Everything you need to know about the BBC’s new digital TV archive service BBC Store

The BBC has launched a new service which gives users the opportunity to buy and keep thousands of hours of shows. But what's available, how do you get it and what will it cost?

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Today the BBC launched its new digital service BBC Store, which will allow viewers in the UK to buy and keep thousands of hours of the Corporation’s archive shows.

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From Thursday night, 7,000 hours of comedy, drama, entertainment, kids and factual programming will be available to download, with many more still to come.

And a host of top names are welcoming its arrival. Even Doctor Who star Peter Capaldi is on board, insisting that this is an “amazing brand new resource” which he will be using.

Here’s the lowdown….


How do I get the content?

From midnight today you can set up an account allowing you to buy BBC Store programmes via bbcstore.com. The programmes you buy appear on BBC iPlayer under the new My Programmes area and will be available to play back at your leisure. You have them for ever. There is no subscription to BBC Store. You pay only for the programmes you want.


What’s available?

BBC Store launches with 7,000 hours of archive content from across all genres – from Sherlock to Only Fools and Horses. But new output will also become available soon after it has aired – at 1am a full day after the date on which it is first broadcast. You can buy individual episodes, or sign up to a series deal that means shows will be automatically added to your account after broadcast. You will be told if a show is still free to watch on iPlayer, so that you don’t pay for something you don’t need to.


How much will programmes cost?

The cost varies – prices for a single episode start at £1.89 and the average for a six-part series is £7.99. The BBC says it will be flexible about pricing and will be keeping an eye on the market price points of other content suppliers like Amazon and Netflix.


Why is the BBC doing this?

To date, only 10% of the millions of hours of BBC TV content produced over the decades has been made commercially available through DVD sales. The BBC knows it is sitting on a treasure trove of great programmes and – with a punitive licence fee settlement round the corner – that it needs to find new sources of revenue. The Corporation’s commercial arm BBC Worldwide, meanwhile, is still a big player in the DVD market, where it says it ranks alongside major studios in terms of the amount of revenue it generates, but it also admits that the DVD market is shrinking – it has contracted by 50% over the last four years according to BBC Worldwide MD Marcus Arthur – and that it’s time to start moving that revenue stream online.


Will BBC programmes still be available on other services like Netflix and Amazon?

Yes. Arthur assured RadioTimes.com that it has no plans to remove its content from these services, which the BBC regards as a “different model”. Says Arthur: “BBC Store is not a subscription service… it is about opening up the archive. For me they are separate markets.”


What genres are best represented?

The BBC says it has plenty of drama, comedy and entertainment shows but admits that the genres least represented are current affairs, sports and children’s programmes. Current affairs and sports are relatively restricted because of historic rights agreements and children’s content because the BBC has reduced the amount of programming it makes over the years. But Arthur insists “we still have a lot of everything”.


Will it be curated?

Yes. There will be real humans curating the available content and making suggestions as well as algorithm-based recommendations for future purchases based on what you’ve bought in the past. And there will be ideas from well-known BBC faces too. The BBC Store site will host Louis Theroux’s “collection” in the first week, while Sherlock and Doctor Who writer Mark Gatiss will be giving his own selection in a few days’ time.


Will there be censored content? What about politically incorrect material from, say, the 1970s?

Steve Wind-Mozley, the BBC’s senior vice president of e-commerce says “we have a line that if it’s of its time it’s of its time… we are providing something for the consumer to buy and keep which is different from content we broadcast.” This essentially means that potentially dodgy-seeming episodes of It Ain’t Half Hot Mum will be available should you want to buy them. However, editorial decisions will, of course, be constantly reviewed.


What’s to come?

According to Arthur, this is only “the start of a huge journey”. The BBC reckons 55 to 70 hours of content will be added each week as new shows go out on BBC channels. And with older archive content being uploaded all the time it hopes that by the end of the year 10,000 hours of content will be available. This can only grow. The Corporation estimates that there are 4 million programmes in its archive in total so the journey will be a long one…


Will there be exclusive content?

Yes, one of the early available shows will be Top Gear: The Races in which Friends star Matt LeBlanc guides viewers through some of the highlights from the show’s racing archive. Episodes of several Dennis Potter dramas and The Frost Interview from 1974 will also be made commercially available for the very first time. The Frost interviews contain chats by Sir David Frost with leading figures of the day ranging from football manager Brian Clough to campaigner Mary Whitehouse.


What about people travelling – or living – abroad?

This is a UK-only service and there are no plans to roll it out worldwide. If you are travelling you can download content to your computer to watch abroad or on long journeys. In the lead up to Christmas, the BBC will release the apps that allow you to download your bought content to your tablets and smartphones.


What about cyber security?

The BBC won’t go into details but assure everyone that it has taken the appropriate precautions. It also promises it won’t be selling your data to third parties.

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Haven’t you already paid for this content? Why should you pay for it again?

The BBC insists that BBC Store is like the DVD model. If you want to keep the content you can buy it as you did (or still do) with DVDs. You don’t have to of course. It also says it will still be making physical DVDs of its top shows available.