needs to be bought into the iPlayer fold as well.

I can think of a number of things that Americans have done to deserve keeping up appearances. I move that they be subjected to it until they sign up to Kyoto, pull out of Iraq, etc...

You quote a comment from Chris: This stuff better not be free. We in the UK have to pay a license fee (TV tax) to the BBC every year. If they start giving it away like some $3 whore on the Internet they can stick the fee. ... then write ...

Obviously it is the BBC's commercial arm involved, and so whatever revenue is generated, or at least some of the profits from it, should get paid back in to the BBC's public service coffers.

Obviously. But the point lies around "whatever revenue is generated". Interesting that BBC News quote Beth Clearfield, who's vice president of program (sic) management and digital media at BBC Worldwide, saying the agreement was part of a drive to reach the largest audience possible.

Read her quote again: to reach the largest AUDIENCE possible. Which is why Chris's comment shouldn't be just brushed away with a comment that the money will make its way back to the BBC in the UK for more programme-making. If not priced correctly, it could be loss-making for BBC Worldwide, or not value these assets correctly. I suspect that those of us who live within the UK have a valid argument here: after all, if this is a success, it could even wipe out the telly-tax for all of us! Similarly, if it's too cheap, it could also distort the marketplace for other broadcasters, who actually do have to make an honest living selling things to earn revenue, and not just get a big audience. And if the BBC are paying too much for the creative rights to do this, it can distort the marketplace for others too; the BBC has already demonstrably done this in other areas. Take the BBC rose-tinted glasses off occasionally, Martin, before you thoughtlessly brush aside any and every criticism of your previous employer.


Secondly, you're claiming that Bobbie Johnson is writing with bias on behalf of the company he works for. This is an insult to journalists who work in commercial organisations: not the first, either, given your insuniations a few months ago about what might happen if the BBC takes advertising on bbc.com. The Guardian is also highly unpleasant towards DAB Digital Radio (to the point of journalists getting things deliberately wrong to make cheap points against the technology); yet it owns a number of DAB Digital Radio stations. Difficult though it is to comprehend, journalists are proudly independent of the companies they work for: whether they work for the beloved BBC or for a dirty, dirty, commercial organisation.

Grr. And just when I start agreeing with you in other posts.

>> Take the BBC rose-tinted glasses off occasionally, Martin, before you thoughtlessly brush aside any and every criticism of your previous employer.

My rose-tinted glasses have a little Sony logo in the corner now that I also have to make an honest revenue selling stuff.


>> Secondly, you're claiming that Bobbie Johnson is writing with bias on behalf of the company he works for.

I wasn't claiming that, and I certainly didn't mean to insult Bobbie - the piece did though make me laugh out loud at the irony of where it was posted, and I hope Bobbie took it in good humour. I thought my reply to his comment had made that clear - maybe not. My bad in that case.


>> Grr. And just when I start agreeing with you in other posts.

Bloody hell, that won't do at all...

@ Martin

I can indeed confirm that I took it in good humour. But like most good journalists, we're not in thrall to our corporate interests (in fact, Vic Keegan wrote a column this week that goes against much of Bipa's approach.

@James

> (to the point of journalists getting things deliberately wrong to make cheap points against the technology)

I never get anything deliberately wrong, I merely insist on being stupid.

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