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BBC’s Plan to Extend iPlayer Catchup Window Wins Provisional Approval

The BBC’s contentious plan to extend the catchup window on its iPlayer service to a year or more has been given a provisional green light by British media regulator Ofcom.

The pubcaster, worried about the rise of global streamers Netflix and Amazon, has set out plans to extend the period that content is available on the iPlayer from 30 days to 12 months or even longer for some content, including kids’ shows. Commercial broadcaster and pubcaster rivals, as well as some producers, have voiced concerns over the plan. Ofcom acknowledged the likely impact on the British TV sector, but said Wednesday that the benefit to the viewing public justifies the changes.

“With the U.K. broadcasting sector evolving, and audiences’ expectations changing, the BBC needs to keep pace,” Ofcom said. “We have provisionally found that the proposed changes to BBC iPlayer would pose challenges for other public service broadcasters’ video-on-demand services. But in our view, the changes could also deliver significant public value over time. 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.”

The regulator said the BBC plans should be subject to ongoing scrutiny. It plans to consult further on its provisional conclusions on iPlayer and will publish a final decision by August.

In its detailed review of the BBC plans, Ofcom estimates that viewing would increase by up to 52% as a result of the changes.

A year-long catchup window would alter the landscape for producers, whose long-term rights ownership is enshrined in British law. But Ofcom said the changes would not harm competition in the production sector. It said that any decrease in the value of rights in later windows would be offset in a rise in the primary payment.

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