Ofcom faults BBC's download plans

MUMBAI: UK pubcaster The BBC's plans to offer all its TV and radio shows on-demand via the internet and cable TV have been criticised by the media watchdog Ofcom. Ofcom said that certain aspects of the BBC's on-demand service, which is due to start later this year, could have a negative effect on commercial rivals.

The BBC’s proposed on-demand services consist of:

- catch-up TV – offering viewers the chance to watch any BBC programme from the last seven days over NTL:Telewest, Homechoice and the internet at a time of their choosing. This would also allow series stacking - the ability to store and view an entire series of programmes;

- simulcast TV – BBC channels that are broadcast on television would be made available at the same time over the internet; and

- audio downloads – BBC radio programmes (excluding full-track commercial music) would be available to download from the internet.

Ofcom conclusions are that the new services could account for almost four billion viewer and listener hours by 2011. A proportion of these hours – over half in the case of simulcast and audio download services – could represent additional viewer and listener activity over and above current levels.

The proposed services are therefore likely to stimulate considerable interest in other new media services to the benefit of all UK consumers and businesses. They offer significant potential value to licence fee payers.

However concerns have been expressed:

Series stacking could discourage investment in commercial on-demand services and is likely to have an adverse effect on related markets such as DVD rentals and sales. Ofcom believes the scale of series stacking should therefore be substantially reduced or excluded altogether.

In the case of catch-up TV on the internet, the ability to store programmes for up to 13 weeks could have negative effects on competition and therefore investment in consumer choice. Ofcom believes that this storage window should be reduced or removed. In the event of removal, viewers would still have up to 14 days to download and view the content.

The ability to download free BBC audio content might have a serious adverse impact on specific markets; notably commercial classical music recordings and audio books. Ofcom believes the latter should be excluded from the proposed services and the availability of classical music recordings should either be constrained or removed; and the cost of providing extra broadband capacity to deliver the BBC’s proposed services to consumers is likely to be high, though any additional capacity would also be available for use by a wide range of other services including commercial on-demand services.

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