Page last updated at 12:25 GMT, Wednesday, 23 September 2009 13:25 UK

Pay for BBC iPlayer says TV chief

BBC iPlayer
iPlayer is currently free for UK users

Users of the BBC iPlayer should be charged "micro payments" to use the online catch-up service said Lorraine Heggessey, chief executive of TV production company Talkback Thames.

Ms Heggessey was speaking at a BBC event on Tuesday.

Tony Cohen, chief executive of Talkback's parent company Fremantle Media, has also spoken out in support of a revenue model for all catch up TV.

Fremantle is currently conducting a feasibility study of the concept.

Most broadcasters now offer an online catch-up service, and with advertising revenue falling in the commercial TV sector, there is increasing industry support for the idea of charging for it.

Research carried out by Fremantle suggests that people would be willing to pay up to £2 for certain shows.

No plans

However, the BBC says it has no plans to introduce such a fee.

"The cost of the BBC iPlayer is covered by the licence fee, so UK users have already paid for this service," said a spokesperson.

The BBC spent £6m developing its iPlayer service, which launched on Christmas day in 2007. During peak times it pumps out 12GB of data per second to users - the equivalent of around 2400 MP3s.

Media industry expert Steve Hewlett, former director of programmes at Carlton Television, says that in theory the idea of paying to watch TV programmes online makes sense.

The BBC never thought it was appropriate to give away DVDs, so why should catch-up be free?
Steve Hewlett

"The BBC never thought it was appropriate to give away DVDs, so why should catch-up be free?" he said.

"Traditionally, licence fee payers have paid for access on a TV set - and only for the first transmission."

Mr Hewlett believes that a payment model similar to that operated by iTunes and Amazon would be an appropriate technical solution.

"The technology now exists that can make payment straightforward. Once you have your account you tell it to buy, it's easy - in essence it's quite attractive. At iTunes prices, I would pay."

However for as long as the BBC iPlayer remains free, it would be difficult for other broadcasters to implement charges, he warned.

"It's one of the ways in which the BBC can create unintended market impact," he said.

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