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With the BBC facing increasing criticism over its publicly funded model in its native U.K., the broadcasting giant today revealed plans to boost the coffers of its commercial “BBC Worldwide” arm by launching a new video-streaming service in the U.S.
Speaking at the Royal Television Society Cambridge Convention in England today, BBC director-general Tony Hall said that a new over-the-top (OTT) subscription service would arrive for American viewers in 2016. While details are still scant, Hall said it will offer “programmes they wouldn’t otherwise get — showcasing British actors, our programme-makers — and celebrating our culture.”
The BBC offers licence-fee payers in the U.K. an online linear and catch-up TV service called iPlayer, which is hugely popular across the country. The broadcaster has introduced international versions of the service in the past with varying degrees of success, but has yet to formally launch a streaming service in the U.S.
However, last year U.S. network AMC revealed it was taking a 49.9 percent stake in BBC America in a $200 million deal. BBC America is available in 80 million American homes through satellite and cable. It’s not clear yet whether the new OTT service will come with the iPlayer brand, but the BBC does say it won’t affect current programming at all — it will be used exclusively for BBC content that doesn’t already have a distribution channel in the U.S.
Elsewhere, the BBC recently launched a new U.K. premium drama channel called “BBC First” in Australia, and it has signed a deal to launch a BBC Earth channel in India. By looking to international markets, the BBC said it hopes to increase commercial returns from BBC Worldwide to $1.9 billion over the next five years, equating to a rise of 15 percent over the previous five years.
While the commercial-free BBC remains a widely respected media brand both domestically and abroad, it has faced mounting pressure in the U.K. in an age where consumers have a myriad of alternative entertainment options, from Netflix and YouTube to cable and satellite. Indeed, anyone in the U.K. who watches linear “live” television is required to pay an annual $225 fee — irrespective of whether they ever watch the BBC.
“In today’s financial climate, everyone is being asked to deliver more for less, so we need to have a commercial strategy where BBC Worldwide delivers as much as possible back into public service programmes,” said Hall.
And that is the crux of the problem the BBC is looking to fix. By boosting its commercial income from international viewers, it hopes to help supplement the domestic licence fee and ensure the current cost of it doesn’t rise even further.
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