12 Things Very Wrong With The New BBC Store


Introducing the BBC Store

There’s a new digital-download content provider in town. The BBC Store promises to make the “unmissable” “ownable”.
It’s Aunty’s version of iTunes, featuring only BBC programmes. But is it all that?
Unfortunately, in my opinion, no it isn’t, and here’s why:

1. DRM means you may lose what you buy.

You can only use BBC-provided software to play your purchase. What this means is that if your hard disk fails (for example) and you want to download it again and the Store has removed it in the meantime, you can’t.  You can’t even back-up your purchase.

“Downloading to DVD isn’t possible.”

Actually, Aunty, it is possible; you just don’t want your customers to do it.

“We cannot guarantee that you will be able to stream or re-download Content that’s in your BBC Store account forever. Where our right to make content available has expired, you will no longer be able to stream or download that content from your BBC Store account.”

Uh-huh. You make the content. If a brilliant company like gog.com can make DRM-free content re-downloadable forever (even after they lose the rights to sell some of it) then why can’t you?

2. Where are the extras?

Whereas DVDs have director commentaries, featurettes and other bonus content, the BBC Store seems devoid of any such perks – or, at the very least, I’ve not seen them listed.

3. I’m a geek! Is it SD or HD?

We’re not told, either way, for any particular programme. There are no previews, no review feature, no way to know what the quality will be like. Buy and try, if you dare.

4. Content will (probably) be of worse quality than the equivalent DVD/Blu.

“SD programmes typically have a resolution of up to 960×540, or 540p and a top bit rate at around 2.8Mbps”

While modern encoding is much more efficient than DVDs’, a DVD has a potential bitrate of 11Mbps, almost four times more than BBC Store’s.

“We encode HD in at least 1280×720 resolution, or 720p. We use h.264 with an encoding bit rate of 5Mbps and 192kbps audio.”

Blu rays, meanwhile, are 1920×1080, or 1080p, with a bitrate of 20Mbps for h.264, and often feature lossless audio.

5. Material has been edited.  Somewhere.

“Occasionally, for certain rights reasons, there are aspects of a televised programme such as music or footage which we are unable to offer as part of a programme made available to purchase. However, we endeavour to ensure this does not affect your overall enjoyment of the show.”

So says Help & Support. What they don’t care to say is which shows in particular have been edited. Another case of buyer beware.

6. The prices are too high.  Way too high.

Seriously, they are. If you compare to the equivalent DVD/Blu-Ray, the BBC Store is much more expensive for what it provides.
examples (prices rounded up, correct as of time of writing on 6/11/15):
Luther, series 1-3: Amazon: 10 pounds. BBC Store: 15 pounds.
Sherlock, series 1 & 2: Amazon: 8 pounds. BBC Store: 16 pounds.
The Good Life, complete: Amazon: 17 pounds. BBC Store: 36 pounds.
Bargain Hunt: Amazon doesn’t sell it. BBC Store: 469 pounds (if you really want all 248 episodes available at 1.89 each!)

Which was the format with the better quality and extras again…?

7. You can’t return purchases once you’ve seen them.

Apparently, once you’ve started the download/stream, you lose all rights to a refund*. What if whatever you bought is, um, a steaming pile of manure? *cough*UWM recons*cough*
* unless the issue is technical.

8. You can’t sell on.

If you decide you don’t like your DVD, you can always sell it on and make some money back. With the BBC Store you have no such recourse.  Forget about leaving someone your hard-bought collection in your will!

9. You can’t lend a programme to a mate.

Unless, I suppose, you lend them your iPhone or login details. Lending a DVD is just a tad safer.

10. There’s no wish-list.

Seriously? They launch a store without such a feature? If you don’t have a memory palace, you’re out of luck – and BBCWW are without some sales.

11. It’s not worldwide.

The BBC Store is a creation of BBC Worldwide, but only people living in the UK can buy from it!
What about ex-pats (like me)? Surely BBCWW can open it up to everyone? If it’s a matter of territorial licensing, that surely does not apply to all of their archive?
Fortunately, Amazon.co.uk are quite happy to send me DVDs through the post…

12. It’s not that portable.

If you ever move away from the UK (or go on holiday), you can no longer stream your purchases while abroad. If you need to re-download something from your new home in Mexico, you’re also out of luck. Compare this to popping a DVD in your luggage.

Some balance…

Okay, so many of the BBC Store’s failings (particularly, DRM and price) are also issues with iTunes. I want to mention what’s good – or potentially great – about the BBC Store:

1. There’s material on sale which you can’t buy on DVD.

Either the DVD is out of print (cf. Maid Marian and Her Merry Men) or just never been issued in the UK (cf. the Tom Baker Hound of the Baskervilles), there’s bound to be something there that will tempt you. And that will be more and more the case as the Store unearths and unlocks older content from their archives. From my perspective, I’d much rather have the DVD/Blu, but I can well understand the Beeb not wanting to commit to releasing the complete Bargain Hunt on disc. Yet, even that show must have its fans, so bully for them that they can live in (Expensive) Daytime TV Heaven if they want to.

2. New material can be released on short notice.

You don’t have to wait for the boxed set: buy the season pass and download new episodes as they appear. You don’t even have to wait for the post.

3. You can cherry-pick.

You don’t have to buy the bundle. For example, the BBC’s recent release of the old Doctor Who adventure, The Underwater Menace. This is a four-part story which unfortunately is missing the video of parts 1 & 4. Those two parts were reconstructed (apparently at minimum cost and effort) from a very limited number of stills and the original audio. I would not pay tuppence for either of them, judging from their previews on iTunes. Part 3 was also available on another DVD, Lost in Time. The recently recovered-and-restored part 2, on the other hand, can now be bought on the Store for 2.99 – which is probably the most expensive 24 minutes of anything there – but still (currently) cheaper than shelling out for the whole DVD.

4. No clutter.

The new generation of kids (and some adults) seem to like their virtual shelves. No physical product to store. Portability & convenience!
* provided you have a reliable hard disk, a solid Internet connection, and nobody hacks your account or steals your laptop!

5. You can brag to your ex-pat friends that you have access to something they don’t!

(*sob*)

How to make the BBC Store A Whole Lot Better

  1. Go DRM-free.  Be brave.  Trust that your customers aren’t thieves.  Let them download to Linux if they want to.  Let them play video via their Raspberry Pis.  Do for video sales what mp3 did for audio.
  2. Look at how much the DVD for a series is selling on Amazon, and – at least – match it.  Don’t charge more for an inferior product with worse picture/sound and fewer/no extras.  Charge less for a superior one.  Because can’t you afford to that by cutting out the middle man?
  3. The Store’s soft-launch content is good for recent programmes but where’s all the great stuff from the 1960s and 70s?  The content people will want most of all is what they can’t obtain on DVD.
  4. The Store definitely needs some sort of subscription model for shows like Bargain Hunt, which would cost a small fortune to collect for their fans.  Rentals as well as sales.  Amazon manages it.
  5. Open up your content to the rest of the world.  Or, at the very least, put your not-on-dvd exclusives on iTunes for the rest of us.  Quite frankly, I’d much rather give you my money than Apple.
  6. We need more product information on the pages.  Whether a show has been edited.  Is it 4:3 or 16:9?  Is it mono or stereo?  Has it been remastered?  Preview clips are a must.  Ability to add to a wish list.  Customer Reviews.

End of rambling rant. 🙂

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11 comments

  1. John Bergqvist · November 17, 2015

    One bonus is that there are still many recent, big shows which are both shot & broadcast in High-Definition (Happy Valley etc.) yet are maddeningly only released physically on DVD… So there’s a bonus in that you can download an HD version (albeit in 720p) of an HD show which is only available physically on DVD in 576p.

    Also one other thing they don’t mention is the frame-rate. Given that certain shows would be shot on video at (effectively 50fps – coming from a 25i source), to retain that movement without having to de-interlace would mean you’d have to encode the whole file at 50p (and should the show enclude portions at true 25p – you simply double each progressive frame, so that the file switches between the two seamlessly). This is something that the BBC is doing for their shows on iplayer now (at least the HD ones) – they’re just blanket encoding at 50fps I believe, as even shows that are all 25p have their credits encoded at 50i for transmission.

    Anyway, it would be interesting to see if the BBC store is doing something similar with their files, especially the older SD material.

  2. sibrydionmawr · February 3, 2016

    Definitely needs to be DRM free as that kind of nonsense makes streaming content a real pain much of the time, particularly for those of us on Linux machines, (neither 4OD and Demand 5 work due to the demand that archaic Flash is no longer updated for Linux from version 11 onwards). All the fuss surrounding paranoia about people ‘stealing’ content is just a continuation of the whole palavar started way back in the 70s by the big recording companies over people recording their vinyl to compact cassette. Price is also a huge consideration in that all this stuff has already been paid for. Welcome to Rip-Off Britain! It’s quite interesting to note that in the USA much, if not all material produced with public money is regarded as ‘public domain’ and is as such free to use, and there seems to be no geographic limitation on this. Is not the BBC analogus to being a state body supported by taxation? (I know that in the UK the rules are different and government departments seek to charge us at least twice for things, once through taxation, and then subsequently when we want to access government services – compare the UK’s Ordnance Survey with the US equivalent for downloading GIS data. In the USA it’s free, in the UK it’s second mortgage time!).

    Seriously, you address the important issues, and it is to be hoped that the BBC will take these ideas on board. The issue of making a reasonable charge for downloads isn’t really an issue with most people, as has been seen with the more sane approach to music downloads, and surely providing the service must cost something, and the idea of investing surpluses made in new programming has to be laudable. Making it globally accessible would also be a great idea, and potentially a big money spinner.

    Now to persuade the Welsh language broadcaster to make their back catalogue available online, particularly films, as it’s annoying to say the least when I can easily buy Icelandic films on DVD, (at a price!) but finding DVDs of Welsh language films is harder than coming across hens teeth!

  3. Peter Behrend · May 22, 2016

    The biggest problem for me is that I can’t view the content I’ve paid for on my TV. I have a Sony connected with iPlayer, but no TV iPlayer has no log-on capability. I have a Now TV box with iPlayer – same story.

    I can stream to my phone, to my tablet, to my PC, but not my TV.

    Rubbish

  4. nicholas vaughan · September 6

    my largest issue is that having enjoyed 5.1 sound and above for many years bbc support informs me that only stereo is available from bbciplayer(dolby 5.1 sound format was even on laser disc)

    • Mark L · October 18

      But 99% of their archive is not mixed in surround sound!

  5. Christopher Fenn · November 27

    Great article and a total expose of the latest digital rip off. BBC should not be allowed to say you own it because you only own the right to view.

  6. Jimmy Civil · December 5

    Very wrong…what an understatement. All that untapped material in their archives and they try and fleece the public with a this shoddy service. I would expect something more intelligent and classy. PBS has handled the situation of public funded television a whole lot better. BBC by comparison are disgustingly incompetent and greedy. It’s a slap in the face to anybody who ever paid their tv tax. It’s just a bad situation. And somebody needs to fix it.

  7. John Logsdon · December 22

    I would agree with the technical issues raised and expect the BBC to improve the service over time, along with the integration into iPlayer. You need to be able to change device easily, particularly where you no longer have access to a device because it has broken etc. iPlayer now requires you to confirm that you have a licence – in future I expect you will need to put in your licence number.

    I don’t know what proportion of the payment for shows already available on Amazon, iTunes etc gets passed back to the BBC – maybe 70% – but I would expect the BBC to stop pushing their output via such third parties and build the Store into a worldwide system with discount for licence payers, a cumulative maximum annual charge for overseas viewers with a subscription option. There may still be geographic issues of course.

    The BBC has for many years struggled with funding because of political control over the licence fee which has led to editorial interference. Politicians call the Today programme to complain and demand that the BBC puts all work out to third parties so that it becomes a creative shell. There is good reason to use third party for some production – it spreads the skills into the wider UK creative industry – but not at the expense of retaining inhouse technical and artistic expertise, which can only be done by maintaining training and recruitment and making some programmes in house.

    Political interference is corrosive to good programmes and good journalism. Therefore the BBC should build the Store into its prime funding source, largely or completely replacing the licence fee. There is enough material available over the years (since film or tape recording at least) for it to become a leading source both for entertainment and historical news information.

    This is the only way for the BBC to regain independence, deliver what Reith defined all those years ago, stop caving in to government, and to demand that the taxpayer funds things like the monitoring service, licence fees for 75+ and Worldwide broadcasting. The BBC is still a world-class broadcaster and it does promote the UK uniquely.

    This may require some legislative change that governments usually find unpalatable to put the BBC beyond government (but not parliament) and some way to ensure proper public engagement but it would make for a much healthier and secure Aunty.

  8. Elliot Robinson · December 26

    Great article. I was about to buy some stuff from the BBC store as it has some great Christmas promotions, but seeing the excessive restriction on how and where you can watch it, I’ve decided against it. I’d rather buy and rip the DVD than buy a digital product that is so restricted.

  9. John Logsdon · December 27

    I think DRM restrictions apply much the same to Amazon, iTunes and many other digital suppliers, not just the BBC. You are licenced to view/listen etc but strictly don’t own it.

    It is rather like ‘owning’ your house – you may ‘own’ the bricks and mortar but only have a licence to occupy the land, you don’t own it. Otherwise you could declare independence and pass laws etc. That’s why you hold the property under a Freehold or Leasehold licence, either of which can require paying chief or ground rent respectively. It’s an old business model.

    It may be that the BBC has had to accept some DRM restrictions as a large institution either because some of their content is already available under DRM and the agreement between the provider (iTunes etc) and the BBC may include terms that the BBC can’t make the content available under less restrictive conditions.

    You can buy a DVD and copy it, or even record it off air and copy it, but that is strictly illegal I expect if it’s not for your own use. No-one is going to sue an individual for infringement but the Beeb is a much juicier target. Welcome to the murky world of profit at any cost, even if originally paid for by the licence payer.

  10. James · 25 Days Ago

    I *want* to give the BBC money for DRM-FREE files of classic TV shows. For the simple reason that, as the shutdown of the BBC store has proved, you cannot rely on outside servers, only computers you control.

    The BBC has decided for me that in order to watch these shows, I must pirate them illegally. Thanks BBC, for robbing yourselves of money and criminalising me.

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