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BBC Trust


Regular and wide-ranging consultations are one of the key ways the BBC Trust ensures the BBC remains responsive and accountable.

On-demand services PVT FAQs

How do the Trust's final decisions on on-demand differ from the provisional ones?

Series stacking: This is the feature which gives users of seven-day catch-up television over the internet or over cable access to all of the episodes of a series currently on television. The Trust has decided to replace its definition of the types of programmes suitable for series stacking with a quota of 15 per cent of all on-demand content.

Platform neutrality: One of the new services, seven-day catch-up television over the internet, requires users to have Microsoft software to access the service. The Trust has decided to replace the two-year deadline for making the service available to users of other operating systems with a six-month audit of progress. This is because the Trust, while fully committed to platform neutrality, has accepted that achieving it is dependent on third parties and so outside the BBC Executive's control.

Why is the Trust allowing the use of digital rights management (DRM) for catch-up television over the internet?

Digital rights management is being applied to one of the new services, seven-day catch-up television over the internet. The Trust gave this issue very careful consideration. DRM is being applied for a number of reasons.

Firstly, the BBC can make content available on-demand only with the agreement of third parties who hold rights in its content.  These include independent producers, the music business, and others. The agreements the BBC has formed with such rights holders assumes a time-based restriction on viewing. The BBC Trust regards DRM as the best way to apply this restriction.

Secondly, the BBC needs to strike a balance between providing free access to its content as part of a service funded by the licence fee, and exploiting the secondary value of that content commercially to invest money back into BBC services for the benefit of the licence payer. DRM plays an important role in allowing the BBC to do this by limiting the time users can keep BBC content on their PCs.

Thirdly, there are also market impact considerations in that the provision of BBC content on-demand could reduce the commercial opportunities for other broadcasters. DRM limits these by restricting the time for which the BBC makes content available.

An alternative approach to enforcing the time-based restriction on view would be to stream programmes over the internet. The Trust preferred the BBC Executive's model of offering downloads with DRM because downloads offer a more reliable viewing experience and are less costly than offering streaming video.

The Trust considered the argument that it is possible to provide content under an open licence and still realise its commercial value.  It regards the business models for this approach to be unclear at present.

Why is the Trust allowing an approach to DRM which requires users to be running Microsoft software on their computers in order to access catch-up television over the internet?

The Trust recognises and shares the strength of feeling in favour of BBC content being available to all users, regardless of which operating system they have on their computer. It is requiring the BBC to make seven-day catch-up television available on a platform neutral basis within a reasonable timeframe.

Currently, only Microsoft's DRM system meets the BBC's requirement to enforce a time-based restriction on viewing. In order to achieve platform neutrality, the BBC is looking at possible DRM solutions which will work across different operating systems. But when these will be available is completely in the hands of the companies developing them, and not a factor the BBC can control.

So the Trust has taken the decision that, in the meantime, to allow the BBC to go ahead with seven-day catch-up television over the internet just with Microsoft DRM. The Trust's view is it is preferable to provide a service of significant public value now, to a majority of users, rather than wait until full platform neutrality can be achieved.

The Trust accepts the BBC Executive's assurance that it is fully committed to platform neutrality and working hard to achieve this. The Trust will hold the BBC Executive to account by auditing its progress every six months.

Why have you changed the approach to series stacking that you proposed in your provisional conclusions?

The Trust has changed its decision after listening and responding to feedback to its provisional recommendations. The public was overwhelmingly in favour of the stacking facility. But, as outlined in the decision document, a number of stakeholders, including ITV, Sky and the BBC Executive, were concerned that the approach the Trust was proposing was unworkable.

The Trust is happy to listen and respond to feedback. We are now proposing that series stacking be limited by a 15 per cent quota instead of by editorial criteria. The Trust continues to believe that series most appropriate for stacking are those with a distinct run, with a beginning and end, and a narrative arc or those with exceptionally high impact and we have offered this definition as guidance to the BBC Executive.

We will review the approach we are now taking after 12 months.

Why are you allowing a 30-day storage window for television programmes downloaded to computers?

Originally a 13-week window was proposed. Ofcom's recommendation in its Market Impact Assessment was either to reduce or remove the 13-week window. The Trust looked carefully at this issue and took account of the public's overwhelming support for a storage window.  The Trust believes that while it is in licence fee payers' interests to maximise the length of time they have access to free content, there is a conflicting interest in maintaining the value of secondary rights in programming which can be commercially exploited for the benefit of licence fee payers. The Trust takes account of Ofcom's Market Impact Assessment conclusion that a lengthy, 13 week window could have a significant impact on competition. It believes a 13 week window is longer than necessary and has decided that the feature should not be removed completely, but should be reduced. The Trust has decided on a 30 day window instead.

Why not allow classical music downloads?

The Trust approached this decision by considering the best interests of licence fee payers. This was an issue examined with great care. The Trust acknowledges the public value which could be created by allowing this feature. But it is mindful that the market for classical music recordings is in a precarious state and to allow the BBC to offer free classical downloads may risk a loss of consumer value in the commercial market which could outweigh the public value gain. Classical music will still be available online as live streaming, just not to keep.

Why not allow bookmarking?

Bookmarking doesn't form part of the approval because it wasn't included in the BBC Executive's proposal (although we asked specifically whether the Executive wished to include it).  The Trust has taken soundings among stakeholders after receiving representations from the BBC Executive during the consultation process. But we have not been able to consult fully on this feature; nor have we been able to assess its public value or market impact. The Trust will ask the BBC Executive to resubmit a formal proposal for bookmarking now that the PVT process has finished. It is not our intention to extend the process unduly nor use the full extent of the PVT where we do not judge it to be necessary. We do not believe this feature would necessarily constitute a significant change and therefore it could be a full PVT would not be necessary. But we must reserve our position.

Why won't you allow non-BBC content onto the service?

The BBC Executive did not seek approval for including third-party content alongside BBC programmes on the internet services available via the iPlayer. But it was an issue raised by other industry stakeholders and so the Trust considered it alongside everything else. In the end, the Trust agreed with Ofcom's MIA that allowing access for third-party content could increase the negative market impact of the proposals. Therefore, the Trust concluded the proposition should not be modified to include this feature.