BBC to launch Netflix-style U.S. streaming service
CAMBRIDGE — The BBC will launch a Netflix-style video subscription service for American audiences next year, the head of the U.K.’s public broadcaster said Thursday.
Lord Hall of Birkenhead, the BBC’s director-general, said the new Internet-based service will allow U.S. audiences to access BBC programs that aren’t already screened on TV channels or available on existing streaming services.
The new service is one of several initiatives the broadcaster is planning in order to raise more revenue internationally at a time when its public funding in Britain is under intense pressure.
“We need to raise commercial income to supplement the license fee so we can invest as much as possible in content for U.K. audiences,” Lord Hall told the bi-annual Royal Television Society conference in Cambridge.
The BBC gave few specific details about the initiative, but it is understood that it will not directly replicate the iPlayer, its hugely popular U.K. streaming service. Instead, the BBC is developing a new interface using a mix of its own and third-party technology.
It will not, initially at least, include the most sought-after new BBC shows, such as Doctor Who and Sherlock, which are already tied up in lucrative rights deals with BBC America, the cable channel it co-owns with AMC, or other networks.
However, the BBC’s catalogue includes thousands of hours of other shows that never reach the airwaves in the U.S., along with a sizeable back catalogue.
However, the BBC hopes that its unique brand, reputation for making high-quality programs, and a vast library of content will give it a distinctive selling point for American subscribers.
The corporation is trying to drive additional income with its public funding, amounting to about £3.7 billion a year, under pressure at home. The government is undertaking a ten-year review of the BBC’s funding, scope and purpose and critics argue that it should be scaled back.
Lord Hall said the BBC is also planning to bolster its internal production division to generate more commercial income.
At present, the corporation’s own in-house production teams make just over half of the programs that it screens on its TV channels. It has promised to commission more from external producers, but also wants approval from regulators for its internal production department to begin making shows for other networks.
Internal production will be hived off into a new commercially-driven BBC Studios, which will have revenues initially of £400 million a year. The BBC wants to grow that significantly by chasing commissions from foreign TV networks and online platforms, to compete with the Hollywood studios.