BBC Worldwide launched an iPad app today for its iPlayer streaming media service in 11 Western European countries, with Canada, Australia and the U.S. to follow later this year.
The global iPlayer service, which will offer BBC shows like Doctor Who and Top Gear on demand, is intended as a one-year pilot aimed at generating new income for the BBC , which first announced its intentions for a paid, iPad-only global iPlayer in December 2010.
A limited amount of content is offered for free on the service, but most content will feature pre-roll advertisement sponsorship.The bulk of its revenue will come from paid subscriptions but its core business model is subscription, with users paying €6.99 ($10) per month or €49.99 (about $72) per year.
The initial launch countries (Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg, The Republic of Ireland, The Netherlands, Portugal, Spain and Switzerland) will get a version of the iPlayer that does more than their British counter-parts. Subscribers will have access to the last 50 years of BBC programs and the ability to stream shows over 3G and Wi-Fi. Also, the international iPlayer has a feature allowing people to download programs to watch when an internet connection isn’t available.
The catch is that the content will only be available on the iPad for now, which could be a major roadblock to success for the global iPlayer. As a new Nielsen study reveals, the iPad is one of the least popular methods for watching video on both streaming video services Netflix and Hulu.
However, the global iPlayer isn’t in competition with Netflix or Hulu, said BBC.com Managing Director Luke Bradley-Jones in an interview with the Guardian.
Limiting the service to just the iPad was purely a commercial decision, Bradley-Jones said, adding:
“We hope that this service becomes multi-device, multi-platform and multi-territory over time, but as a premium-but-niche service, we did not want to go in with both feet from day one…” We’re spending the next year in a pilot-type phase focusing on one device, to make a clean and very compelling experience. We have a great relationship with Apple in terms of the promotional commitments they’ll give us too.”
Theoretically, subscribers that own a HDTV can buy a HDMI converter for their iPad to mirror the iPlayer video content on a larger screen. While workarounds like this aren’t always successful with the general population, the BBC’s original content could be strong enough to drive subscriber growth by itself — regardless of how many devices the service is offered on.