Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Just let us have what we are paying you for, Beeb!

The BBC is planning to launch new on-demand services which will allow us to download programmes via the Internet. I mentioned earlier that Ofcom wanted restrictions to make the services less useful, so that other companies can sell us the same sort of thing thing all over again.

The BBC Trust accepted many of these restrictions, but they are running a consultation to see if the public will buy this. We shouldn't! Click here to tell them what you think. You don't need to answer all of the questions.

Here is my 2p worth (sorry for the length)...

BBC Consultation: On-demand Services
Question 1
Do you agree with the BBC Trust's proposal to approve the new BBC on-demand services, subject to the modifications outlined in the Trust's report of its provisional conclusions?
The services should be approved, but I have reservations about some of the modifications, particularly where they reduce the value and usefulness of the services to licence-payers.

Question 2
In a market in which most broadcasters are expected to be offering on-demand services, would you agree that it is a priority for the BBC to be investing in this area?

Question 3
The BBC Trust has proposed setting a limit of 30 days as the amount of time that programmes can be stored on a computer before being viewed. As this is an emerging market, there is currently no clear standard on the length of the storage window. On balance, the Trust thinks 30 days is the right length of time. How long do you think consumers should be able to store BBC programmes on their computers before viewing them?
Ideally there should be no limit, and viewers should be able to store the programs indefinitely, before watching them. If that is not possible, 30 days is probably a reasonable time for most people, as it allows people to go on holiday and still be able to watch the programs on their return.

I note that Northern Ireland schools have a 2 month holiday in the summer, and that if families take full advantage of this time, a period of 30 days would not be sufficient to allow them to view the recorded programmes.

Question 4
The BBC Trust concluded that public value would be created by allowing series stacking. This would allow viewers to catch-up with all episodes of a series for the duration of its run. The Trust recognised that although it would provide increased opportunities to view BBC programmes, it could also deter people from buying DVDs or using commercial video-on-demand services. Do you consider series stacking to be a useful feature? What kind of series would you expect to be included? Should there be any limitation on the number of episodes of a series made available for catch-up or the length of time for which they can be viewed?
Series stacking (surely there is a better term for this) is a useful feature. I see no reason why it should not be available for all types of series. It should be permitted for an entire series.

Question 5
How important is it that the proposed seven-day catch-up service over the internet is available to consumers who are not using Microsoft software?
It is vital that BBC services do not require licence payers to purchase software from Microsoft, or indeed any other company. An increasing number of viewers do not purchase or use MS Windows - and they should not be excluded from viewing the content which they fund through the licence fee.

In particular, portable devices (which are not necessarily windows-based) should be usable for downloaded BBC audio and video content.

Question 6
Should the BBC be allowed to offer book readings from its radio services as audio downloads over the internet?
Of course! This is likely to be of particular interest to the blind and partially sighted - my grandparents would have loved such a service!

This content should be playable on any portable mp3 player.

Question 7
The BBC Trust concluded there was fine balance between public value and market impact in deciding whether to allow the BBC to offer audio downloads of classical music. While such downloads could help introduce new listeners to classical music, they could also deter purchases of commercial recordings. What is your view on whether - and to what extent - the BBC should be allowed to offer radio broadcasts of classical music as audio downloads over the internet?
I see no reason why lovers of classical music (and potential future fans) should be discriminated against in the way proposed by Ofcom and the BBC Trust.

While there could be some market impact if one particular interpretation of a classical piece is freely available, other orchestras and artists remain free to produce their own interpretations for sale. After all, music which is out of copyright is already widely available on CD at prices in the region of one or two pounds - and yet more recordings of these same pieces continue to be produced.

The impact is further reduced because the MP3 format (or any other plausible compressed, downloadable format) is of appreciably lower quality than a CD or DVD audio recording. Classical music fans (because of the dynamic range and other characteristics of the music) are likely to be especially aware of the difference.

For these reasons I believe that the Trust and Ofcom have overestimated any economic impact of making a relatively low-quality, compressed formats available for download.

Besides, it seems wrong for market impact to automatically trump the rights of licence-payers to listen to the music they have paid for – particularly when the music is out of copyright, and thus in the public domain.

Finally, denying us access to the largest part of our musical heritage and history must hugely impoverish popular culture.

Question 8
How important is it to you that the BBC provides some means for parents to control which of its programmes are accessible on-demand to children? Is such a facility necessary or is it more a matter for parents to exercise controls over how children use the internet?
Vastly worse content than that provided by the BBC is already freely available on the Internet. It is the responsibility of parents and guardians to decide how the children in their care access this content. There is no need for special rules for BBC content.

Question 9
What are your views on whether the BBC should offer content from non-BBC providers on the on-demand service on its website?
I have no objection to non-BBC content being available, subject to standards of quality, taste and decency.

Question 10
What are your views on whether and how the BBC should make available on-demand content on services run by other providers - such as multi-channel services or internet-based audio and video downloading services?
So long as the content is also available free-of-charge via the BBC's internet site to licence-payers, I see no problem with this.

Question 11
Do the revisions proposed to BBC Service Licences to allow the new services to go ahead seem appropriate?
There seem to be too many restrictions on how licence-payers use the content they are funding.

Question 12
Are there any other issues you would like the BBC Trust to consider in relation to the proposed services?
I think value to licence payers is given too little weight, in comparison to the interests of potential commercial competitors. No organisation has a God-given right to make money from licence-payers for every conceivable service. Organisations should be free to compete on quality or through originality - but it would be wrong for the BBC to abdicate its responsibility to those who fund it.

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