iPlayer No More: The Future For BBC Content Online Looks Messy Down Under

iPlayer No More: The Future For BBC Content Online Looks Messy Down Under

The BBC’s iPlayer iOS app is a nifty (and legal) way for people outside the UK to access and download popular BBC content. However, it looks like plans for that service to expand to Android and potentially offer live content have been put to one side, with the BBC now planning to focus on a series of premium pay TV channels and streaming subscription content through its BBC.com portal. For Aussie viewers, that means your main legal option is likely to be (gulp) a Foxtel subscription.

The subscription-based iPlayer app launched in Australia in September 2011 as an iPad app, with an iPhone app following in December that year. For a monthly subscription of $9.49, you can access and view a wide range of BBC shows, and download them for use on your device when not connected. (Unlike the similarly-named service for UK residents, you can’t view catch-up content from recent broadcasts using the app.)

iPlayer-as-a-service-via-an-app has proved popular, particularly for Doctor Who fans. In 2011, officials from BBC Worldwide (the commercial arm of the BBC) described major expansion plans for the app, including a potential Android version.

However, it now appears that the future of the platform will be in pay TV and browser-based access, rather than more apps. Last week BBC Worldwide announced a “three year vision” which puts iPlayer very much to one side. Here’s the good word straight from the release announcement:

BBC.com, the international version of the BBC’s online site, will be transformed over the next three years, supporting the BBC’s recently stated goal of doubling global reach from 250m to 500m per week by 2022. This transformation will see a greater focus on video content, bringing together all BBC commercial online offerings in one destination. The new BBC.com will include a long-form video player and will represent a single digital route to market for BBC.com’s partners and advertisers. As part of this move, the existing trial of the global iPlayer app, currently testing in 16 countries, will not be extended to any new markets, and it is proposed that the service will be integrated into BBC.com over time.

So eventually iPlayer subscribers will find themselves shuttered across to a browser-based system. One obvious benefit of that (from BBC Worldwide’s point of view) is that there’s no need to build apps for specific devices.

However, the first visual manifestation of the change will be the launch of a new pay TV channel focused on drama, BBC First. That channel will be offered internationally, but Australia will be the first market to see it. It will be offered on Foxtel (including HD and Foxtel Go variants) from August 2014. Other channel variants planned include BBC Earth for factual content and an as-yet-unnamed male-oriented chanel.

Annoyingly for free-to-air TV viewers, the Foxtel deal means that the ABC will lose the first-run rights deal it has enjoyed with the BBC for close to half-a-century. That doesn’t mean the ABC can’t show BBC programs, but new releases are likely to show up on Foxtel first. The only upside? Doctor Who isn’t affected.

The emphasis on conventional broadcasting reinforces a point BBC Worldwide president Jana Bennet made when the apps launched. “Global iPlayer isn’t going to replace our existing channels or other broadcasters transmitting these shows. People watch video on demand in addition to normal TV viewing, not instead of, in our experience.

BBC Worldwide is a business, so it’s not altogether surprising that it has ditched the ABC for a Foxtel partnership instead. Time will tell if that also means we don’t see BBC.com offered as a subscription service in Australia. After all, would Foxtel really want competition for its own Foxtel Play and Foxtel Go services from a major content partner?

Lifehacker’s weekly Streaming column looks at how technology is keeping us entertained.


  • Or just get a UK iTunes account and download the UK iPlayer.. All the content is free on that.. While you’re there you might want to pick up iTV and 4oD if UK TV is your thang.

  • Foxtel doesn’t address access to BBC’s radio streams, podcasts and archives, which have become harder to access since July 1. I’d quite happily throw £££ at the BBC for access to that and topical TV content which doesn’t make its way onto international channels.

    • TuneIn Radio is the best avenue for the radio streams. A VPN into the UK will allow for higher sound quality too (128kbps AAC+ on most channels, with BBC Radio 3 (classical) up to 320kbps AAC+ – not quite FLAC quality, but pretty close)

      • I know I can go through tedious online streaming and recording efforts with a VPN, but that’s just orders of magnitude harder than subscribing to a podcast of the content.

        • easier than a vpn – hola unblocker extension for firefox, no spyware/malware and watch as though you’re in the uk… I stream from mac to apple tv and couldn’t be easier!

          • Hola is a pain the butt, Doesn’t actually work for most BBC content I’ve been trying to reach and it also wreaks havoc with iTunes (store and Photostream) and other services. I’ve had some correspondence going on with Hola devs for months.

            I actually found Stealth free unblocker worked better than Hola for some things (which surprised me).

            That said it’s still ridiculously more inconvenient to try to capture streams compared to being able to subscribe to podcasts.

  • No doubt foxtel provided strong “advice” to the BBC on this subject. It could even be a condition of the BBC having a channel on Foxtel.

    That’s ok – those of us who use VPNs will just get the apk (android) or use a UK itunes account (iOS) to get the app and enjoy the content.

    Plus there is always Channel BitTorrent, although not everything is available on that.

    PS – Did you know you can get up to 320kbps AAC+ (most are at 128kbps AAC+) sound quality on BBC radio stations by using a VPN into the UK instead? Internationally, it’s limited to 48kbps AAC or WMA.

  • Slowly and surely foxtel is working towards a legal way for most australian’s to access most TV content in a timely fashion.

    Part of me wonders if people are so against it because it kind of demolishes their excuse for pirating. It really does put it down solely to not wanting to pay for it.

    I understand foxtel is expensive, but when you start not needing a 500gb a month internet contract, the cost might not be so bad.

    • My issue with Foxtel is that it’s not only ridiculously expensive compared to other options, the way they do their packages means you’re paying for a bunch of crap you don’t actually want. We pay about $15 a month to have Netflix which covers most of our media requirements, so I really can’t justify spending sometimes more than $100 a month to get a handful of shows we actually want to see.

      In my perfect (and likely completely impossible) world, everything ends up on Netflix. Stream whatever you want, whenever you want it.

      • Not only is it the cost, it’s also the ads. There is a stupid amount of ads on foxtel, and you are paying a fortune to have them interrupt your favourite shows.

        Here’s the thing – I pay $90 a year to Telstra/AFL for watching the AFL (that’s $7.50 a month, or 93 cents per game). That’s a cheap, very reasonable cost.

        When you go through Mobile Foxtel, you don’t get all the channels and you don’t get all the sport either. So I went to Foxtel Play, and here’s the rub:
        You have to select a genre pack – the 3 BBC channels announced so far will all be in different genre packs – so Knowledge goes in Documentaries, First goes in Drama, and the un-named mens’ only channel will go in Entertainment.

        So by the time I add my 3 packs plus sport the total comes to $70 a month. Versus $9.50 a month (BBC) + $7.50 a month (AFL) = $17 a month. $17 is reasonable, $70 is unaffordable.

        Plus on top of that, Foxtel Play is NOT unmetered on Telstra’s mobile network. Neither is the BBC iplayer app, but if Foxtel expect us to pay $70 a month for $17 of content, they can talk to their owners (Telstra) about allowing unmetered access on the mobile network.

    • And until ‘timely’ means airs at the same time as the US, then they’re not doing it in a timely fashion.

      • lol yeah some will use that excuse.

        Even though things like GOT will be airing on foxtel before it’s available on torrent sites. People will claim it’s not good enough if it’s not simulcast and claim that’s why they torrent.

        You have to give it to foxtel, airing some shows with in an hour of the US. They are delivering what people want.

  • @Screamface
    I used to like Foxtel/Austar many many years ago, but then the Channels got spread out and the few decent channels got put in packs with about 10 to 15 lame channels, the advertising got extremely intrusive (Funeral and bloody life insurance adverts!!!) prices went up and up and up and up (Foxtel is well known for being the most expensive pay TV provider in the world) so for me to see the 5 or 6 shows I really want to see I have to pay over $100 a month, or wait years for them to appear on Free to Air TV, If it’s available on iTunes I will happily pay for it, or some other legal digital download service, but this has draw backs also, some of the prices being charged online for these shows are insulting, i didn’t mind paying $25 for the latest series of breaking bad, but $50 for Walking dead or Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.?!? price gouging to the extreme.

    So I torrent, I don’t like doing it, but if these channels and providers were serious about stopping piracy they would make the various shows available at a reasonable price quite quickly after the show has been broadcast overseas, I personally think they have given up to a certain extent and have adopted a pricing model of gouge the hell out of the people that are willing to pay.

    Now having said that I torrent, I only torrent TV shows, I buy my Movies on Blu ray, and when the TV show is available on DVD/Blu ray or iTunes I purchase it so I do have a 100% legal copy with all the extras (not to mention the better picture and sound quality)

    But Foxtel can get bent!

  • Does this affect the ABC’s iView? I remember a deal a few months ago between BBC and Foxtel looking to adversely affect the local streaming service, but I don’t remember the details…

  • Thanks for the article Angus. For those who live outside UK and want to access BBC iPlayer, you can use UnoTelly as I do to get around the geo block.

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