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BBC to launch US OTT service

BBC Director General Tony Hall’s told the Royal Television Society  Convention: “Over the next few years, we intend to work with global partners to grow Worldwide further, taking advantage of the demand for British programming and new digital opportunities…Next year, we’re launching a new OTT video service in America offering BBC fans programmes they wouldn’t otherwise get – showcasing British actors, our programme-makers – and celebrating our culture. Overall, we think our plans will increase commercial returns from Worldwide to the BBC to £1.2 billion (€1.64bn) over the next five years – more than 15 per cent higher than the returns of the previous five years.”

The planned OTT service is understood to be distinct from the global version of its iPlayer streaming service, which closed at the end of June. The corporation had charged users subscription fees to watch programmes via the app in Western Europe, Australia and Canada. However, it never launched in the US. Reports suggested that US pay-TV operators had threatened to drop the BBC America channel if the app had launched locally because they believed it would lose them viewers.

Hall suggested that any proposal to carve out BBC Worldwide from the BBC didn’t make economic sense, with Worldwide an indivisible part of the BBC. He also revealed plans for an OTT service for the US, and the October launch of BBC Store.

He told delegates that in the current financial climate, where everyone is being asked to deliver more for less, the BBC needed to have a commercial strategy where BBC Worldwide delivered as much as possible back into public service programmes.

He noted that the BBC’s big upcoming dramas such as War And Peace and Dickensian were all dependent on co-production deals and investment involving BBC Worldwide. “That puts more money on screen for the British public and helps take the best British content to global audiences. But this model only works if BBC Worldwide is thriving,” he asserted, adding that it was “an indivisible part of the BBC”.

He suggested that without BBC Worldwide, the licence fee would be £10 higher. “That’s why any proposal to carve out BBC Worldwide from the BBC doesn’t make economic sense. While every major global player is creating a more integrated system, it would make no sense for us to go the other way and break up a system that is delivering returns that are essential to support public service programmes. It would make it harder for the BBC to diversify its revenues still further. And it would diminish one of the best shop windows to the world for British talent and programme-makers – whether at the BBC or from independents,” he warned.

“We couldn’t have launched iPlayer – or BBC Store next month – without that critical mass of programmes made by the BBC as a starting point. And it will continue to be vital as we develop new platforms and services.”

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