BBC surrenders 'linear' exclusivity to compete with binge-watch Netflix

Vows to dump entire series on iPlayer before they air on TV

The BBC is abandoning linear exclusivity as it goes for broke to make the iPlayer a global Netflix rival. The corporation says it will throw entire series on to the on-demand streaming service before the first episode in a series is even broadcast on terrestrial TV.

Director-General Tony Hall will call for the BBC to "reinvent public broadcasting for a new generation in order to compete against giants such as Netflix and Amazon" this morning.

Hall has set two targets: double the number of visits to iPlayer and quadruple the time a user spends on the iPlayer site by 2020.

Established broadcasters have faced increasing pressure from OTT providers in recent years. Netflix spent more on content (buying and licensing it) than the BBC or HBO last year. Netflix made "binge watching" series cheap and easy – previously you'd need to buy an expensive box set, and those usually sold to fans.

But for the BBC to follow suit and dump entire series on the internet at once means surrendering one of its key advantages: its ability to create artificial scarcity. Withholding episodes creates "event TV" – a common cultural experience – and results in increased attention. As Enders Analysis points out, live viewing has fallen 19 per cent since 2010 as time-shifted viewing making up about 40 per cent of the decline. "Linear remains vital," the consultancy warns.

The BBC also has another disadvantage against Netflix – it doesn't know who is watching. So it's expected to offer more sticks and carrots to induce UK users to log in.

For eight years the UK broadcasters have been handicapped by an Ofcom decision forbidding them from pooling their resources behind a common streaming platform. The regulator decreed that "Project Kangaroo" was anti-competitive after complaints from Sky and Virgin. But rather than impose rules, Ofcom decided Kangaroo must die. If it had launched, perhaps it would now be a "British TV" service to rival Netflix. The decision forced the BBC, ITV and Channel 4 to each create their own apps. ®

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