The BBC will launch an over-the-top subscription video service in the U.S. next year, according to director general Tony Hall. The announcement was made during a speech the embattled Hall was giving to the Royal Television Society Convention in Cambridge today. The hope will be for the new service to boost revenues as the iconic broadcaster continues to undergo a strategic review that could lead to the biggest changes at the BBC in a generation as the government looks to find ways to cut costs and curb some of the broadcaster’s activities.
“We’re launching a new OTT video service in America offering BBC fans programs they wouldn’t otherwise get, showcasing British actors, our program-makers and celebrating our culture,” said Hall. The name of the new service was not disclosed, but a BBC rep did tell Deadline the service would be for content not currently available in the U.S. and Canada.
BBC America, a joint venture with AMC Networks, already shows several popular BBC shows such as Doctor Who and Top Gear.
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The new service is undoubtedly an attempt by BBC execs to show they adapt to the digital age. Culture secretary John Whittingdale has openly mooted the possibility of selling off BBC Worldwide, the BBC’s commercial arm that sells its programs around the world and previously described his frustration at the seeming lack of direction at the organization.
“One key task is to assess whether the idea of universality still holds water. With so much more choice, we must at least question whether the BBC should try to be all things to all people,” said Whittingdale in July, when launching the government’s strategic review.
The new OTT service is not expected to replace the BBC’s popular iPlayer on-demand service. “While every major global player is creating a more integrated system, it would make no sense for us to go the other way and break up a system that is delivering returns that are essential to support public-service programs,” added Hall.
Hall said the new service, along with partnerships such as the BBC Worldwide partnership with Tata in India, would increase revenues by some 15% to around $1.8 billion over the next five years.
It’s been a rough time recently for the BBC. The corporation has had to announce cuts of more than 1000 jobs as part of a restructuring caused by a $234 million gap in license-fee income for 2016-2017 as well as face a bill in excess of $1 billion for new welfare charges. The public broadcaster is being asked to absorb the cost of the license fee for viewers over age 75 as the government attempts to shift the cost, currently covered by the Department for Work and Pensions, off its books.
The pubcaster has been under pressure to find alternative ways to fund its operations. Earlier this year, a report from the House of Commons Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee said the TV license is “becoming harder and harder to justify.”
A host of big names lent their voices to an open letter to the government in July calling for it to protect the integrity and independence of the BBC. Daniel Craig, J.K. Rowling, Judi Dench, Stephen Fry and Richard Curtis were just some of the luminaries to offer the embattled BBC some support.
“In our view, a diminished BBC would simply mean a diminished Britain,” read their statement.”The BBC is a very precious institution. Like all organisations, it has its faults but it is overwhelmingly a creative force for good. Britain’s creative economy is growing and enjoying unprecedented success. The BBC is at the heart of this as the global showcase for our creative industries.”
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