BBC iPlayer's US rollout blocked by cable networks

BBC America may be dropped if BBC introduces pay-for VOD

The BBC's international rollout of iPlayer as a subscription-only service has been put on hold following threats from the American cable providers, according to Robert Andrews at paidContent.

The video on demand service has been made available, on a trial basis, in 18 European markets, Canada and Australia, where viewers can pay around £60 a year for access to content. For that price, they can watch BBC content on iPhones, iPads and iPod touches. The service has been successful in the countries where it is available, and the BBC plans to roll it out to the US, but have been stopped by threats from the cable companies which currently carry BBC America, Andrews reports.

BBC Worldwide, the broadcaster's commercial branch, has in essence been forced to choose between their current cash-cow, BBC America, and their potential future one, iPlayer. Speaking on a different topic (video advertising) the head of BBC worldwide advertising said on Friday that: 

Most of us operating in the U.S. are at the behest of Time Warner and Comcast. . . We shouldn’t believe they will not have a play in this space.

And a spokesman told paidContent:

Global iPlayer was set up as a 12-month trial to allow us to assess the product, consumer demand in different markets and the content mix. We have extended the trial, with the full support of the BBC Trust, until Autumn this year. Although western Europe launched in July last year, Australia and Canada came on board later in 2011, as did the move to other Apple platforms. And so, by extending the trial, it allows us to capture more data out of the iPlayer model.

It is odd for those in Britain to think of the BBC as the scrappy underdog, but that is very much what they are in this case. They have a small coterie of die-hard fans, who they are eager to develop a direct relationship with, but if the cable companies decide to put their feet down, there isn't a huge amount the company can do.


Alex Hern is a technology reporter for the Guardian. He was formerly staff writer at the New Statesman. You should follow Alex on Twitter.

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The Fire Brigades Union reaffiliates to Labour - what does it mean?

Any union rejoining Labour will be welcomed by most in the party - but the impact on the party's internal politics will be smaller than you think.

The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) has voted to reaffiliate to the Labour party, in what is seen as a boost to Jeremy Corbyn. What does it mean for Labour’s internal politics?

Firstly, technically, the FBU has never affliated before as they are notionally part of the civil service - however, following the firefighters' strike in 2004, they decisively broke with Labour.

The main impact will be felt on the floor of Labour party conference. Although the FBU’s membership – at around 38,000 – is too small to have a material effect on the outcome of votes themselves, it will change the tenor of the motions put before party conference.

The FBU’s leadership is not only to the left of most unions in the Trades Union Congress (TUC), it is more inclined to bring motions relating to foreign affairs than other unions with similar politics (it is more internationalist in focus than, say, the PCS, another union that may affiliate due to Corbyn’s leadership). Motions on Israel/Palestine, the nuclear deterrent, and other issues, will find more support from FBU delegates than it has from other affiliated trade unions.

In terms of the balance of power between the affiliated unions themselves, the FBU’s re-entry into Labour politics is unlikely to be much of a gamechanger. Trade union positions, elected by trade union delegates at conference, are unlikely to be moved leftwards by the reaffiliation of the FBU. Unite, the GMB, Unison and Usdaw are all large enough to all-but-guarantee themselves a seat around the NEC. Community, a small centrist union, has already lost its place on the NEC in favour of the bakers’ union, which is more aligned to Tom Watson than Jeremy Corbyn.

Matt Wrack, the FBU’s General Secretary, will be a genuine ally to Corbyn and John McDonnell. Len McCluskey and Dave Prentis were both bounced into endorsing Corbyn by their executives and did so less than wholeheartedly. Tim Roache, the newly-elected General Secretary of the GMB, has publicly supported Corbyn but is seen as a more moderate voice at the TUC. Only Dave Ward of the Communication Workers’ Union, who lent staff and resources to both Corbyn’s campaign team and to the parliamentary staff of Corbyn and McDonnell, is truly on side.

The impact of reaffiliation may be felt more keenly in local parties. The FBU’s membership looks small in real terms compared Unite and Unison have memberships of over a million, while the GMB and Usdaw are around the half-a-million mark, but is much more impressive when you consider that there are just 48,000 firefighters in Britain. This may make them more likely to participate in internal elections than other affiliated trade unionists, just 60,000 of whom voted in the Labour leadership election in 2015. However, it is worth noting that it is statistically unlikely most firefighters are Corbynites - those that are will mostly have already joined themselves. The affiliation, while a morale boost for many in the Labour party, is unlikely to prove as significant to the direction of the party as the outcome of Unison’s general secretary election or the struggle for power at the top of Unite in 2018. 

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.