BBC prepares to offer the pick of its archives down the telephone line

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The Independent Online

The BBC is preparing a bold move into the video-on-demand market, delivering programmes from its library into people's homes via telephone lines.

The BBC is preparing a bold move into the video-on-demand market, delivering programmes from its library into people's homes via telephone lines.

BBC Worldwide is considering a number of options. They include taking an equity stake in an existing operator, such as Video Networks or the nascent Yes Television, or setting up a joint venture with a cable TV or phone company, along the lines of its existing joint ventures with Telewest and Discovery Communications.

A third, and less likely option, is for the BBC to set up its own company in partnership with another big rights holder.

BBC Worldwide wants to do more than simply license its programming - including popular shows such as Walking With Dinosaurs, Teletubbies and Pride and Prejudice - to video-on-demand operators because it feels that there are potentially massive revenues to be generated which could supplement the income it receives from the licence fee.

"To find value you have to share in the creation of a channel," said Jeremy Mayhew, BBC Worldwide director of new ventures and strategy, in an interview in this week's New Media Markets magazine. "All media companies are taking long-term punts when it comes to new TV channels and the internet."

In launching its own video-on-demand service the BBC is following the model it used for cable TV with channels such as UK Gold, where it receives a stake for providing programming for the joint venture while the partner provides the cash. BBC Worldwide is also paid a commercial price by the joint ventures for its programming.

"Our strategy is exactly as it was with the linear programming world," said Mr Mayhew. "We are talking with potential partners but my sense is that the BBC's thinking on 'convenience viewing' is the most advanced of any of UK content provider."

Video Networks welcomed the BBC's decision to become a bigger player in the market, calling it "a sensible approach".

"In my view, for the BBC video-on-demand is an absolutely key development because it adds value to every single programme that the BBC has made," said Huw Williams, Video Networks executive director of programming and an ex-BBC Worldwide man himself.

"The idea that the licence-fee payer can have access to programmes whenever he wants strengthens the BBC's ability to reach its public."

The BBC has one of the best programme libraries in the world, though its expansion may be held back by the fact that its rights to sell on some older programmes, such as Bagpuss or Captain Pugwash, are restricted by agreements signed before video-on-demand was envisaged.

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