Advanced Television

Ofcom restricts iPlayer changes

December 17, 2018

By Colin Mann

UK broadcast regulator Ofcom has published its full decision on the BBC’s proposed changes to iPlayer, which will limit the Corporation’s scope to make programmes available beyond a defined period.

The BBC had proposed a number of changes to the BBC iPlayer for implementation in 2018/19. These included:

  • A substantial number of additional Box Sets, which would be available on the iPlayer for an extended time period;
  • changes to features, such as enhancements to the user experience and personalisation; and
  • increased marketing spend.

The BBC estimates that its proposals could increase iPlayer’s share of video-on-demand viewing. As a result of its proposals, the BBC forecasts that total minutes of iPlayer viewing could increase substantially in 2018/19 relative to 2017/18 levels.

The BBC Board must first assess whether any proposed change to its public service is ‘material’. If it decides that a change is material, the BBC is then obliged to carry out a further assessment, known as a ‘public interest test’ or ‘PIT’, which is reviewed by the BBC Board. A PIT provides an opportunity for the BBC to engage with stakeholders on their proposals in a transparent way, through public consultation. It compels the BBC to consider how the proposed changes will contribute to the BBC’s Mission and Public Purposes, and show that it has taken steps to reduce any unnecessary potential adverse effects on fair and effective competition. It needs to be able to demonstrate that the public value of the proposed change justifies any such effects.

The BBC Board concluded that the proposed changes to iPlayer did not constitute a material change, and did not therefore warrant a PIT. The BBC submitted its materiality assessment on its proposals to Ofcom for consideration on June 8th 2018.

On November 2nd 2018 , Ofcom made a decision that the BBC’s proposed changes to the BBC iPlayer were material and therefore directed the BBC to carry out a public interest test (PIT) under the relevant provisions of the Charter and Agreement.

Following representations from the BBC – including on the confidentiality of any information in its decision – it has published its full decision, redacted for confidentiality, and including final ‘interim directions’ to the BBC.

Ofcom’s decision included draft interim directions to allow the BBC to make a limited number of the proposed changes.

In Ofcom’s decision, it concluded however that it would be appropriate for the BBC to proceed with limited changes, striking a proportionate balance between enabling benefits to audiences and mitigating the risks of any adverse impact on fair and effective competition arising from the interim changes, pending the completion of the PIT and any further competition assessment. The interim directions enable the BBC to innovate on and evolve its BBC iPlayer services during the regulatory process.

It gave the BBC an opportunity to raise any practical concerns regarding the drafting of its interim directions. Other stakeholders also approached Ofcom to discuss the summary of the decision published on November 2nd.

The BBC may only partially implement the Proposed Change in accordance with certain directions:

Subject to further directions below, the BBC must not make a programme available on the BBC iPlayer for longer than the Standard Period, , i.e., the period of 30 days beginning with the day on which the programme was last broadcast or made available by the BBC, .

If a programme was available on the BBC iPlayer on November 2nd 2018 the BBC may continue to make that programme available on the BBC iPlayer for such period as it considers fit.

If a programme is of a type that, before November 2nd 2018, was ordinarily made available on the BBC iPlayer for longer than the Standard Period, the BBC may make that programme available on the BBC iPlayer for such period as it considers fit. The BBC must not make that programme available for longer than the maximum period for which a programme of that type was made available on the BBC iPlayer before November 2nd 2018.

If the BBC entered into an agreement prior to November 2nd 2018 to commission a programme on the basis that it would be made available on the BBC iPlayer for longer that the Standard Period, the BBC may make that programme available on the BBC iPlayer for such period as it considers fit.

The BBC has requested that in the relevant period they should be able to make available a limited number of returning series. It has also suggested a definition of ‘Returning Series’ to be used for this purpose.

The BBC has requested that the final specification and first reporting date of the reporting requirements should follow after the interim directions are finalised.

Ofcom will actively monitor the BBC’s compliance with the interim directions. It will specify the precise detail of what is to be reported to Ofcom in a separate communication with the BBC. The first report is to be provided in January 2019.


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