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BBC Receives Regulatory Approval to Extend iPlayer Catchup Window

The BBC has received approval from British media regulator Ofcom to go ahead with plans to extend the time that content is available on its streaming service, the BBC iPlayer. Under the plan, first proposed in April, the catchup service will offer content for 12 months instead of just 30 days.

Announcing its decision Thursday, Ofcom said the changes “could deliver significant public value,” suggesting that they would “ensure the BBC remains relevant” in a TV and streaming world increasingly dominated by Netflix and other global players.

The contentious move, which would also see some content made available for longer than the new standard 12 months, has drawn concerns from a number of the BBC’s pubcaster and commercial broadcast rivals as well as some producers. It was subject to a competition assessment by Ofcom as required by the BBC Charter and Agreement. The regulator had previously given provisional approval in June but said it would continue to consult stakeholders before issuing a final conclusion.

That decision came Thursday. “We have concluded that the BBC’s proposed changes to BBC iPlayer could deliver significant public value over time,” Ofcom said. “They could increase choice and availability of public-service broadcast content, and help ensure the BBC remains relevant in the face of changing viewing habits.”

Spurred by services such as Netflix and Amazon, “what viewers expect from the BBC is changing, too, and this is particularly the case for young people,” Ofcom said. Among programming that will be available beyond a 12-month window, all children’s programming will be available for five years.

However, Ofcom said its approval is subject to certain conditions and guidance because it remains concerned about the competitive challenges created, especially for other pubcasters’ streaming services and “potential U.K. entrants such as BritBox,” the BBC and ITV’s joint subscription streaming platform.

Those conditions will require the BBC to establish a revised performance measurement framework for iPlayer in consultation with Ofcom by the end of 2019. The pubcaster will also be required to “closely track” availability and consumption of programming on the service, providing greater transparency over its scale and impact. Ofcom said its conditions would “help ensure that the new BBC iPlayer delivers future public value” while mitigating “risks to fair and effective competition.”

A spokesperson for the BBC said: “It’s great news that’s we will be able to proceed with our plans to transform BBC iPlayer. By making shows available for longer and by expanding choice, we’ll be able offer so much more to the public. We’ll continue to engage with the whole industry both directly and where appropriate via PACT in order to deliver these changes to audiences.”

The BBC already offers some high profile acquisitions via iPlayer for a 12 month period. Titles including BBC America’s BAFTA-winning “Killing Eve” and FX’s “What We Do in the Shadows” were released as box sets on iPlayer and made available for a full year. Other recent hit shows, such as Russell T. Davies’ acclaimed “Years and Years,” which aired on HBO in the U.S., were subject to the more limited iPlayer window. The BBC is now expected to negotiate with the independent producers behind many of its most popular shows to make the extension a reality.

Plans for BritBox to launch in the U.K. in the fourth quarter of 2019 were announced in July. While the BBC will contribute programming, it will not have a direct cash stake in the new service, which will be controlled by ITV.

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