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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Who will win in Stoke-on-Trent?

Labour are the favourites, but they could fall victim to a shock in the Midlands constituency.  

The resignation of Tristram Hunt as MP for Stoke-on-Central has triggered a by-election in the safe Labour seat of Stoke on Trent Central. That had Westminster speculating about the possibility of a victory for Ukip, which only intensified once Paul Nuttall, the party’s leader, was installed as the candidate.

If Nuttall’s message that the Labour Party has lost touch with its small-town and post-industrial heartlands is going to pay dividends at the ballot box, there can hardly be a better set of circumstances than this: the sitting MP has quit to take up a well-paid job in London, and although  the overwhelming majority of Labour MPs voted to block Brexit, the well-advertised divisions in that party over the vote should help Ukip.

But Labour started with a solid lead – it is always more useful to talk about percentages, not raw vote totals – of 16 points in 2015, with the two parties of the right effectively tied in second and third place. Just 33 votes separated Ukip in second from the third-placed Conservatives.

There was a possible – but narrow – path to victory for Ukip that involved swallowing up the Conservative vote, while Labour shed votes in three directions: to the Liberal Democrats, to Ukip, and to abstention.

But as I wrote at the start of the contest, Ukip were, in my view, overwritten in their chances of winning the seat. We talk a lot about Labour’s problem appealing to “aspirational” voters in Westminster, but less covered, and equally important, is Ukip’s aspiration problem.

For some people, a vote for Ukip is effectively a declaration that you live in a dump. You can have an interesting debate about whether it was particularly sympathetic of Ken Clarke to brand that party’s voters as “elderly male people who have had disappointing lives”, but that view is not just confined to pro-European Conservatives. A great number of people, in Stoke and elsewhere, who are sympathetic to Ukip’s positions on immigration, international development and the European Union also think that voting Ukip is for losers.

That always made making inroads into the Conservative vote harder than it looks. At the risk of looking very, very foolish in six days time, I found it difficult to imagine why Tory voters in Hanley would take the risk of voting Ukip. As I wrote when Nuttall announced his candidacy, the Conservatives were, in my view, a bigger threat to Labour than Ukip.

Under Theresa May, almost every move the party has made has been designed around making inroads into the Ukip vote and that part of the Labour vote that is sympathetic to Ukip. If the polls are to be believed, she’s succeeding nationally, though even on current polling, the Conservatives wouldn’t have enough to take Stoke on Trent Central.

Now Theresa May has made a visit to the constituency. Well, seeing as the government has a comfortable majority in the House of Commons, it’s not as if the Prime Minister needs to find time to visit the seat, particularly when there is another, easier battle down the road in the shape of the West Midlands mayoral election.

But one thing is certain: the Conservatives wouldn’t be sending May down if they thought that they were going to do worse than they did in 2015.

Parties can be wrong of course. The Conservatives knew that they had found a vulnerable spot in the last election as far as a Labour deal with the SNP was concerned. They thought that vulnerable spot was worth 15 to 20 seats. They gained 27 from the Liberal Democrats and a further eight from Labour.  Labour knew they would underperform public expectations and thought they’d end up with around 260 to 280 seats. They ended up with 232.

Nevertheless, Theresa May wouldn’t be coming down to Stoke if CCHQ thought that four days later, her party was going to finish fourth. And if the Conservatives don’t collapse, anyone betting on Ukip is liable to lose their shirt. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.