BBC launches subscription iPad app for 11 European countries

The application will cost €6.99 and allow people to stream and download content to their iPad

The BBC is expanding its popular iPlayer digital content service, launching a subscription iPad application for 11 European countries, the broadcaster said on Thursday.

The international iPlayer application for the iPad will come in two versions: a free one with 10 to 12 hours of long-form content and a subscription version that costs €6.99 (US$9.90) per month that will let users stream and download programs onto their tablets for viewing later, said Mark Smith, launch director for the global BBC iPlayer.

The programs offered will include popular British shows such as "Top Gear," "Eastenders" and "Doctor Who." The subscription version is stocked with about 1,500 hours of programming that includes current shows and classic content, such as the 1970s comedy show "Fawlty Towers." About 100 hours of programming will be added per month, Smith said.

The BBC said it will initially be available in Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg, Ireland, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain and Switzerland. Smith said BBC Worldwide chose European countries first since they are close to the U.K. and are home to many British expatriates. BBC Worldwide is considering eventually expanding the application's availability to other countries, such as the U.S., Canada and Australia.

BBC Worldwide has a 10-year business plan for the international iPlayer iPad application, but for the first year "we just want to make sure we get the product right," Smith said. The BBC may build versions in the future for other Apple iOS devices, such as the iPhone and Apple TV, he said.

The international iPad application differs from the one for the domestic market in that people will be able to download programs to the device. That is not possible with the U.K. version. Smith said the U.K. version is designed to let people catch up on linear TV programs, while the international version is a more classic and contemporary collection of BBC content not tied so closely to the broadcaster's U.K. TV schedules.

The application will also have a small amount of advertising. BBC Worldwide has a three-month deal with the British Tourist Authority, know as VisitBritain, to run 15- to 30-second preroll advertisements before content plays and also display the authority's logo. The advertisements will not be seen by those who purchase a subscription, Smith said. BBC Worldwide also plans to pursue advertising in countries where the application is launching, Smith said.

iPlayer content was previously only available to people living in the U.K. The BBC uses IP geolocation filtering to block access to programs by people from outside the U.K., although it is possible to use a VPN (Virtual Private Network) service with a U.K. data center to evade the blocking.

Within the U.K., the BBC does not run advertising and is funded through a TV license, which is required of anyone with a television or people who watch programs live on their computer. A color TV license costs £145.50 (US$232.80).

The international iPlayer iPad application is a project of BBC Worldwide, which is the commercial arm of the broadcaster that markets British TV and radio programs overseas. BBC Worldwide said it had profits of £160 million on sales of £1.1 billion in for its fiscal 2010-11.

The iPlayer debuted in July 2007 as a stand-alone digital content service for Windows PCs that could download programs that had aired in the past seven days. Since that time, it has been greatly enhanced. The BBC has iPlayer applications for Linux and Mac OS operating systems.

It also now airs programs live online as they're being shown on TV, such as the Wimbledon tennis tournament. Users can also watch programs up to seven days after one has been shown on TV or download a program to their computer for later viewing.

The BBC also worked hard to make the iPlayer compatible with mobile devices. For example, it transcodes programs into QuickTime, Apple's multimedia format, for people using iPhones and iPads, which do not support Adobe's Flash multimedia technology.

Send news tips and comments to jeremy_kirk@idg.com

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Jeremy Kirk

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