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  • irishtimes.com - Posted: August 7, 2011 @ 2:29 pm

    Review: BBC’s Global iPlayer

    Ciara O'Brien

    Irish viewers have been excluded from BBC’s iPlayer since the service lunched a few years ago. It’s not something we can really complain about – UK viewers pay TV licence fees to the Beeb, something we, unfortunately or fortunately depending on your perspective, do not. Therefore, they get the free catchup service and we have to make do with Sky Plus and UPC’s digital TV service to ensure we don’t miss out on programmes.

    But last month, BBC Worldwide began offering a new global iPlayer to iPad users. I’ve been testing it, with a six-month subscription from BBC. So far, I’m impressed.

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    There are a few things you should know about the global iPlayer service. First of all, disregard the name. The only thing it really has in common with the original BBC service of that name is a few of the programmes. While the UK iPlayer is a seven day catch up, live TV and live radio service, the global app is more of a mix of archive material and newer programmes.

    You can stream the content over 3G or wifi, though obviously wifi would be preferable. And you can also download shows to watch later, when you don’t have an internet connection or are outside the service area.

    It launched with 1500 hours of content, from Fawlty Towers and Last of the Summer Wine to Luther and Doctor Who. And about 100 hours will be added every month, so there’s plenty to work through.

    The pilot programme will be run for a year initially, and it’s only available on the iPad. Though should it all go well, this is almost certain to be expanded to Android devices and iPhone.

    And for once, Ireland has been included in the first phase of the pilot, along with Spain, France and the Netherlands.

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    The BBC has already done several licensing deals in various countries – in Ireland, for example, RTE has the rights to show Eastenders – so what content is available will depend on those agreements.

    Be aware: You can’t use it outside the 11 European countries that the project is currently being piloted in. The content varies from territory to territory, and that will dictate what is available to you. So for example, if you downloaded the app from the Irish iTunes app store, but take your iPad to Spain, you’ll only be able to download and view content approved for iPad global users in Spain.

    The US will apparently get the new app later this year, so that will cover some travellers who want to access the service abroad.

    The way around this is to download before you go. You’re only limited by the capacity of your iPad. You can’t transfer programmes off the iPad and onto your laptop though.

    There’s also the cost of it to consider. Pay it on a monthly basis and you’ll be charged almost €7 per month. Over the year, the subscription would cost you €83.88. But if you buy the year’s subscription in one go, it costs you just under €50. Considering the amount of content on there and the range of it, it’s something I’ll be signing up for when the six-month trial runs out.

    But €6.99 a month may not be everyone’s idea of value. You do get a small amount of free content, and it’s intended to have some sponsor funding to bankroll this, but at the moment the free stuff is extremey limited.

    The good thing is though that you can browse the content without a subscription, so you can see what’s on offer and decide if it’s something that would be worth paying for before you pay a cent.

    Where the BBC has the edge over other video on demand services is with the range of content. Yes there’s new stuff in there, but there’s also the classic shows you’ll find yourself watching any time they’re on. Plus the content is organised in such a way – collections as well as a straightforward a to z list – that you’ll discover shows you’d forgotten all about.