BBC Brings Overseas Subscription Service to Malaysia

The BBC has taken one more small step on the long road to self-sufficiency by launching its BBC Player authenticated multi-genre SVOD service in Malaysia, the second country to receive the service. This is the latest move in the BBC’s chequered mission to generate revenue through overseas sales of its content, given that its live and catch up programming is free in the UK.

Only some archived content from the BBC Store is charged for in the UK and that has yet to deliver significant revenue little more than a year after its launch in November 2015.

The BBC continues to look abroad for substantial revenues in the knowledge that income derived from licence fees, imposed now on online as well as broadcast viewing, will not last forever. Many other European public service broadcasters are in a similar boat, but the BBC is uniquely placed to sell content abroad because of its reputation and large global English language audience. Historically such revenue has been earned just through the sale of syndication rights to overseas broadcasters and pay TV operators, but then in 2010 the BBC launched the global iPlayer. This was a subscription based overseas version of the highly successful iPlayer catch up service that had already been available three years for free in the UK, used widely to access programs broadcast in the previous 7 days. But while the iPlayer went from strength to strength in the UK, being extended to live programming as well back to one month’s catch up and eventually hooking up to BBC Store, the model failed to transfer successfully to a subscription format abroad.

So for various reasons, including conflict over content availability with syndicated distribution partners along with some technical issues, the global iPlayer was closed in June, 2015. The BBC Player then arose from the ashes of global iPlayer, redesigned for the international market, announced in April 2016 although not actually launched in its first market, Singapore, until September that year. The BBC Player is organized more like a traditional broadcast service, featuring curated content from six BBC global brands, BBC Earth, BBC First, BBC Lifestyle, CBeebies and BBC World News, as well as a new global brand called BBC Brit introduced first in Asia. It was made available exclusively to TV customers of Star Hub, one of the country’s three major Telcos beside SingTel and M1.

Subscribers can access premium and original drama from the BBC and UK independent production companies via BBC First, as well as some of the leading dramas within 24 hours of their original transmission. The new channel BBC Brit offers premium factual entertainment that the BBC describes as “intelligent but irreverent and skewed towards males.” This includes science, adventure, extreme characters, quirky eccentrics, music, sport and comedy. Subscribers can also access various popular programmes from the linear channels, including BBC Earth, BBC Lifestyle, CBeebies and BBC World News.

Now the BBC Player has been launched in Malaysia as well as on Telekom Malaysia media subsidiary TM Net’s IPTV service called HyppTV. This is based on the Skylark content management system from broadcast and VOD specialist Ostmodern. Skylark supports an editorial-led approach to content recommendations and includes workflow management methods. According to Ostmodern, this gives channel partners the tools to deliver a personalised experience for their subscribers to drive content discovery, avoiding the common VOD problem of failing to exploit anything like the full content library.

The BBC’s struggles to monetize its content, through its BBC worldwide commercial arm, are shared by many other public service broadcasters. BBC Worldwide has been set an ambitious target to return £1 billion ($1.25 billion) per year to the corporation by the 2019/2020 financial year, but looks like falling way short of this mark. While total revenues for the 2015/2016 did just top £1 billion, this only left £222.2 million to return to the corporation after deduction of all costs. This was almost unchanged from the previous year after several years of solid but not spectacular growth. So unless the BBC Player enjoys explosive growth over the next two years the BBC will continue to rely heavily on licence fee income for the foreseeable future, currently £3.74 billion a year.

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