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.

iPlayer

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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I was wrong about Help to Buy - but I'm still glad it's gone

As a mortgage journalist in 2013, I was deeply sceptical of the guarantee scheme. 

If you just read the headlines about Help to Buy, you could be under the impression that Theresa May has just axed an important scheme for first-time buyers. If you're on the left, you might conclude that she is on a mission to make life worse for ordinary working people. If you just enjoy blue-on-blue action, it's a swipe at the Chancellor she sacked, George Osborne.

Except it's none of those things. Help to Buy mortgage guarantee scheme is a policy that actually worked pretty well - despite the concerns of financial journalists including me - and has served its purpose.

When Osborne first announced Help to Buy in 2013, it was controversial. Mortgage journalists, such as I was at the time, were still mopping up news from the financial crisis. We were still writing up reports about the toxic loan books that had brought the banks crashing down. The idea of the Government promising to bail out mortgage borrowers seemed the height of recklessness.

But the Government always intended Help to Buy mortgage guarantee to act as a stimulus, not a long-term solution. From the beginning, it had an end date - 31 December 2016. The idea was to encourage big banks to start lending again.

So far, the record of Help to Buy has been pretty good. A first-time buyer in 2013 with a 5 per cent deposit had 56 mortgage products to choose from - not much when you consider some of those products would have been ridiculously expensive or would come with many strings attached. By 2016, according to Moneyfacts, first-time buyers had 271 products to choose from, nearly a five-fold increase

Over the same period, financial regulators have introduced much tougher mortgage affordability rules. First-time buyers can be expected to be interrogated about their income, their little luxuries and how they would cope if interest rates rose (contrary to our expectations in 2013, the Bank of England base rate has actually fallen). 

A criticism that still rings true, however, is that the mortgage guarantee scheme only helps boost demand for properties, while doing nothing about the lack of housing supply. Unlike its sister scheme, the Help to Buy equity loan scheme, there is no incentive for property companies to build more homes. According to FullFact, there were just 112,000 homes being built in England and Wales in 2010. By 2015, that had increased, but only to a mere 149,000.

This lack of supply helps to prop up house prices - one of the factors making it so difficult to get on the housing ladder in the first place. In July, the average house price in England was £233,000. This means a first-time buyer with a 5 per cent deposit of £11,650 would still need to be earning nearly £50,000 to meet most mortgage affordability criteria. In other words, the Help to Buy mortgage guarantee is targeted squarely at the middle class.

The Government plans to maintain the Help to Buy equity loan scheme, which is restricted to new builds, and the Help to Buy ISA, which rewards savers at a time of low interest rates. As for Help to Buy mortgage guarantee, the scheme may be dead, but so long as high street banks are offering 95 per cent mortgages, its effects are still with us.