The global BBC iPlayer app is a free download from the Australian iTunes store, although subscriptions cost $9.49 per month or $89.99 per year. Users have free access to around 10 hours of television shows before deciding whether to subscribe. Advertisements are only included in the free trial, not the subscription service.
More than 1000 hours of television is available to Australians at launch. Content is broken into eight main genres including News & Documentaries, Entertainment, Drama, Comedy, Science & Nature, Family & Kids, Music & Culture and Lifestyle. The menus also offer links to Just In and Most Popular programs.
Initial offerings include Little Britain, A Bit of Fry and Laurie, Absolutely Fabulous, Pride & Prejudice, The House of Elliot, Doctor Who, Silent Witness, Michael Palin’s Pole to Pole and Charlie & Lola. Some exclusive content is also available, such as episodes of Holby City. New programming will be added every week, along with themed-based curated collections from the BBC’s 70 year archive.
“The first curated collection on the Australian iPad service is the “Daleks Forever!”, a collection of classic Dalek encounters from 1963 onwards,” says Tony Iffland – general manager of BBC Worldwide Australia.
“We’ll also have some curated collections around the various Doctors, so we’ll look at the William Hartnell years, the Troughton years and the Tennant years. We’ll also draw on documentaries from the Natural World and Panorama series.”
The global BBC iPlayer app is very different from the UK’s iPlayer service, says Iffland. Unlike in the UK, the Australia app is not intended to be a Catch Up TV service to rival local offerings such as the ABC’s iView, Seven’s Plus7 and Nine’s FixPlay. The BBC’s iPlayer app will not offer episodes soon after they screen on Australian television.
Another key difference is that the global BBC iPlayer app will generally offer the entire back catalogue of a program, rather than only offering a few episodes at a time as iView generally does.
“We know through our research that the BBC iPlayer compliments existing viewing habits, rather than cannibalising them, so we’re confident that there’s space in the Australian market for this product,” Iffland says.
“Of course the whole raison d’être of BBC Worldwide is to make money to reinvest into new content so, considering that, we couldn’t offer all of this content in Australia for free.”
The global BBC iPlayer app runs on an iPad over a wi-fi or 3G connection, with the option to download episodes for viewing while offline. The downloads are encrypted on the device and can not be copied off using iTunes, although it is possible to stream clips to a television via an Apple TV. The content is hosted by Akamai and is not unmetered via Australian ISPs.
While it’s restricted to the iPad for now, BBC Worldwide Australia is treating the new service as a ‘pilot phase’ and it may eventually expand to other devices and platforms, says Iffland.
“We’re really keen to understand how Australian audiences will interact with this new service and we’re trying not to approach it with too many preconceived ideas. It is a genuine trial, we want to try different things and see how people engage with it,” he says.
“This is a trial for the way the content is made available to see if there’s a market, and we think the iPad offers a great way to trial this service in a relatively closed and controlled environment. Potentially it could expand, subject to all the approvals that we need to go through.”