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BBC publicly mulls idea of charging for Internet programmes

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The BBC has reported on itself suggesting that it may adopt a pay-per-view approach to future Internet content. In a classic piece of testing the water, Auntie has written various stories on the idea, sparking the rest of us idiotic press to follow suit. Hence this story.

Basically, the BBC has said it may have to charge in the future for content downloaded from the Internet in order to cover the heavy costs of putting it up there in the first place. The frontman for this is BBC director of new media Ashley Highfield.

He said that those that "make heavy use of Internet broadcasting when it becomes more common in the future may be asked to pay an extra fee on top of the existing annual licence fee". This is then tempered by a spokeswoman saying this is only "one possible way" of covering increased costs and governmental pressure. But, hey, this is all unlikely to happen for ten years or so.

Of course all this has very little to do with the Internet and everything to do with the BBC's repositioning. It is desperately trying to find a way in which it can charge people for its programmes without losing the TV licence fee that makes the BBC so unique and also allows it maintain a high standard of viewing without going for the lowest common denominator.

It could never float the idea of charging people for content over the TV - people would go ballistic - so it has used the Internet as the battleground for a debate on the organisation's future funding. It would cost "several billion dollars" to put all BBC content on the Web, says Highfield. And if we weren't allowed to charge for it, well then the licence fee would have to go up. What can we do, we want to keep the BBC the best in the world but it costs so much these days.

Of course, there is a perfectly valid argument here but since when did the BBC ever consider putting everything on the Web anyway? Yes, the BBC Web site is probably the best in Britain but the concept of putting Food and Drink on the Net is a little daft.

The BBC wants to start competing commercially - and with some things like sport, it needs big sums of cash to get hold of the coverage - but it also wants the security of the licence fee. We don't have a problem with that but plenty do and Auntie is going to have to tread a fine line for the next decade.

The debate has started. ®

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