Netflix one, BBC nil as the corporation abandons its digital download service

Stuart Lauchlan Profile picture for user slauchlan May 25, 2017
The BBC Store opened in 2015; it's closing down in November this year. Another digital tech disaster for the BBC and another win for Netflix and Amazon.

When the BBC launched its digital download service in 2015, I said at the time that I couldn’t see what the compelling differentiator was here. I could see what it should be - over 60 years of archive content, most of which you couldn’t get on Netflix or Amazon. But there was precious little sign of that at the time of the launch.

Since then, things have improved, with some previously unavailable content put on offer. It’s surprising how many 40-somethings (and older) can get over-excited by the release of Rent-a-Ghost or The Adventure Game. Answer - enough to provide the BBC Store with something to enable it to offer a very different experience to its streaming rivals.

But yesterday came an email to those of us who have signed up to spend money with the service informing that as of today it will no longer be possible to make new purchases from the site. Anything we’ve already bought can be viewed until 1 November, after which date we lose it all.

In a good piece of PR and CRM, the BBC has realised that it’s got no option here other than to return the money we’ve paid out - which in my case I was surprised came to a fairly hefty sum. And in what is surely the most painful indictment of what’s gone wrong, they’re throwing in a £50 voucher to use on…Amazon Video!!!

What the hell went wrong here? Well first up was the lack of original archived content in the opening months. There are obviously clearance and copyright issues that need to be addressed, particularly for material that was created in the 60s and 70s before video recording was a thing, never mind internet streaming platforms. But the reality remains that while the BBC Store has put some gems back into the public domain, hugely successful series, such as Tenko, Secret Army and Blake’s 7, shows that would appeal to cult audiences of buyers, remained absent.

Instead there was a huge focus on getting recently aired material up for sale. There were some significant issues here. For a start, the BBC iPlayer platform now carries new shows for 30 days, so you’ve got to really want to own something new or to have no time for a month to catch-up before you’re going to buy.

Secondly, the BBC was outpriced and undercut by the likes of iTune and Amazon.

And thirdly, relatively recent material was already available bundled into Netflix or Amazon, such as the recent series of Doctor Who prior to the current season. You want to check out earlier runs of Line of Duty? Netflix is your friend. If you can access those via your existing monthly sub to a third party, then why bother paying more individually on the BBC Store?

Another big issue - and a huge bug bear with me - was the lack of a Smart TV app to allow you to watch purchased TV shows on, well, a TV set. There wasn’t even a scheduled date for development or delivery of such an option. My own TV at home comes with Amazon Video and Netflix apps built in. The BBC is able to have an iPlayer app alongside them - why didn’t it prioiritise a BBC Store app?

This is a perfect example of bleeeding edge Milliennial mentality - ‘da kidz’ don’t watch TV any more, do they, they’re all watching on their phones and their iPads. Well, yes, up to a point. But ‘da kidz’ are all watching Netflix, not buying from the BBC Store. They’re not coughing up £20 for a series of Tenko, even if it was available. You have one of the world’s greatest content archives ripe for exploitation, but it needs to be pitched at a demographic that isn’t shut away in its bedroom watching MTV. You’d think they’d have learned something from the disasterous decision to push BBC 3 onto an online-only delivery platform, but it seems not.

My take

A complete shambles. An unmitigated failure. The BBC, magnificent institution though it is on so many levels, is a schizophrenic beast when it comes to technology. On the one hand, it can deliver the iPlayer, which has revolutionsed the way people watch TV in the UK; on the other hand, it can waste millions of pounds of public money on the Digital Media Initiative. The BBC Store belongs in the latter category unfortunately. And the BBC’s ‘not invented here’ mentality will mean that there’s been a high price tag placed on this folly, rather than using commodity streaming and download technologies. What a terrible, terrible waste of so much potential.

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