BBC iPlayer goes global with iPad app launch in 11 countries

Western Europe first for subscription-based service, with US to follow later in 2011

BBC iPlayer global for iPad
The iPlayer global app will have more of a focus on editorial curation

BBC Worldwide is launching its global iPlayer service on Thursday, via an iPad app that will be made available in 11 countries in Western Europe. The US, Canada and Australia will follow later this year, as part of what is intended to be a one-year pilot.

The service will offer a limited amount of content for free, supported by pre-roll ads and sponsorship, but its core business model is subscription, with users paying €6.99 (£6.14) a month or €49.99 a year. The 11 launch countries are Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg, The Republic of Ireland, The Netherlands, Portugal, Spain and Switzerland.

The global iPlayer app includes some features that are not in the UK version, including the ability to stream shows over 3G as well as Wi-Fi, and a downloading feature to store programmes on the iPad for offline viewing.

"We think we have a load of unmet demand for BBC and British content internationally," said managing director Luke Bradley-Jones.

"This is not a catch-up service: this is a video-on-demand service. We will have content from the last month, but also the best from the catalogue stretching back 50 to 60 years."

Users will be able to search for specific shows or browse genres including comedy and drama, but BBC Worldwide has also hired a team of editors to curate the international iPlayer.

Their focus will be on pulling together themed collections around specific shows or special events. An example of the former is Doctor Who, which is getting separate collections of episodes based on individual Doctors – The Tennant Years, The Ecclestone Years and so on – as well as one focused purely on episodes featuring the Daleks.

"There is at least 1,500 hours of content there from day one, and it will be growing by at least 100 hours a month," said Mark Smith, the global iPlayer launch director at BBC Worldwide.

"Most audiences know the big shows like Top Gear or Doctor Who, but maybe not so much about other shows, so we have been working hard on how we surface that content."

At launch, the 11 countries will be seeing the same iPlayer homepage and collections, but over time, there will be scope for the global iPlayer team to flag up different content based on local demand.

"What we're trying to test in the pilot is the ability to drive exploration and discovery through a programming approach rather than an algorithm-based approach," said Bradley-Jones. "We're not trying to compete against a Netflix or a Hulu. This has to be tailored and hand-crafted, so we can create a tone of voice."

BBC Worldwide sees the offline viewing and 3G streaming features as key selling points for the global iPlayer service, with Bradley-Jones hoping they will widen it beyond an app that is simply used within the home on a Wi-Fi network.

According to Smith, the development team worked closely with Apple on the offline feature. "When we were doing our user testing, the use case was picking six shows before going on a long journey, and leaving them to download to the iPad overnight," he said.

"The way the device works, though, is it hibernates and stops you from doing that: you wake up the next morning and only half a show has downloaded. We have managed to override that functionality, and Apple are comfortable with us doing that."

Smith stressed that users will be warned about the likely battery consumption of doing this, though: they would be best advised to leave their iPad plugged in overnight in these cases.

Why focus on iPad? BBC Worldwide is not subject to the same requirements to support a range of devices as the BBC in the UK, so for global iPlayer, this was a purely commercial decision.

"We hope that this service becomes multi-device, multi-platform and multi-territory over time, but as a premium-but-niche service, we did not want to go in with both feet from day one," said Bradley-Jones.

"We're spending the next year in a pilot-type phase focusing on one device, to make a clean and very compelling experience. We have a great relationship with Apple in terms of the promotional commitments they'll give us too."

Apple's iPad currently takes the lion's share of the tablet market, which was also a key factor in BBC Worldwide's decision. However, if Android tablets become more popular during the year-long pilot period, Bradley-Jones expects to port the global iPlayer app across then. For now, the global iPlayer will not be available as a desktop web service.

At launch, 60% of the global iPlayer content has been produced and commissioned by the BBC, while 30% has been commissioned by the BBC but produced by independents. The other 10% is entirely non-BBC content, including ITV's Primeval, and Channel 4's The Naked Chef and Misfits.

"We see this as a best-of-British proposition," said Bradley-Jones. "If we get this right, it's a very exciting opportunity to provide a window onto our world: the cultural and entertainment space in Britain. To do that well, it can't be just BBC content. We really hope it will be a much broader church."

How will the global iPlayer's content fit in with windows for broadcast and DVD? BBC content will generally transmit first on terrestrial channels in the 11 countries, before appearing on the iPlayer.

Once shows are added, they will generally stay available for the long-term, although "a handful of top brands" will receive different treatment to take into account DVD releases or specific terrestrial scheduling initiatives.

Bradley-Jones said that the cost of Hulu and Netflix subscriptions was one of the factors in deciding how much to charge for the global iPlayer – which hints that when it does launch in the US, it will be around the $7.99 mark.

Users of the iPlayer app in the UK may wonder when or whether the download and 3G streaming features will make their way into that.

The two apps are being developed by different divisions of the BBC, so Bradley-Jones and Smith preferred not to speak on behalf of the UK iPlayer app's team, but Smith did point to the advantage of being only on one device as one reason why the global iPlayer is getting these features first.

The other obvious question to ask concerns the US, where fans of BBC shows will have to wait a little longer to get the global iPlayer app. Why?

"The rights picture for the US is a little bit more complicated," said Bradley-Jones. "The nature of the agreements with our rights partners are different, and the windows across our existing business are older than they are in Europe. From our side, we have to jump through a few more of those commercial and legal hoops. We could have launched in the US with a product this week, but there would have been a few too many missing parts."

When it does go live in the US, the global iPlayer will sit alongside BBC Worldwide's existing distribution agreements with iTunes and Netflix, among others, rather than replacing them.

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Comments in chronological order (Total 72 comments)

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  • 2020science

    28 July 2011 12:44AM

    Compatibility with Airplay is THE top question here - followed quickly by what programs will not be available, whether episodes airing in the UK will be available as they air, and when will the app hit the US (I've been waiting eleven years... for this level of BBC access here!).

    Would love to hear of experiences in Europe.

  • petestan

    28 July 2011 12:56AM

    So just out of curiosity will the programmes be dubbed in the local language for Europe or in English with subtitles or just English full stop as they think it will be mainly ex pats who are interested?

  • dsearls

    28 July 2011 1:04AM

    Will it stream live like Aljazeera? Or will it be all files like CNN?

    And if it's live, will it have the numbered domestic BBC radio and TV services?

    I would gladly pay for those.

  • whatisapixel

    28 July 2011 1:48AM

    "This is not a catch-up service: this is a video-on-demand service. We will have content from the last month, but also the best from the catalogue stretching back 50 to 60 years."

    So nothing for UK users?

  • tap1966

    28 July 2011 2:23AM

    AirPlay for all Apps will be a standard feature of iOS 5 coming later this year.

    I know IoS 5 will have screen mirroring, but does that include sound also? Not trying to be smart, honestly no idea.

  • unicornhouse

    28 July 2011 5:54AM

    Android soon please!! I don't want to have to wait a year. I would happily pay €6.99 not to have to illegally download my favourite shows

  • AlanR

    28 July 2011 7:38AM

    With regards to 'do not hibernate' It really sounds like a school kid asking permission to ride his tricycle.

    Whilst any new income for the beeb is better than nothing why on earth was it not done on tax free devices?

    There is no mention if the BBC managed to manoeuvre around that whacking 30% fee.

  • glenncarey

    28 July 2011 8:06AM


    "The global iPlayer app includes some features that are not in the UK version, including the ability to stream shows over 3G..."

    The UK version allows this. A few mobile networks block it.

    I'm with 3 (pay-as-you-go) and listen to iPlayer in the car most days, streaming it over 3G.

    I believe it's also possible if you're a Vodafone contract customer.

  • MattWPBS

    28 July 2011 8:53AM

    "The UK version allows this. A few mobile networks block it."

    "Except for Android, Apple and Symbian^3 devices, streaming BBC iPlayer TV/Radio programmes on a 3G connection is available to customers on the 3 and Vodafone networks.

    Users on other networks, or those using Apple, Android or Symbian^3 devices, will need a wi-fi connection to stream content. We are working with the other network operators to make the service more widely available."

    The BBC have set the apps up to only work on wi-fi.

  • AngloParis

    28 July 2011 9:09AM

    If current full content isn't available, I'll continue to use the existing iplayer for 7-day catchup or live streaming of ALL channels (TV and Radio), using a UK-based VPN like my-private-network

  • WelshBluebird

    28 July 2011 9:10AM

    Is there actually any reason why this allows downloads but the UK app does not? Something that a lot of people wanted and would prove to be very useful.
    And where on earth is the iPhone version (and an android version that doesn't require flash).

  • SpangleJ

    28 July 2011 9:29AM

    Well great. About time the BBC generated some extra revenue, too.

    "I would happily pay 6.99 not to have to illegally download my favourite shows."

    Ha! Oh the things we are forced to do in this life. If you want to watch/listen to content then pay for it. No-one's twisting your arm.

  • kfed99

    28 July 2011 9:34AM

    I live in Madrid and pay €5 per month for a decent VPN connection so that I can watch iplayer, 4od etc. I think I'll keep doing that but I am keen to see what content this global iplayer will offer, but if it's only vod and not cutv then I may give it a miss.

  • freespeechoneeach

    28 July 2011 9:36AM

    Giving away content paid for by British telly tax-payers for free to people, many of them British ex- pats, abroad.
    It's clearly corrupt.
    And there's absolutely nothing the British taxpayer can do about it.

  • scotleag

    28 July 2011 9:36AM

    Waited ages for this only to find it's not available. Following the link directly from the Beeb gives a "your request cannot be completed message" and searching on the App store brings up the UK version only.

    Shame. Sounds like a good deal.

  • BladeAbroad

    28 July 2011 9:37AM

    I would personally like to thank the BBC for considering only the small percentage of the world's population with an iPad. I guess the rest of us can go to hell.

  • freespeechoneeach

    28 July 2011 9:39AM


    So just out of curiosity will the programmes be dubbed in the local language for Europe or in English with subtitles or just English full stop as they think it will be mainly ex pats who are interested?

    Good question. My guess; all the content will remain in English- the target audience will be British ex- pats. People who have already shown their lack of affinity to the United Kingdom (= the BBC's core audience.)

  • JamesWMoar

    28 July 2011 9:45AM

    Giving away content paid for by British telly tax-payers for free to people, many of them British ex- pats, abroad.

    Providing a small amount of (ad-supported) free content, with a subscription required for most of the content. Offering a legal pay option to entice people away from proxying and torrenting.

  • Equalityforall

    28 July 2011 9:47AM

    Shame they're exclusively down the apple route, when most users don't have this type of device. If they're aiming to secure as much revenue as possible - which ought to be a key objective - they need to focus on near universal accessibility.

  • Spinkat

    28 July 2011 9:49AM

    Sometimes the BBC just does not make commercial sense. There is a global audience out there that will happily pay the BBC licence fee to watch BBC television. It is technically possible, so why not get money like that?

  • SamSSSS

    28 July 2011 9:49AM

    Excellent news. It presents to the world a positive picture on British culture.

    And it's very cheap for now: half the price of the license fee. This would have been great when I lived in France, and it combats the ridiculous market in VPNs.

    I suspect this is the way the BBC UK is going to be funded in 10 years' time. The license fee will be reduced and people will pay a small subscription for internet services.

    To the people moaning about Android, just wait a bit. They are releasing it bit by bit.

  • keyserchris

    28 July 2011 9:54AM

    What would be nice is if the BBC could get the UK app to work in the first place. I find it almost impossible to watch any programme on the iPad app, at present it doesn't download items properly so programmes don't even start playing.

    Which is a shame, because it's a very nice app

  • Wilbe1

    28 July 2011 10:00AM

    If this is Airplay compatible, British TV in the States is about to hit the big time. People might not be willing to watch on their iPad but hook it up to the TV, I wonder what HBO fanatics will make of 'Sun, Sea and Suspicious Parents'?

  • SamSSSS

    28 July 2011 10:03AM

    Excuse me for being thick, but here in Italy I have one of those old-fashioned things called a computer. Will iPlayer work on that?

    Just looked into this at the BBC and it sounds like no which is really bizarre.

    Perhaps they want a slow roll out, and the whole world accessing iPlayer at once is too much for them.


    28 July 2011 10:05AM

    Some of us remember Blue Peter with product labels blanked-out.

    The BBC's policy of intentionally developing against proprietorial products (consistently against Apple first) should be subject of a parliamentary investigation.

    This is an abuse of licence-payers' money - especially given that Apple is a niche player in the majority of markets.

  • Kyza06

    28 July 2011 10:05AM

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  • kfed99

    28 July 2011 10:08AM

    The BBC make a lot of money from advertising abroad. Ever been to the BBC News page when you've been out of the country? Adverts al over the shop and pre-rolls on video content.

    And this ipad app is just the beginning of their roll-out, stop whinging.

  • Kyza06

    28 July 2011 10:11AM

    especially given that Apple is a niche player in the majority of markets.

    Biggest tablet manufacturer by a huge margin, sells to loads of people who buy stuff=good for advertisers=BBC Worldwide can sell the ad space easily. 14.8mn iPads sold worldwide isn't a small audience to start a global subscription service for BBC programing.

    IMO this is a great move - not just commercially (especially when it launches in the US), but culturally too. The scaling back of the British Council's activities, especially in Europe, as well as the hatchet job done to the World Service, has left the UK with a huge disparity in it's overseas cultural mission compared to other EU nations & the US and this, especially if there is also radio content, will go a long way to rebalancing that.

    The value in this operation isn't only measured in £££s.

  • JoshuaT

    28 July 2011 10:24AM

    Saw the the headline "BBC iPlayer goes Global" on the guardian homepage and I nearly wet my pants.....until I saw the full headline.

    How I wish 4oD, iPlayer, and Spotify would actually go global. But if I am going to be wishing for stuff.......

  • barnabasdoggie

    28 July 2011 10:26AM

    Why have people not read the article?

    BBC Worldwide, the commercial arm of the BBC that isn't funded by licence fee and which makes a (pretty nice, IIRC) profit, is targeting the largest tablet maker having identified it as a suitable launch platform. (No doubt the extent to which the iPad is "locked down" also helps to assuage the concerns of rights holders.)

    As the article also states, other platforms will follow if this is a success.

    Rolling out apps and programs across all platforms and all countries at once would be a technical and logistical nightmare for something as (legally/technically) complex as this.

    So VSLVSL, Equalityforall and others, read first, engage typing fingers later.

  • Lemoulin

    28 July 2011 10:36AM

    As a frequent traveller with a non-UK iTunes subscription I'd love to see both versions of the iPlayer app available in all iTunes stores. Right now I can't use this new app when I'm in the UK, and I can't download the UK app. Messy. Either that or have a single app that detects your location and adapts accordingly. People with iPads have been known to travel across borders...

  • muzikluv

    28 July 2011 10:42AM

    I watch less and less BBC. Aljazeera knock out some pretty good documentaries and Russia Today aren't too bad either.

    This will appeal all over the world to those who like their soaps and trendy-sweary modern comedies.

  • DigbyChickenCeasar

    28 July 2011 10:55AM

    ahhh this explains why the BBC has been scattershotting take down orders on Youtube recently.

    The success of this depends on how much DRM they try to pack in there.

  • Fwoggie

    28 July 2011 10:58AM

    This is great news for me, I am an apple owner living in Germany!. Except for one thing - I own an imac not an ipad so this app is about as much use as a chocolate teapot.

    In the meantime I'll continue paying less per month than the ipad charge to lease a UK proxy to get around the UK-ip's-only iplayer restrictions. Why they didn't simultaneously release it to run on multiple platforms is completely beyond me.

  • KopiteInExile

    28 July 2011 11:13AM

    I wish I hadn't read this article :((

    For 14 years, I've put up with the garbage that Americans call TV. Finally there's some light at the end of the tunnel, except that I now live in a part of the USA where the only broadband internet service I can get is satellite, 1 Megabit/sec and a total bandwidth allocation of 200 Megabytes/day, unless I want to watch in the unmetered period between 0200 and 0700 my time.

    I just hope this doesn't undermine the efforts that the BBC seem to be making in putting their best stuff on DVD. The occasional package of DVDs from is the only thing that stops me from trying to sell the TV.

    No, no real point to make, just feeling sorry for myself. When I lived in the UK, we were jealous of the Americans and their flat-rate local calls. Now you folks back on the right hand side of the pond probably don't realise how far in front of the USA you are as regards internet access, at least outside of the urban areas.

  • zanc

    28 July 2011 11:21AM

    Shame it's not available within the UK . We will be second rate consumers only able to view catchup programmes transmitted over the previous week.

  • Phazer

    28 July 2011 11:40AM

    Shame it's not available within the UK . We will be second rate consumers only able to view catchup programmes transmitted over the previous week.

    Yeah, UK viewers are getting screwed! I mean, they only get what? 2000 - 3000 hours a hours a month? Compared to the 2700 hours of content a year this international service will get? Man, I feel like a complete second class citizen, yes sir.

    Sigh. Between this and the ITV Player thread the other day which had literally dozens of people who'd not read the frickin article and complaining about something that wasn't happening, the Media Guardian comments section is getting dumber.


  • abbathehorse

    28 July 2011 11:48AM

    If this allows the BBC to keep doing what they are doing then great, it is a bonus for the UK licence payer and could well be a huge money spinner for the BBC.

    I've always maintained that the best way to combat piracy and underground streaming is to make content available cheaply (which this seems to be) and easily (the BBC iPlayer is one of the best and most robust in use). people will then take the path of least resistance.

    The other benefit is that it may lead the way to us being able to access the BBC abroad. A great benefit for those of us who travel. Perhaps it should be free to those of us who already pay the licence fee, but to be honest, I'd pay £7-8 for a month's access to the beeb while on hols.

  • MediaBee

    28 July 2011 12:01PM

    Why is it that the people who fund the BBC (i.e. UK licence fee payers) are treated as second class citizens by the BBC when it comes to things like this?

    I want to be able to watch BBC shows on my commute to work - but cannot because the UK version of the iplayer app does not support 3G or downloads.

    Yet people overseas, who don't have to pay the license fee, can get this functionality! This is totally outrageous.

    And overseas users can see classic shows - UK users are restricted to a catch up service for the last seven days?!?

  • PristineAudio

    28 July 2011 12:03PM

    I've just watched the first ever episode (or rather, half of it) on my iPad here in France. App looked good, easy and quick to download and install, and gave me the option of streaming or downloading the content.

    Looks like there's a decent selection available but it's very much geared to past glories rather than up to the minute stuff - but who cares? That's why I've got a Freesat PVR.

    Some unusual omissions - there's all the re-booted Doctor Who but only the Hartnell content from the older series. Blackadder has series 1-3 but not 4. Top Gear seems to be series 10-14 and a couple of specials, and nothing (yet) of the current series.

    On the other hand Eastenders covers four recent episodes: 17, 20, 21, & 23 July. Not that I'll be wasting my battery life on any of them.

    Looks good on full screen, all content in English, no subtitles. Good luck to them - an extra revenue stream to be ploughed back into programmes, and one that's cost the licence payer nowt.

    My guess is that current gaps will be filled, the overall content will only continue to grow, and other platforms will come onstream in due course if this obvious one is a success.

    Right now I'm off to enjoy Basil Fawlty "entertaining" some German guests...

  • softwater

    28 July 2011 12:03PM

    Can we have it in Asia, please? And a desktop service too, would be nice.

    For years, the BBC have been leaving serious money on the table. Just about every expat I know would be happy to pay for this. As it is, most expats get conned by local cable companies for very limited BBC viewing, usually just world service and at extortionate prices (of which the BBC receives only a small fraction because the service is bundled with loads of crap the expats don't want).

    So it is more than welcome — if not somewhat overdue — that they are finally starting to realise this, but really, they should be doing it faster and worldwide.

    (and please get it to asia before the footie season starts!)

  • Kyza06

    28 July 2011 12:11PM

    I want to be able to watch BBC shows on my commute to work - but cannot because the UK version of the iplayer app does not support 3G or downloads.

    As mentioned above, this is down to local mobile operators, and it's possible with 3 and (maybe) Vodafone.

    Yet people overseas, who don't have to pay the license fee, can get this functionality! This is totally outrageous.

    No, they just have to pay a monthly subscription and put up with roll-down ads whenever they access the service.

    And overseas users can see classic shows - UK users are restricted to a catch up service for the last seven days?!?

    Hmm - funny, but the overseas posters on this thread are complaining about exactly the opposite thing - that they can only get the classic shows. Hmmm.

    I'd suggest that for someone who calls themselves MediaBee that you should look at how licensing rights & the BBC charter (as well as OfCom and the MMC) have all restricted the UK's terrestrial broadcasters from making their huge back catalogs available to UK viewers - there was a plan from the BBC, ITV & C4 to make all their old programming (or as much of it as they have archived) available on-demand via a webservice, and they were told they couldn't do it.

  • greytreefrog

    28 July 2011 12:12PM

    I've downloaded the app and tried to stream broadcast to the TV via the Apple AV composite cable: sound only so I'm pretty sure Airplay won't work for you guys either. Downloads are subscription only so I can't try that.

    To the question about iplayer in Italy: iplayer is blocked on the computer outside the uk so it won't work.

    To the idea of BBC selling a license fee and all their content abroad: they already license some of it to other channels or don't have international rights to do it which is why they don't.

    If downloads do play to the TV then it would be worth subscribing for the back catalogue otherwise I think not. There just isn't enough good content available in any week to make it interesting.
    I don't think tv viewing on the ipad is a satisfying experience and besides, it's not something you can do as a family/couple which is the deal breaker for me.

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