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Wednesday, January 24, 2007

OFCOM: BBC On Demand Radio

I believe the OFCOM report has shown the limits of the whole Market Impact Assessment process by focussing on two small areas with their recommendations for on-demand radio.

The first is that the BBC radio product could impact the audio books market. This is completely ridiculous. In the first instance, the size of the market is completely tiny with an annual turnover of only £71.4m of which the BBC themselves has a 32% market share. Secondly, publishers will not hand over the radio serialisation rights to the BBC if they are worried about ruining the potential future sales from audio books. The reason they allow the BBC to broadcast an abridged version of the books in the first place is for promoting the printed copy and I don’t see this being affected by the on-demand service. In fact, if this was the case then no-one would allow promotional adaptations appearing the Sunday newspapers. Most importantly, the decision whether to allow broadcasts should be left to the publisher and not require any artificial intervention by a regulator.

The same argument can be made over classical music – if a performer wants to appear on broadcast radio, but not allow the material to be available on demand then it is up to them to negotiate those rights with the BBC. Secondly with respect to the BBC Orchestra – the debate should be whether the BBC should have an orchestra rather than through which medium their content is allowed to be distributed. Exactly the same argument can be applied to other formats such as on demand availability of rock concerts. For instance, these days Glastonbury is so huge that they could quite easily say to the BBC that video and audio broadcast is permissible, but the content should be available on demand. Although it should be noted that most of the highlights seem to miraculously appear on YouTube shortly after the concert. OFCOM instead of focusing on this theoretical abuses of BBC power should investigate real abuses of BBC power such as the recent Noel Gallagher (Oasis) revelation that if certain BBC DJs do not gain access to new material before anyone else then they refuse to broadcast it. Apart from showing that some BBC DJs care more about their egos than their listeners, this exposes the danger of permitting the BBC to have such huge market shares in radio.

OFCOM mention that people are not worried that iPlayer can only be used for BBC material – what a surprise, which commercial supplier would really want their stuff branded by the BBC? In fact this shows the arrogance of the BBC who seem to believe from a standing start that their iPlayer will dominate the player market.

The biggest impact that OFCOM have missed is that the BBC should not force people down the route of using the iPlayer, after all the BBC does not govern which brand of radio player is permitted to listen to content. In effect, the BBC should place the content on a server and publish APIs that allow anyone to access them via any means. In effect, the BBC should open source the content.

The BBC is predicting that usage of the service will grow to 304 million hours by 2011. This seems quite high to me and I’d love to know how many unique users the beeb expects.