BBC considers offering iPlayer technology to Channel 4 and I
The BBC is planning to offer Channel 4 and ITV the free and open use of its iPlayer online video technology, according to sources close to the corporation.
The offer will form part of its response to the public service broadcasting review being conducted by Ofcom.
The idea is being mooted as the BBC seeks to flesh out its offer of partnerships with other public service broadcasters.
Another idea under consideration is to establish an independent trust to oversee BBC Worldwide if Channel 4 takes a stake in it.
According to sources close to the negotiations, members of the BBC Trust were consulted on the final shape of the corporation's public service broadcasting review response at the weekend, in preparation for its delivery to Ofcom and publication later this week.
BBC insiders believe that its iPlayer technology is better than that developed in the private sector and that it is set to become the industry standard.
If the offer is accepted it would mean, for example, that Channel 4's 4oD service would be rebranded as the iPlayer.
ITV has already revealed that it is to rebrand its online video catch-up service as ITV Player.
The move to share technology would mean giving ITV and Channel 4 access to a BBC high-speed digital post-production network, which the corporation believes will help reduce programme-making costs.
Ofcom would have to decide if the deal would provide public service broadcasters with enough meaningful assistance, how valuable these technology offers are and whether the iPlayer is better technology than that employed by Channel 4 and ITV.
The broadcasters' reaction will also be critical. Channel 4 is believed to be underwhelmed by the proposal and has argued instead for cash assistance to close its £150m-a-year funding gap.
However, the BBC is loathe to give away any cash or relinquish power over BBC Worldwide, and is instead pushing for other forms of partnership such as sharing iPlayer technology.
BBC insiders have also privately discussed strategies to protect BBC Worldwide's independence if a power-share deal was to go ahead.
One scenario involves putting BBC Worldwide into some kind of trust to ensure it remains independent from any managerial interference from a commercial partner such as Channel 4.
"This is very much a 'last-chance saloon' option, if the partnerships being proposed by the BBC are not enough to appease the government and the commercial broadcasters," one source familiar with the discussions said.
"Obviously the BBC does not want to go down this route though and it is a minefield legally."
The idea of helping Channel 4 with its estimated £150m funding gap or a stake in BBC Worldwide has been under discussion for some time.
Andy Duncan, the Channel 4 chief executive, is understood to be particularly keen on the scheme.
However, one Channel 4 source argued that Channel 4's funding shortfall cannot be plugged by the BBC Worldwide solution alone.
The Channel 4 insider said: "As it stands BBC Worldwide makes about £100m in profits. [BBC Worldwide chief executive] John Smith has a plan to double that by 2012 I think, but in reality now all of BBC Worldwide would have to go to Channel 4 and it still might not cover the issue."
This source claimed that Channel 4's executives consider communications minister Lord Carter's forthcoming Digital Britain report "in effect, a green paper" and a prelude to a new or "adjusted" communications act next autumn.
They are keen to lobby him for a speedy solution to the broadcaster's financial problems, the Channel 4 source added.
A BBC Trust spokesman said: "The trust has asked BBC management to bring forward a range of partnerships with public service broadcasters and other parties that could make a contribution to the industry and benefit audiences.
"These ideas will be submitted to the trust for approval in due course."
A spokesman for Channel 4 declined to comment.
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