The BBC has expanded the content range available via the international iPlayer with a number of high-profile UK sporting events, including the Boat Race, Grand National and London Marathon. The distribution of these events marks the first foray into sporting content for the international version of the online video service.
The BBC's international iPlayer, which launched in Europe in mid-2011, requires a monthly subscription to access (€6.99 per month in Europe, A$9.49 in Australia), and offers a range of recent and archive TV content to subscribers.
Encouraging consumers to actually pay for online video is one of the key challenges for TV channels and content owners in attempting to monetize the new distribution mechanisms of the Internet. With pay TV services ubiquitous in most markets worldwide, persuading consumers to switch from their pay TV service to an online TV service is tricky. Sport, however, frequently outperforms other content formats in a paid-for online setting, with sports fans often willing to pay on top of their outgoings on existing services to access additional content. This fact makes the BBC's nascent online sports expansion an interesting move.
Given the significant global TV audiences for events such as the annual Oxford-Cambridge University Boat Race, to which the audience has been estimated at over 100m worldwide, high-profile sporting events are good way for the BBC to improve the profile of the global iPlayer. The Grand National, one of the most high-profile horse races anywhere in the world, boasts a global audience of over five times that of the Boat Race, making it an even more important addition for the international iPlayer.
However, if the BBC wishes to really capitalise on sporting events to drive global iPlayer adoption, it must make the events available on a live basis. Currently, the coverage is intended to be delayed by days post event. Given that the bulk of the value of sporting events revolves around live viewing, this diminishes the impact that the deals are likely to have for the international iPlayer.
Currently, the dilemma for BBC Worldwide is simply that it already makes a significant amount of money selling local redistribution rights for such sporting events to local broadcasters in international markets. Distributing via the iPlayer would undermine these deals, and given the limited addressable audience for the iPlayer, governed by BBC Worldwide's decision to launch as an iPad app, it makes a shift in the VoD-only strategy for sports unlikely.