BBC planning Netflix-style service for US

BBC iPlayer on a tablet Image copyright PA

The BBC is planning to launch a subscription-based video streaming service in the United States.

BBC director general Tony Hall said he wanted to "try out businesses that go direct to the public" to boost the income of BBC Worldwide.

The new service, which could launch in 2016, will not affect agreements with other services such as Amazon and Hulu.

One expert told BBC News the service would probably appeal to a "niche" audience.

Best of British

Image caption Some of the BBC's biggest shows could appear on the service

Lord Hall said the new service would showcase the "best of British" television to audiences in the US.

"We're launching a new over-the-top video service in America offering BBC fans programmes they wouldn't otherwise get - showcasing British actors, our programme-makers - and celebrating our culture," he said in a speech on Thursday.

Over-the-top services distribute television programmes through the open internet without a traditional cable or satellite provider controlling the content.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption BBC director general Tony Hall announced the service on Thursday

A BBC spokeswoman said its programmes would still broadcast on US TV channels, and that the new service was not designed to compete with products such as Netflix, which stream content from a number of partners.

"The subscription service will complement our existing footprint in the USA. Other video streaming services remain an important part of our business plan to ensure we bring the best of British to our audiences," she said.

Raising income

Image caption An international iPlayer was trialled in 16 territories

Lord Hall said he hoped to boost the income of BBC Worldwide to £1.2bn over the next five years, to help fund new BBC programmes.

"We need to raise commercial income to supplement the licence fee so we can invest as much as possible in content for UK audiences," he said.

"Without that income, we can't continue what we already do for the UK in drama or natural history."

One analyst told the BBC a streaming service may not be the "ray of light" the corporation wanted.

"There is growth in online video and consumers are willing to pay a small sum to access entertainment online," said TV analyst Michael Underhill from Enders Analysis.

"But the BBC trialled an international version of its iPlayer service in a number of countries for four years. That was either a long experiment, or a flop.

"People like services that offer them all the shows they want, but don't necessarily know which broadcaster produced them. Netflix and services like it are popular because they offer a breadth of programmes.

"I don't think there will be a huge number of people signing up for niche services. And if every broadcaster launched its own, it would start to get messy for consumers.

"My hunch is, I don't see that future existing."

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