Viewers can buy permanent downloads of Sherlock, as well as rarities from the BBC archive, after the corporation issued a challenge to iTunes by opening its first digital BBC Store.
From 5 November, audiences can buy-to-keep downloads of their favourite current BBC programmes, as well as material unseen since broadcast, including rare Dennis Potter plays, from the corporation’s vast archive of 4m shows.
Single episodes will cost £1.89, rising to figures of more than £20 for complete series “box sets”, when bought through the bbcstore.com website.
The BBC iPlayer will guide users to the Store – along with less prominent links to other commercial suppliers. Programme purchases can be stored and viewed in a “my programmes” section on the iPlayer, as well as through the store.
The launch offering features 7,000 hours of programmes which can be streamed or downloaded via PC or Mac to watch offline. Apps allowing Android and Apple iOS viewing mobile viewing will also be available.
The Store is a response by BBC Worldwide, the corporation’s commercial wing, to the loss of millions of pounds worth of annual DVD sales as viewers turn to digital alternatives.
Rejecting a subscription on-demand service, which would have placed the BBC in direct competition with Netflix and Amazon Prime, the Store has been designed as an easy-to-use alternative for former DVD purchasers who still want to own BBC shows.
The launch offering includes recent hits like Wolf Hall recent hits, archive classics which caused political controversy and eight Dennis Potter dramas that have never before been made commercially available.
Alice, a 1965 contribution to The Wednesday Play slot, chronicling the relationship between Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, aka Lewis Carroll, and his muse Alice Liddell, is the earliest of the playwright’s television productions to survive on tape.
Potter’s 1989 series Blackeyes, starring Gina Bellman, which caused an outcry over its sex and nudity, was never given an official DVD or VHS release.
The Store will also sell complete episodes of vintage 70s and 80s comedies which the BBC has cut for broadcast or no longer repeats due to homophobic or racist language. These include a Fawlty Towers episode in which the character Major Gowen uses derogatory terms to describe black people and army sitcom It Ain’t Half Hot Mum.
The BBC said viewers recognised those programmes were “of their time” and that an individual decision to buy them was quite different from a broadcast channel today offering them to a broad audience.
Children’s programmes, black and white Doctor Who episodes and David Attenborough’s landmark natural history series will be available along with some music shows.
Programmes will still be available free of charge on the iPlayer for 30 days. But audiences will be able to make an instant download purchase of a new episode of Sherlock, the day after its television broadcast, along with a warning that it could still be viewed temporarily for free. Up to 70 hours of new programing will be added to the store each week.
With millions of viewers expected to log their credit card details with the BBC, the corporation promised the highest levels of security to protect customers from cyber-hacking attempts.
Profits from the Store, which is only open to UK users, will help to fill the funding gap that the corporation faces after the Government imposed a licence fee settlement which will require cuts of 10 per cent.
The BBC said that with just 10 per cent of its archive currently commercially available, the Store would open a “treasure trove” to audiences and expand the download market by giving viewers the chance to own cult programmes which previously would not have justified a DVD release.
Marcus Arthur, BBC Worldwide MD, said: “We want BBC Store to do for digital ownership what BBC iPlayer did for catch-up. BBC Store makes digital ownership really easy for audiences and means that we can being opening up the incredible BBC television archive.” Customers will receive a 25% discount on their first purchase.
BBC shows for sale
* Dennis Potter - Eight dramas including the sexually-charged Blackeyes and Follow The Yellow Brick Road, which anticipated the Truman Show in its depiction of a man trapped in a TV show.
* Muffin the Mule – Digitally restored episodes dating back to 1952 with the first children’s TV star (below) will sit alongside CBeebies series.
* Threads – 1984 cold war drama imagining a nuclear attack on Britain shocked viewers with its bleak depiction of post-apocalypse life.
* The War Game – Banned for being too shocking, Oscar-winning drama-documentary first proposed scenario for UK after nuclear war.
* Doctor Who – Early classics including the recently-released The Underwater Menace through to latest Peter Capaldi episodes
* The Frost Interview – Famous encounters including the urbane journalist’s clash with football manager Brian Clough (above) are now for sale.
* Sir David Attenborough – Landmark natural history shows including latest series The Hunt available for download to buy.
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies