BBC Online free via The Cloud

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If you’ve ever heard the collective anger of thousands of commercial web sites in the UK, then imagine a field of people all growling under their breath. Now keep that image in your head, because the BBC has cut a deal with wi-fi firm The Cloud, which operates 7,500 hotspots around the UK, to offer BBC online services for free.

That means, without paying a log-in or subscription fee, Cloud users will be able to read the news, check weather or stream a BBC video. In the latter case, the broadcaster has signed a deal with Adobe to provide Flash video for the whole of the BBC’s video services, including a streaming version of its iPlayer.

However, quite what Ashley Highfield, the BBC’s director of Future Media and Technology, means when he says “This is a major step into the Web 2.0 world,” is, however, beyond my limited mind…

This is no doubt within the letter of the BBC’s charter, to provide to the people of the UK the content they’ve already paid for in the TV license. However, it also means that whereas before a user might have chosen another commercial service to deliver them content after signing-in to The Cloud, they needn’t bother as they can now just opt for the BBC’s free content instead.
And if you remember, The Cloud will also provide the WiFi network for iPhone users signed up to the O2 network. So they will get free BBC News on their iPhones too.
Admittedly the amount of traffic a commercial site will lose as a result of this deal will probably be small. But it does raise all the old arguments about the BBC’s place in the competitive landscape.

In other news, the BBC says it will now allow Apple Mac and Linux machines to use its TV catch-up service from the end of the year. Currently only Windows XP users can use iPlayer, downloading programmes on to their PC and keeping them for up to 30 days.

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  • Shafqat

    Free is always tempting, but at the end of the day, content is king. If there are other better, more engaging content services out there, I don’t think the BBC will be able to hold on to the masses for long just based on their pricepoint (zero).

    Mike, re: the “major step into the Web 2.0 world”, I dont think you are the only one who is perplexed. Perhaps Ashley should elucidate us?

  • Rick Curran

    And if you remember, The Cloud will also provide the WiFi network for iPhone users signed up to the O2 network. So they will get free BBC News on their iPhones too.

    But not the Flash video though as there’s no Flash player on the iPhone at the moment.

    In regards to the previous comment by Shafqat, technically the BBC’s price point isn’t really zero as people pay for it in a licence fee. However, the quality of the BBC output is the main reason why people will watch it. To draw a simple analogy – there are plenty of free channels as part of any satellite / cable TV package however most of them suck so it’s the ones with good quality shows that wil get watched. Same holds true on the web.

  • Rob Mason

    The BBC provide excellent content (news, TV, freeview, website, etc) and all their doing here is extending the content out to more people, many of whom already pay for it.

    The BBC are ideally placed to compete with traditional commercial providers in this space and it appears to me to be an evolution of their traditional position.

  • Mike Butcher

    Rob – I take you point, and yes it does seem to be a natural extension. However, in the ‘old world’ you paid for your TV license and got access to commercial channels *as well* as the BBC. Under this model you get only the BBC, while commercial ‘channels’ (sites) get no traffic at all (unless people are paying AGAIN, aside from their TV license, to access the Cloud). Complicated huh. So there is no level playing field under this arrangement. And the Cloud is hardly likely to say to commercial sites “Sure, we’ll send your content out for you for free! We don’t care if people get free content without having to subscribe to our network. Come on in, fill your boots!”

  • Dave Nattriss

    Don’t forget that there’s nothing stopping ‘another commercial service’ from doing a similar deal with The Cloud (or any other wireless network) so that their content is also available freely.

    Commercial terrestrial TV and radio channels (both analogue and digital), for instance, cover all of their distribution costs (i.e. transmission over the airwaves), merely requiring their viewers/listeners to own a modern TV/radio, as do free newspapers like the Metro, thelondonpaper etc. (they even pay people to hand them out in the street!), so why can’t commercial content providers do that in the online world too? Any traffic they lose as a result of this deal is simply because they are relying on their users to pay to access their sites (via wireless/broadband Internet access), whereas the BBC have simply taken the initiative. The Cloud will be paid by the BBC for this, so they could easily charge other content providers in the same way.

    It’s perfectly fair in my opinion.

  • Scot

    I doubt there’s anything stopping commercial sites from cutting deals with The Cloud – last time I checked, T3 and a couple other sites were available for free on The Cloud.

  • Mike Butcher

    That’s really interesting I hadn’t heard about T3. Perhaps the BBC will kick off a WiFi stampede amongst commercial sites afterall. It would make perticular sense, perhaps, for sites aimed specifically at new-gen, big-screen mobiles like the iPhone….

  • Shafqat

    The implications of such a WiFi stampede are significant. If content providers are willing to pay The Cloud (or others) to bring their content to the forefront and get wider, free distribution, us consumers will benefit tremendously. If this really is the trend, I’ll be very happy to sit and consume for free. Of course, there is a downside. Our content in that case will be effectively be controlled/editted by those companies that can afford to strike deals with The Cloud etc.

  • links for 2007-10-16 | jon bounds

    […] free via The Cloud & Flash video comes to the site Slightly buried:”broadcaster has signed a deal with Adobe to provide Flash video for the whole of the BBC’s video services, including a streaming version of its iPlayer.” (tags: media geekery flash bbc) […]

  • James Cridland

    Last time I checked (in the Wetherspoons down the road, because my broadband had gone phut), I could get both T3 and free on The Cloud.

    While BBC-bashing is clearly de rigeur this week, I’d meekly point out that I’ve already paid for the BBC’s websites, and it’s the BBC’s job to ensure its content reaches those that have paid for it. In any case, iPods and iPhones, PSPs and DS Lites all have web browsers and wifi in them: I’ve never seen anyone sitting in a hotspot area using one. (Apart from me.) If the BBC drives the habit of using public wifi – a habit not too prevalent right now – then the commercial marketplace will benefit.

    (Interestingly, the ads don’t show on T3 – I checked. The ad server’s still being blocked. Oops.)

    In the interests of full disclosure, I ought to point out that I do work for the BBC, but you’d know if I was making an official statement on behalf of my employer, because I’d say so.

  • Mike Butcher

    James Cridland – Yes, good point – if the BBC drives adoption then the rising tide of WiFi use could lift all boats. I guess I shouldn’t be curmudgeonly about this.

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