Attention Doctor Who fans: The venerable British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) is rumored to be launching a global version of its Internet iPlayer video-on-demand solution.
The iPlayer lets British viewers catch up on BBC shows they've missed, but it's accessible only within the U.K., in part thanks to the restrictions of the BBC's charter (it's a publicly funded entity, through the TV License tax.) But according to a report over at PaidContent, all of that's about to change: The BBC is on the verge of releasing a similar system for global access through its BBC WorldWide arm, concentrating on U.S. viewers who make up about 40% of BBC.com visitors.
The new (as-yet unnamed) system won't offer quite the same suite of services as iPlayer--there will be catchup programming for BBC international channels, like BBC America, and only certain premium catalogue programs will be available on demand. That's good news for sci-fi fans, since Doctor Who and Torchwood make it onto this list, as does the fabulously ironic car show Top Gear. But you'll also be able to get at material from the BBC archives--which presumably include at lot of previously run TV shows, as well as the more historic documentary stuff. It'll also carry international programming for which the BBC has negotiated deals, including content from the U.K.'s Channel 4.
The catch, of course, is that you'll have to pay for the privilege of using the service. Although there's no indication of the price structures yet, Beeb MD and EVP Luke Bradley-Jones hinted that the pricing could even be episode-specific: "Millions of people love Torchwood and would probably pay 10 bucks an episode." That's quite a figure--it's higher than vendors like iTunes charge, and makes up a significant percentage of the £142 annual fee that gives U.K.. viewers access to all these shows for free. it's also higher than DVD pricing, but you'd get access to the shows sooner than their release on disc.
But what this news really signifies is that the BBC is well aware that the future of TV broadcasting is more sophisticated than mere terrestrial TV transmission. And it's prepared to go it alone and become its own Net broadcaster, in addition to partnering with other VOD providers like YouTube. This is a tacit reminder that you're soon going to be paying for access to more entertainment material online--coincidentally, the news comes right after Murdoch's announcement of a "members club" for the Times newspaper.