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Ofcom disagrees with BBC over iPlayer changes

BBC should conduct a ‘public interest test’ to properly assess value and potential impact on other broadcasters

Ofcom has said it disagrees with the BBC over planned changes to iPlayer, and has told the Corporation it needs to conduct a public interest test to properly asses the value and potential impact on other broadcasters.

Among the changes the BBC wants to implement in 2018/19 are: a substantial number of additional Box Sets, which would be available on the iPlayer for an extended time period; as well as changes to features such as enhancements to the user experience.

In its review of the BBC’s proposals, Ofcom said the plans represent a material change. It said in reaching its decision, it had considered the relevant factors set out in Ofcom’s guidance on proposed changes to the BBC’s public service activities.

“Having reviewed the BBC’s figures, we consider that if its proposals were fully implemented, the impact on share of video-on-demand viewing may be towards the upper end of its projected range. Notwithstanding that projected figures are inevitably uncertain, our assessment relies on the information the BBC has provided to us,” said Ofcom.

The organisation has directed the BBC to carry out a public interest test by 31st December 2018 in order to “ensure that any legitimate competition concerns and potential market impacts are fully considered by the BBC, alongside the public value benefits.”

Ofcom said that under normal circumstances, given its materiality finding, it would expect to direct the BBC to cease making changes to the iPlayer until after the completion of the PIT, and only once Ofcom’s final approval had been given – although it will allow the BBC to make limited changes such as retaining any series it has already added to the iPlayer since the start of 2018/19 under its proposals; and adding to the iPlayer any series to which it acquired rights before the date of this decision, and to make them available on the iPlayer until those rights expire

A BBC spokesperson said: “BBC iPlayer is vital to our audiences, particularly younger ones – it’s the way they increasingly consume content. Our approach is simply about making the iPlayer a better experience for users with the great British content they love – such as Bodyguard, Killing Eve, and Blue Planet II.

“The reality is that we are operating in a UK market which has changed fundamentally with the advent of global tech giants who have deep pockets but do not reflect Britain and all its diversity. That’s what we do and why the public love our content.

“The BBC is the largest investor in British programming and talent. The priorities of Netflix and Amazon are different. That’s why our success is crucial for the future of our world-beating creative sector. Ultimately, we need to ensure that regulation acts in the interest of the wider public and supports the healthy future of Britain’s creative industries. We are sure Ofcom will recognise that.”