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Would you pay to download from the BBC archives?

How would you feel about paying the BBC to download and keep some of its shows? The BBC’s new digital store could offer just that – but will TV licence fee payers be willing cough up the dosh?

BBC director-general Mark Thompson recently announced ‘Project Barcelona’ – a proposal that could let us permanently download a vast selection of shows via a new BBC digital store.

While all the most popular TV series inevitably make it onto DVD these days, that still leaves a huge chunk of entertainment that fades into obscurity. The Beeb estimates that more than 90% of its programmes are no longer available after their limited time on the BBC iPlayer is up.

Paying twice for the same content?

Early concerns about the service focus on whether the BBC’s proposal will adversely affect other retailers – such as iTunes – that currently sell BBC programmes as downloads.

And there’s also a big question mark hanging over whether it’s right for the BBC to ask licence fee payers to pay again to keep downloads of shows that were funded by their fee in the first place.

The way I see it, my TV licence pays for the programmes to be made. If I want to keep a show and watch it over and over again, I don’t expect it to be free. If the BBC puts the money from my purchase into making more of the stuff I like, great, although there are bound to be some costs involved in setting up and running the online store.

There are also likely to be a few technicalities to iron out, and it’s far from being a done deal – plans will be put to the BBC Trust later in the year. It’s also not yet clear what proportion of the BBC’s archive will be available, or how modest the ‘modest fee’ will be (some sources hypothesise £1.89).

Is it worth it for TV gold?

So, is this a welcome change that will allow us to get our hands on some TV gold for a few quid, or would you resent paying the BBC to download your favourite shows?

Personally, I like the idea if it means I can get my hands on TV gems from the past which have never seen the light of day on DVD. The question is: how much would you be willing to pay for nostalgia, and will those 70s and 80s shows that we remember so fondly still be worth watching again, decades later?

Oh and my personal request to the Beeb: if you’re starting with a small portion of the archive please put Over Here at the top of the pile. I hope it really was as good as I remember…

Would you pay to download shows from the BBC archives?

No - BBC shows should be free for licence fee payers (60%, 622 Votes)

Maybe - if the price is right and the shows are good (27%, 283 Votes)

Yes - I'd love to pay for some BBC TV gold (12%, 129 Votes)

Total Voters: 1,034

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I would certainly pay to download and keep BBC programs – provided they are cheap enough. The price would definitely be the deciding factor – Around about £0:50 to £1:50 would encourage me to have my own archive. £2 would encourage me to find another way.

I already have an archive of 100’s of 1930s to 1980s radio TV and Films that are no longer copyrighted – there are 100s more I would like,

Steve says:
17 March 2012

I agree with Ricard and would pay a small fee but I suspect they will over price it as always.

The TV license is something of an irrelevance here. It is a license to operate receiving equipment in the UK that is capable of viewing or recording transmissions as they are being broadcast on TV channels. It doesn’t matter if you are watching ITV or a foreign TV channel, via transmitter, satellite, cable or broadband.

Whilst the revenue from this tax funds the making of BBC television programs, it does not mean license payers own the rights to BBC material, any more than paying for a Vehicle “Road Fund” license means you now own the roads and can drive on them without further cost.

I’m assuming the BBC digital store will be accessible worldwide. Therefore I would hope the price of material is set at a commercial rate to maximize revenue and provide more direct funding of the BBC.

However, it would also make sense for current TV license holders to be given a significant discount, or credits towards future purchases at every license renewal, if only as a means of tracking and reducing license evasion.

As the TV licensing fee is set by the government and paid by the vast majority of householders why have a licence at all ?
The cost in collecting the fee and enforcement is significant.
Just pay the BBC an annual grant to provide the same service.
This would also do away with all the anomalies of internet access, use in caravans, nursing homes etc.
End result the BBC would get the same money and a significant saving would be made from the lack of admin.

I am in complete disagreement with paying for this, to ask us to do so is crass cheekiness to put it mildly.

The license fee [a tax by another name] is of paramount relevance at is used to fund the BBC, not just make programmes.
We the license payer are funding this core business, instead of using our monies wisely, the BBC [like most publicly funded organisations] has been a hotbed of waste for years, paying OTT salaries, giving ridiculous expense accounts to its own staff and basically peeing a lot of our money down the drain, and with complete unaccountability to we who pay their bills.

Now we are being asked to pay to set up a service to charge us for downloading programmes we have paid to make.
All BBC archive material should be free to download in the UK, for non UK downloads a charge should be levied.
The previous comparison to road Tax is disingenuous, as road tax gives you entitlement to use the road whenever you want, not ownership of the roads, just as the license fee should give you entitlement to view the programmes you have already paid for whenever you want, not ownership of the Beeb.
After all, you dont have to pay more road tax [yet] to drive on the roads your road tax has paid to build [what’s left of it after the Govt’s cut]

@M. Disagree with my comments, but do not to question my sincerity or integrity. I am not a spokesperson for the BBC, or anyone else, so I would have no reason to make “disingenuous” remarks on this Conversation.

My use of disingenuous was not an expression of a perceived lack of sincerity, I used it too mean ‘not straightforward, as in an inaccurate comparison, which I believe it is.
Disingenuous is another word whose meaning is changing with these modern times, please read it in the context of the argument, and not as a personal sleight.

@M – Of course, I accept your explanation. I’m afraid I still use the word to describe Teflon-coated politicians trying to spin their way out of some predicament, so I may have overreacted.


Thank you. I will try and be more careful with my word selection in future 🙂

I hope that we will move towards BBC TV being available on demand, so that we can watch what we want when we want to, and that should include programmes from the archives.

Rather than having a TV Licence, we should pay for the programmes we view. If the target is to achieve the same funding as current TV licensing, programmes would not need to be expensive.

In the meantime, until TV on demand is available, I support Em’s views.

namester69 says:
16 March 2013

If you only pay for what you watch, then it becomes a commercial service. Within a decade every show would be reality TV and we’d be voting to protect our right to bear assault rifles. People need to be inspired by content provided to them, and all minorities would have their content scrapped through lack of funding. That is a sure fire way to turn an informed and tasteful population into zombified gibbons.

AbiJ says:
18 March 2012

I have been involved in a couple of BBC TV shows (House Invaders, Hairy Bikers) and my children have been to some events the BBC organise to promote Media production to children. In each case the waste is phenomenal. The BBC spend so much money buying stuff that isn’t used and dispose of it shamelessly, no recycling and no consideration to expense. When the house was invaded, the amount of items that were binned (paintbrushes, paint, rollers, catering etc etc both unused or just used minimally) was sickening. When we auditioned for Hairy Bikers, there was a huge amount of food available for us to create just an omelet – all of it then disposed of – whether used or not – and another batch readied for next family. Hundreds of people auditioned .
So I think that being a loyal and faithful license payer (because lo! if I don’t pay) I should have access to the TV shows from the archives for free.

But is this “waste” limited to BBC in-house productions or common across all production companies ?

The BBC has an environmental policy:


They need to be informed of any serious examples of waste, especially where evidence is available.

Vincent says:
19 March 2012

Licence payers own the archive-we paid for it time and again over 40-50years
BBC needs to reward licence payers with an encypted archive unlocked with licence number
No licence number-then pay normal download rates as commercially available-1pound per hour
or part of hour
BBC has all the systems to do this -built at the licence payers expence so use it as part of catch up.

Sadly Licence payers don;t own the archive – They own a licence to watch or listen to broadcasts nothing more – Please read your licence agreement.

Shelton says:
23 March 2012

The BBC already provides us with more services than it used to before the Internet age – see their brilliant and highly informative website which is accessible to everyone.
I would gladly pay to see past programmes that aren’t on the I-player.
Having missed a couple of recent documentaries on science I tried to buy them but sadly they aren’t available now.
And having lived abroad I really appreciate how great the BBC is, not perfect of course but so much better than television in many other countries and definitely worth the licence fee.

Nigel Whitfield says:
19 March 2012

We don’t own archive material, even if we contributed towards the cost of it being made; in some cases, even repeating an old show on air costs money, because older contracts often included additional fees (or ‘residuals’) paid when something is rebroadcast, and it’s very likely that in a lot of cases, there will have to be arrangements made to pay something to many people when programmes are made available online. The BBC can’t simply say “this contract doesn’t mention the internet, so we can give the program away free” – publishing companies discovered similar when they first tried to put writers’ work online without paying anything extra.

And, of course, the infrastructure to provide all these downloads doesn’t come cheap, either; it requires investments in servers, in time digitising all the content – much of which will still be on analogue tapes, or in digital formats not suitable for download – and in bandwidth, and so on.

So, to those who say “I should get this free, because I pay a licence fee”, the consequences are that you’re really saying “the BBC should spend current income on all the infrastructure to provide access to past programmes, instead of making new ones, and it should ignore the rights that other people may have to be paid for their work.”

Neither, frankly, is a terribly good idea for the long term future; for the BBC to carry on, it should be spending money on new programmes – people complain enough about repeats as it is. And if it were to turn round and say to even a few past performers/writers “tough, we’re not going to pay you what you’re entitled to” then it would be viewed as an untrustworthy organisation to work for by many people.

Sure, it would be wonderful to have everything free. But there are enough costs involves that that’s just not a realistic proposition.

Completely agree – my only beef has always been with format change – I think I have a right to change the format on which I use a programme to reflect the change in technology. I have already paid to use it.

So the £Billions the BBC have had from us in funding over the years has not allowed it to progress it’s business to a stage where it can make archive material available to those who funded it.
I ask why?
The internet is not new, the demand for ‘BBC Gold’ is not new. It has been known for years that there is a viable market for BBC archive material, why then has this not been taken into consideration in development meetings?

Have the BBC just discovered this market today and wish to develop it now, or have they been waiting for the right time to introduce the pay for it argument, the time when we are being beaten down so much by unfair demands on our finances, we will roll over on this one without a whisper.

My argument is not ‘because I pay a license fee I should get this for free’, rather ‘it is not free because I pay a compulsory license fee, which funds the running of and development of the BBC, if they choose to misuse these funds instead of investing it in developing the business, I will be damned if I pay twice’.
What next, banks asking us to refinance them when they gamble away our savings?

However I do understand from the weight of opinion here that many of you are willing to pay for this service (the rest will wait for someone else to pay, download, and put it onto a filesharing site, then download it for nowt anyway).
My offered solution would be to have a the service free for the UK, but the rest of the world pays.
But the tolerance of the British taxpayer is legendary, so it will probably be more expensive to download in the UK than elsewhere!

jedibeeftrix says:
20 March 2012

“Yes – I’d love to pay for some BBC TV gold”

I don’t watch live TV, or pay the TV License, so yes I have no problem in principle with paying to download Beeb content.

However, I will not buy a service, i.e. DRM restricted content that can only play when authorised. It is a product i can download, store and own, or nothing.

Guy Mather says:
20 March 2012

So long as prices are o.k. The BBC is having it’s funding cut and I for one don’t want to see a drop in the future quality of things so this seems like a great way to raise some revenue. As has been mentioned by others, we do not own the old content the BBC provides so why would you expect it for free!

AbiJ says:
20 March 2012

Following this discussion, I have swayed into “maybe – if the price is right”. I can see artists need to protect their work, and also the BBC need to employ people to maintain the archives, converting to digital viewing – so, ok, if the price is right.

Wozzie says:
20 March 2012

I think as long as programs are free to view or listen to for 7 days, and some series are available for a little longer (as they currently are on iPlayer) then I have no problem paying for content from the archives as long as the price is right.

As it stands I currently buy CD’s, DVD’s and Blu-Ray copies of exceptional series such as the radio 4 adaptations “The Complete Smiley” and the TV series “Planet Earth”.

If I want digital copies of the shows, I’d much rather purchase them directly from the BBC than a third party such as Apple iTunes or Amazon.

Len says:
20 March 2012

I have already purchased a significant amount of BBC back-catalog on DVD, often having to order it from the USA because it is not released in the UK. Other shows I have bought from less official sources because it has never been made available though the BBC or its sales arm. I am quite willing to pay a reasonable amount to cover residuals and the expenses incurred to make the material available plus some profit (if it is ploughed back into new quality programming).

I would also pay a substantial amount to arrange for those who wiped many early excellent programs to have their legs broken!

Harmony says:
21 March 2012

I would not be happy paying for current TV programmes to download them as a British citizen. But just as I’m happy to buy old BBC programs on DVD, I’d be happy to pay for the modern era’s equivalent (slighly less to reflect the ease of delivery and impulse buying, please, mind).

I think a lot of people haven’t really thought about it in the same way as paying for DVDs. And I would like to see more of the old content be made available that isn’t now profitable to release on DVD.

HOWEVER, I would very much like to see the BBC fulfill its mandate by, alongside the paid for programmes, offereing its more educational material for free. The latter doesn’t make anywhere near the amount of money that the more populist material does so it would be a minor loss for a major PR boost and a public benefit which is what the BBC is about.

Yes, I would be prepared to pay to be able to delve back into the BBC archives. Like Katie I believe my licence fee pays for new shows to be made – and I also firmly believe it’s brilliant value. Having experienced TV in many places, especially the U.S. many people don’t realise how good – and how cheap – the BBC is. I am astounded at how many people believe these downloads should be free. Don’t they realise that in all likelihood people from around the world who pay no licence fee would be able to access them as well? And if the archive store – or whatever they call it – is as successful as I believe it might be then it could fund the BBC completely and we would have NO licence fee!! Rock on BBC!

As always, the price is the thing. £0.50 to £2.00 would get me going as a down load and £4.00 plus postage for a DVD. I’ve asked before – direct to the BBC if it was possible to pay for a particular documentery but got no answer.

Al the archives should be for sale – it’s a goldmine – but the BBC doesn’t seem to think commercially unless it’s an Upstairs Downstairs prog for the world.

The BBC archives has some wonderful stuff. To be able to access some of this would be very good. Unfortunately I suspect the best of the Music will not be available. There are wonderful concerts that have been broadcast on Radio 2 and BBC TV. They would certainly be worth paying for even if it was an iPlayer type limited time rental.

DaveR says:
23 March 2012

I would love to be able to get Top of the Pops from the 1960s if available, as I was in the audience on one show and appeared very clearly. I had previously been told that it would be too costly to produce a copy for me. This would seem to be the answer. Do many of the early black and white shows exist I wonder. This question no doubt applies to many other very early shows,

Moray says:
27 March 2012

I would pay for the archive material, providing the licence fee was reduced.

I think the ultimate target should be to fund the BBC entirely through its archive and other commercial activities. There’s a global market so we are talking 250 Million households x £12, not 25 Million households x £120.

For sure that will take a long time, perhaps ten years or more, but let’s start now.

Paid for by public money, the archives are public property.
The reason they are not readily available is because the BBC are irresponsible.
They have wasted our [license payers] money, they have failed to invest in this area.
Nostalgia is a massive business, I cannot believe that out of the cream of Oxbridge at the BBC, not one person could have predicted that the Archives would be in demand.
Now we are asked to pay again, why?

Hold on did we have this debate a decade or so ago?