Addressing the Royal Television Society in London, Thompson noted that after the seven day public service window, a large proportion of what the BBC makes and broadcast is never seen or heard of again. “We want to change that and have started to talk to our partners, including the independent sector and PACT, about a proposal which we will formally submit to the BBC Trust later this year which – for reasons which escape me – we call Project Barcelona,” he said.
“The idea behind Barcelona is simple. It is that, for as much of our content as possible, in addition to the existing BBC iPlayer window, another download-to-own window would open soon after transmission – so that if you wanted to purchase a digital copy of a programme to own and keep, you could pay what would generally be a relatively modest charge for doing so,” he revealed.
He denied that this was “a second licence-fee by stealth or any reduction in the current public service offering from the BBC”, describing the initiative as the exact analogy of going into a high street shop to buy a DVD or, before that, a VHS cassette. “For decades the British public has 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,” he argued.
“The window would be non-exclusive. The BBC would open up one digital shop, but the expectation would be that all this content would also be made available for other existing providers to sell if they wish and that producers could exploit this download-to-own window in any way they wanted. But the important point is that the window would be open-ended – in other words, the programmes would be available permanently,” he advised. “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.”
He said that if the project gained the support of the UK’s producers and, importantly, the approval of the BBC Trust, it potentially added an important new source of revenue for producers and rights holders – and represented a potential new way of supporting UK production. “It could also mark an important step in broadcast’s journey from being a transitory medium into a growing body of outstanding and valuable content which is always available to enjoy and which persists forever,” he suggested.
He also admitted that open IPTV platform YouView had taken time to get right, but expressed the belief that YouView would launch at the right time, with significant numbers of boxes available in time for the Olympics. “We’ve often been told that YouView would miss the boat, that by the time it was ready, its thunder would have been stolen. That hasn’t happened. YouView is based on a radically different philosophy than most of the existing connected TV standards, with simplicity, ease-of-use and a determination to make the user-experience as TV-like as possible all key considerations,” he advised.