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Thompson reveals plan for international iPlayer, attacks BSkyB UK production record

The BBC is committed to making online service iPlayer available to UK expats, according to the corporation’s director general Mark Thompson, but independent producers are set to oppose the move.

Speaking at the MediaGuardian Edinburgh International Television Festival, Thompson said iPlayer, which is currently geo-blocked, should be made available to UK citizens living abroad, such as servicemen. He also said a commercial, international version of the online catch-up service is likely to launch within a year.

“Within a year we aim to launch an international commercial version of the iPlayer. Subject to Trust approval, we also want to find a way of letting UK licence payers and servicemen and servicewomen use a version of the UK BBC iPlayer wherever they are in the world,” Thompson said.

The announcement was met with criticism from some independent producers. CEO of trade body PACT John McVay reportedly said that it would resist such a move as the iPlayer’s terms of trade do not allow for the service to be accessed outside the UK.

Thompson also used his MacTaggart lecture to warn of the danger of BSkyB becoming a dominant force in UK broadcasting. “Sky is already a far more powerful commercial counterweight to the BBC than ITV ever was,” he told attendees. “It is well on its way to being the most dominant force in broadcast media in this country. Moreover, if News Corp’s proposal to acquire all of the remaining shares in Sky goes through, Sky will not just be Britain’s biggest broadcaster, but a full part of a company which is also dominant in national newspapers as well as one of the Britain’s biggest publishers.”

Referring to the possible creation of a “a concentration of cross-media ownership which would not be allowed in the United States or Australia”, Thompson rounded on the pay-TV broadcaster for its failure to invest in original British production. The broadcaster, which has a £1.9bn (€1.3bn) programming budget, he said, failed to declare its annual investment in original UK non-news non-sport content, which has been estimated at around £100m, “not much more than Channel Five’s UK origination budget, despite the fact that Sky’s total turnover is more than 15 times that of Five’s”.

To remedy this, he suggested, Sky should be made to pay for retransmitting non-BBC broadcasters including ITV, Channel 4 and Five, pointing out that News Corp chairman Rupert Murdoch had successfully forced US cable operators to pay retransmission fees for News Corp’s Fox channels. Currently, UK broadcasters must pay Sky for inclusion in its EPG.