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BBC director of policy stresses need for iPlayer upgrade

Claims the platform risks being left behind

The BBC must be allowed to upgrade iPlayer or risks being seen as a “medium-to-small” industry player, according to its director of policy.

The BBC launched a public consultation into proposed upgrades to iPlayer (including making programmes available for at least 12 months) after Ofcom warned the proposals could harm competition. However the BBC maintains that such modifications are necessary to allow the platform to compete with the likes of Netflix.

BBC director of policy Clare Sumner said: “In the recent iPlayer discussions, you [Ofcom] define the market quite narrowly. Whilst the BBC is of course a big intervention in the market, it’s not the only one, and in today’s world we look rather medium to small.”

She stated that the BBC “must go further in areas such as transparency, taking creative risks and attracting young people,” adding that iPlayer was often the “front door” for young people in terms of discovering BBC content.

“One of the things we can now do in the digital environment is make changes within hours, half an hour even,” she said. “A long regulatory process can sometimes be very difficult to deal with. The alternative would be to prevent the BBC from innovating for the first time in its history. We would become less relevant to younger audiences at a time when they’re telling us they want more from the BBC.”

However, John McVay, CEO of UK trade body Pact, said the upgrades could impact further sales of programmes to other platforms, closing revenue streams for producers.

“Many of the programmes that broadcasters enjoy are co-financed. They’re co-financed by rights which are sold to secondary broadcasters either in the UK or Europe,” McVay said. “The iPlayer proposals, as we understand them so far, could be very detrimental to raising secondary finance.”

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