The concept of a global iPlayer may have floundered but the BBC has confirmed fresh plans to offer over-the-top (OTT) content to those in the US.
The news was revealed by Director General Tony Hall in a speech to the Royal Television Society Convention in Cambridge. Its timing could not have been more appropriate given that the previous day at the event UK Culture Secretary John Whittingdale not only expressed his long-standing concerns about BBC funding and governance, but also hinted at shake-ups in scheduling that the BBC's news programmes should make. There had also been mutterings about the future of BBC Worldwide, the corporation's commercial arm.
In his speech, Hall hit back at critics, pointing out that to deliver the quality content licence fee payers should expect, the BBC needed a commercial strategy where BBC Worldwide delivers as much as possible back into public service programmes. The DG noted that in 2014 the commercial arm was an indivisible part of the BBC and had a £1 billion turnover that gave the BBC a record return of £226 million. Such profits, he added, were ploughed back not only back into the BBC — more than 70% of the funding of BBC One's natural history landmark Life Story was commercial and the licence fee paid for less than half the budget of some of our biggest dramas in 2014 — but also into the independent production sector. Hall pointedly asserted that without BBC Worldwide, the licence fee would be £10 higher.
Hall stressed the imperative to grow the business and said that the BBC would work with global partners to grow BBC Worldwide further, taking advantage of the demand for British programming and new digital opportunities with offerings such as the new OTT service. "Following on from our AMC partnership in the US, we have just signed a new joint venture with Sony Multi-Screen-Media to launch a BBC Earth channel to India," he revealed. "And we'll begin to try out businesses that go direct to the public. 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."
Hall calculated that the plans would increase commercial returns from BBC Worldwide to £1.2 billion over the next five years, more than 15% higher than the returns of the previous five years.