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Streaming ads and price hikes? Let’s show some love for the BBC iPlayer

OPINION: Ads to the left of me, price hikes to the right? The realities of the a la carte streaming era are well and truly setting in, but the iPlayer remains a constant comfort.

Disney Plus is the latest provider to compromise the experience and promise of streaming by introducing a cheaper, ad-funded tier amid high levels of subscriber churn. 

You can still enjoy an ad-free experience, but to continue enjoying the same level of service with 4K HDR video and Dolby Atmos? That’ll be an extra £3 a month during an unprecedented cost of living crisis thank you very much.

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For those paying attention, this has been in the post. 

Streaming services have overspent in the early part of the streaming era, while offering customer-friendly pricing, without ads, and without any necessary commitment beyond one month. With so many streaming services, and so much content to watch people are naturally saving money by rotating subscriptions and sharing passwords. Disney is clamping down on password sharing too, just like Netflix.

Disney might be Disney – the largest entertainment conglomerate ever known to humankind – but there are only so many billions you can spend on underwhelming fringe content like The Book Of Boba Fett or bizarre trash like She Hulk: Attorney At Law – which even the most ardent MCU acolyte would struggle to defend – before it starts to hit the bottom line and the higher ups say “no more”.

Hence the recent spate of price increases and the willingness to call upon the advertisers to shore-up the income. It’s a familiar story. Netflix has done it. Max (née HBO Max) has done it in the US. Even YouTube is pretty much unwatchable without Premium these days, with ads every couple of minutes.

It wouldn’t surprise me the morphing towards the cable TV model resulted in longer-term commitments and contracts for streaming services.

In this era, these price increases and incursion of advertisements is a chance to be grateful for an old stalwart of the streaming era – the BBC iPlayer, which continues to deliver on the promise. Live 4K sport? Live TV, new and archive content on demand? No ads whatsoever? No problem. 

Ol’ reliable

Of course, the iPlayer isn’t free either. It’s part of the £159 per year BBC license fee every UK household pays for. That’s £13.25 a month, and includes BBC’s linear channels, and news, sports and entertainment programming across TV, radio and online. There’s no greater bargain. 

It’s comforting and reassuring to know the iPlayer is there. Reliable, innovative, and keeping pace with broadcast tech. It’s nice to know you can arrive ten minutes late into Question Time, hit a button on your TV remote and be transported back to the start of the programme, and get angry at the audience and the panel for the whole hour.

It’s nice to know your bill isn’t going to go up £3 a month randomly, that 4K video is going to be taken away and that you can relax in front of a film without ads or, worse still, ill-timed ad-breaks. At least the TV channels did you the courtesy of trying to time them at opportune moments. Not during important action or dialogue scenes. You’re not paying any more to download the content to watch offline either. 

It’s interesting how the further the streaming era goes, the more it reverts to what annoyed us about TV before the great disruption. Ads, extra fees for the features worth having, regular price increases, content libraries being trimmed back. There was a time when the dawn of the streaming service sounded too good to be true. It probably was.

Thankfully, we can always count on the BBC.

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