Opening up BBC Channels and Content

The review of the BBC’s scale and scope which has been undertaken as part of the ongoing Charter renewal process has been accompanied by a challenging financial settlement as a result of the decision to make the BBC take on the financial impact of providing over 75’s with free TV Licences from 2018–2019.

At the same time the Secretary of State, speaking at the RTS Convention in Cambridge, has asked the BBC to consider what steps can be taken to adapt to the requirements of the planned EU digital single market, and this has opened up the question of whether licence fee payers can be offered access to iPlayer and other BBC services while outside the UK.

Many expatriates and others already have access to the BBC because they use virtual private network (VPN) services that can bypass the geo-blocking intended to restrict access to UK residents. Such access brings no revenue to the BBC’s commercial arm or to production companies, and breaches the terms under which the BBC broadcasts sports, feature films and many other programmes.

It should be possible to do better, and here at Mydex CIC we have been looking at ways to let licence fee payers watch the BBC, wherever they are in the world. We believe that we can offer an effective, low cost and flexible solution that would work today and would support changes to BBC funding such as the introduction of a household levy and even make it easier to monitor the costs of providing free TV Licences to those over-75s.

The BBC always likes to say it puts audiences at the heart of what it does, and we have designed a practical, person-centred solution that is easy to implement, simple in its conception, and highly secure. It allows access to content or services to be delivered seamlessly with the minimum of fuss and the maximum level of flexibility and accountability. It will also work with the BBC’s planned myBBC personalisation offering, if people are happy to link their various profiles. And it leaves control with the person watching.

So let’s look at the BBC’s challenges.

When a TV Licence is issued it covers not just the person who pays for the licence in a specific “place” but also the normal members of the household. The challenge is that individuals and the devices they use travel between different spaces and the space itself may in fact be mobile.

The special nature of the Television Licence, which is collected on behalf of the government by an arms-length agency run by the BBC, and then remitted to the BBC, means that the BBC itself has no direct access to list of addresses which hold licences or any information about licence holders.

As a result the BBC can’t just look people up in a big database of Licence Fee Payers — and we would not want it to be able to do that. Rather, we want to be able provide the BBC with a verifiable ‘proof of entitlement’ that permits the member of a TV Licence holding household to access geoblocked BBC services on all devices they use, and do so in way that preserves their privacy.

In a multi-channel ever increasing digital world where access can be controlled the BBC needs a way to maintain their free to “channel” (air, Internet, VPN) service for all those entitled to them without requiring to know who they are, only that they are entitled.

If you are in the UK today you can access BBC digital services via apps and a browser with no requirement for identity or proof of holding a TV licence. That simple model is open to misuse by those using VPNs, and also prevents access for those who happen to be outside the UK on holiday, studying or working.

This is an inconvenience and in spite of having smart devices in many forms able to connect to the internet, equipped with BBC approved content apps such iPlayer they are blocked from accessing core television services.

Our solution is to use the Mydex CIC trust framework and platform, which allows individuals to collect, store and distribute ‘digital proofs of claim’ — digital tokens that demonstrate entitlement.

If TV Licensing issued a secure digital token to people who can demonstrate that they live in a house covered by a valid licence — and it’s up to them what that proof is, from being on the electoral register to having utility bills or something similar, this could be stored in a personal data store and shared with the BBC and any other service that needs it. All it proves is they hold a TV licence, nothing about them as a person just that they are entitled to access content.

This is best done when a TV Licence is purchased — a one time code could be delivered to the household as part of the setup process for a digital license, and this would permit the addition of devices and individuals, with validation mapped back to the core license and not simply someone able to spoof an address.

The BBC can then build its digital infrastructure to override geoblocking for those people who hold such a token, giving them access to material which is available globally. This won’t include everything — sports, feature films and other ‘acquisitions’ may only have been licensed for UK audiences — but it will cover much news, entertainment and educational programming.

Individuals could also decide whether they wanted to link their TV Licence token to a myBBC identity, offering a range of personalised services, but this would not be a requirement.

This approach has another advantage, as it could provide an auditable list of people over 75 using BBC services, by setting a flag on their TV Token so that the BBC can easily reconcile the number of TV licence tokens issued by TV Licensing which the BBC have agreed to subsidise and compare it to the recorded number of tokens presented. It would even be possible to tell how many people *under* 75 are watching on the basis of a subsidised licence.

Person centred services are an important missing link in truly digital services which reduce the customer effort, streamline processes and reduce the operating costs of organisations whilst improving their compliance and privacy protection for their clients. In this case, the public benefit of opening up BBC Television to licence fee payers abroad would be enormous.

The benefit of the Mydex approach is it is person centred, a neutral platform which all parties can use and share with total confidence and security, it is open standards based, low cost. This just one use case for the platform which has at its core the ability for individuals collect any and all data surrounding their lives, organise it, analyse it and share it with organisations they wish to under a uniform data sharing agreement.