A potential row is brewing regarding the syndication of BBC on-demand content syndication after the provisional findings of the BBC Trust has concluded that on-demand BBC programmes should only be made available to TV platform operators through the BBC iPlayer, and should not be made available on a programme-by-programme basis.
The move, which almost immediately attracted criticism will affect how the BBC makes on-demand and catch-up content available for distribution on other platforms such as Freeview, Freesat, Sky and Virgin Media. The latter already boasts a dedicated iPlayer interface for BBC content.
Mandating that on-demand content was only be syndicated through the iPlayer would mean that a third party could not cherry pick BBC programmes or episodes of programmes to offer through its own on-demand service.
Following the first part of its review, the Trust provisionally concluded that a trusted and familiar way for viewers to access content was necessary for the BBC able to deliver the highest public value for its programming. For linear television, The Trust said, this would be the BBC's channels; for on-demand, the iPlayer.
The Trust suggested that the BBC should develop several standard versions of the iPlayer that can be used by other platform operators and providers, to enable them to offer BBC on-demand content on their platforms. It advised that requests for 'bespoke' versions of the iPlayer for use by single platforms or devices should generally be refused, except in exceptional circumstances where the BBC's costs for development and maintenance would also be fully reimbursed.
Commented BBC Trustee Diane Coyle, who has led the review of syndication policy: "Audiences get the most out of BBC programmes when they access them in a context that is consistent, familiar, distinctive and free to air, like the iPlayer. Our provisional conclusions reflect the importance of delivering programmes in this trusted public space.”
Yet the BBC will face strong criticism of this action. Among the first to react to the news was Eddie Abrams, CEO of integrated television entertainment platform provider who criticised the move as uncompetitive and restrictive for IPTV development. He said: “Today’s preliminary views from the BBC Trust on the syndication of on-demand BBC content risks constructing barriers and preventing the development of a level playing field. There is a danger that this will restrict consumer access to a wealth of BBC on-demand content on the widest possible range of platforms…to put the consumer first, the cheapest and easiest option would perhaps be to remove the iPlayer wrapper and allow third party service providers to offer syndicated BBC content as part of their service, as we believe was intended when on demand services were approved through the Public Value Test.”