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Barriers near to the main entrance of the BBC headquarters and studios in Portland Place, London, Britain, July 16, 2015. REUTERS/Peter Nicholls
By Paul Sandle
CAMBRIDGE, England (Reuters) – Britain’s BBC will launch an online subscription service in the United States next year, boosting revenues for the public broadcaster and allowing viewers to watch shows on demand.
“We’re launching a new OTT (over-the-top) video service in America offering BBC fans programmes they wouldn’t otherwise get, showcasing British actors, our programme-makers and celebrating our culture,” the BBC’s Director General Tony Hall said at the industry’s RTS Convention in Cambridge.
Some of the most-popular BBC content, such as “Doctor Who” and “Top Gear”, is already available on its BBC America digital network, a joint venture with AMC Networks.
The BBC did not name any shows that would be on the new service. It did not say what the service would be called.
The announcement comes as the BBC faces an uncertain future under a Conservative government which has embarked on the biggest review of the broadcaster in at least a decade, questioning its purpose, funding, size, Internet activities and even entertainment output.
To that end, Culture Secretary John Whittingdale has raised the possibility of selling off BBC Worldwide, the BBC’s commercial arm that sells its programmes around the world.
The 92-year-old corporation, whose television, radio and online services reach 97 percent of Britons, is fighting back by showing it can innovate in a multi-platform age.
The online service, known in industry jargon as over-the-top, will come nine years after the iPlayer used by Britons, one of the earliest and most successful on-demand services.
It will boost the broadcaster’s income and underline BBC Worldwide’s importance, Hall said.
“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 programmes,” he said.
Hall said the new service, and partnerships in countries such as India, would increase commercial returns from Worldwide to the BBC to 1.2 billion pounds ($1.86 billion) over the next five years – more than 15 percent higher than the returns of the previous five years.
The returns from BBC Worldwide supplement the BBC’s income from the licence fee that is paid by television-owning households in Britain, with the exception of people aged over 75.
Its operating costs hit 4.9 billion pounds in the 2014/15 financial year, with staff numbers totalling 18,974, which is seen by some commercial rivals as a luxury at a time of volatile advertising markets and rapid industry change.
(Editing by Kate Holton and Alison Williams)