Ofcom greenlights BBC iPlayer plan, despite concerns over BritBox

Ofcom has confirmed that the BBC can extend the window under which it makes most of its programmes available on the BBC iPlayer service to one year, with some content, including kids content, available for longer.

“We have decided that the public value of the proposed changes to BBC iPlayer justifies the adverse impact on fair and effective competition we have identified; the BBC may therefore proceed with its proposals, subject to conditions,” Ofcom said.

The watchdog said that it remained concerned about the impact on competition, “particularly for other PSBs’ VOD services and potential UK entrants such as BritBox”.

The green light will be subject to conditions. The BBC must create new performance measurement framework in consultation with the regulator by the end of the year, and must track the availability and consumption of programmes on BBC iPlayer, which it said would make it easier for the BBC and Ofcom to consider the potential impact on competition of any future developments.

The BBC has committed to make content available on an equal basis on standard and bespoke version of iPlayer that are carried by platform operators.

Ofcom believes the changes will have an adverse impact on new UK-focused SVOD services such as BritBox but that “this is unlikely to be large and there is unlikely to be substantial harm to audiences, as reflected in ITV’s decision to proceed with its investment in BritBox”

The BBC cited its involvement in BritBox as evidence that it did not believe the changes would have a strong material impact on commercial SVOD services.

Speaking on commercial broadcast partner in the venture ITV’s latest quarterly earnings call last week, the latter’s CEO, Carolyn McCall, said she did not believe the BBC’s plans would have a major impact on the viability of BritBox.

In June Ofcom provisionally game the BBC a green light for its planned changes to BBC iPlayer, subject to certain conditions and guidance, allowing other stakeholders to respond within four weeks.

The regulator said that it had received significant criticism about the way the BBC developed its plans and carried out the Public Interest Test that Ofcom had demanded. However, it said that it decided to give a green light “notwithstanding the fact there have been failings” and warned the pubcaster to engage more actively with other stakeholders in the future.

Under the BBC’s plans for its on-demand service, the vast majority of content will be available for a year and kids content will be available for up to five years. Ofcom said that it understood that “the vast majority” of series would not be exclusively available on the service after the initial 12-month period.

Ofcom’s assessment now predicts that BBC iPlayer viewing could increase by between 14% and 24% excluding kids content and by between 20% and 33% including kids content.

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