The BBC, that venerable broadcaster adored by grandmas across the globe, is trying something new: Its Worldwide arm is putting select episodes of one of the BBC’s content jewels, Doctor Who, online as a paid video-on-demand service on Facebook.
Starting tomorrow, Doctor Who fans in the U.K., Europe, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and–crucially–the U.S. will be able to access special digitally remastered episodes of the science fiction show via its official Facebook page. You’ll pay a fee through Facebook Credits (just 15 credits or around $1.50), and then will gain access to the video you’ve chosen for 48 hours to watch it as often as you like. To tempt users, the selection includes nine classic multi-episode story arcs, and, as the press release notes, there’s a significant gem hidden in the list: “‘The Greatest Show in the Galaxy’ will be a Facebook exclusive, having never been released on DVD.”
We quizzed Fiona Eastwood, who’s Commercial Director for Doctor Who at BBC Worldwide, why the BBC was taking this step. “Ultimately the brand strategy for Doctor Who is focussed on the U.K., U.S., and Australia and driving more international growth,” Eastwood tells. The Doctor Who Facebook page, launched in December, is a big part of this–having seen “phenomenal growth” to over 1.1 million “likes.” The BBC has been very sensitive to the needs of fans via this channel, and has been looking for what fans “are talking about, and what they’re asking us for.” Since the show relaunched only in 2005 after a 16-year hiatus, many fans were only aware of the modern episodes–and a recurring theme among fans was to know more about the classic episodes, hence the BBC decided to “reward this interest by giving them an opportunity–as a trial–to download episodes” from earlier in the show’s history.
Doctor Who is an unusual beast in the history of TV, far beyond mere sci-fi, because its heritage stretches back to 1963…making it one of the longest-running shows of all time, and cementing it as an important element of popular British culture. With its recent rise to cult status, and the success of the relaunch it’s one of the biggest assets the BBC has (its annual report, due today, notes that Doctor Who, along with four other big shows such as Top Gear, account for 27% of the company’s total sales–a big chunk, in what’s expected to be a record year of over £1.1 billion in revenues). So the move to promote it on Facebook, following in the footsteps of earlier efforts like Warner Bros., is a bold one.
Without circumventing the BBC iPlayer system, which is the BBC’s direct Web TV portal–due for a global launch–Eastwood confirmed that “potentially, if it’s successful” there’s likely to be more video shared via Facebook because “our fans are there…so let’s make the most of the opportunity.”
And it’s not just about Facebook. Eastwood says the BBC listens to its fans on Twitter too, so Worldwide will “continue to experiment with social,” and “it’s certainly one of our big priorities” since it lets the BBC, and the Doctor Who team in particular “connect with our fans and find out what they want from us.” Doctor Who may be seen as taking a lead in this experiment, as befits the gadgets and futurism of the show. As puts it, the BBC “always want to be innovative on Doctor Who, because it’s very much part of the brand values.”
With big names like Warner playing with Facebook’s ability to share content on a paid basis, and now the BBC trying the same with a marquee TV show, Facebook may yet become an important new channel for broadcasters.