BBC plugs iPlayer in for July launch

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LONDON -- The BBC's ambition to provide U.K. audiences with its programs across a range of devices will take a big step forward July 27 with the launch of the BBC iPlayer, a PC-delivered, download-to-view service that will offer 360 hours of BBC TV programs across all genres except news and sports.

"This is at least as big a redefinition of what TV and radio can be as the introduction of color TV was 40 years ago," BBC director general Mark Thompson said at the iPlayer press launch Wednesday in London.

The service, which will cost the pubcaster £131 million ($261.6 million) over five years, allows PC users to download programs for up to seven days after they are broadcast. Downloaded programs can be stored on the PC for 30 days before they are automatically deleted. Once opened, they can be viewed for up to seven days.

Programs available at launch will be largely BBC originated because of rights issues. "We will gradually work our way through the rights issues," BBC Vision director Jana Bennett said. "The Hollywood studios are now nervous (about the iPlayer) rather than welcoming, but that will change," she predicted.

The iPlayer will be accessible at bbc.co.uk/iplayer, but clips of BBC programs also will be available on YouTube, MSN and likely several other sites including MySpace, Bebo Yahoo, AOL, Tiscali and Blinkx. Clips on these distribution partner sites will include a link back to the BBC iPlayer site so people can download and view entire programs.

The BBC also is finalizing a deal to offer the iPlayer service to U.K. Virgin Media cable subscribers and plans to roll out the service to Apple computers and to PCs that run Vista software in the fall.

Other developments will include the ability to download a number of episodes of the same series. The BBC also is working with U.K. Internet service providers to monitor demand before it rolls out a streaming version of iPlayer.

"We hope that six months after launch we will have over 500,000 users," said Ashley Highfield, director of future media and technology at the BBC. Currently, the BBC site attracts about 16 million users monthly.

For users outside the U.K., a commercial version of the iPlayer is expected to be launched by BBC Worldwide in early 2008.
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