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BT’s Buy To Keep Movies: Multiscreen Digital Downloads To Follow, But Are They Really Forever?

by David Mercer | 2月 07, 2014

Summary: Our analysis suggests BT already has plans to extend its new pay-to-own movie service to digital downloads to portable devices, and that the promise of “keep forever” will be difficult to guarantee if you don’t remain a BT subscriber.

BT this week became the first major European pay TV provider to offer pay-to-own content, or, as BT prefers to call it, “Buy-to-keep”. It may seem a minor issue but the word “own” of course lies at the heart of debates about the future content business models. Funnily enough, BT replaces “keep” with “own” in its own small print (“Terms”).

BT has struck deals initially with movies from 20th Century Fox and Sony Pictures but plans to add box set TV series in the coming months. Content will be available in SD and HD.

BT joins Comcast (Xfinity Purchases) and Verizon (FlexView), who have been offering similar services in the US. Download-to-own services are of course widely available from OTT providers like Apple iTunes and Amazon. But the entry of pay TV companies signals a new phase in the converging video market as they seek not only new revenue streams but also to give their hard-won subscription customers another reason not to leave.

Initially BT’s buy-to-keep service will only be available to users of its YouView set-top boxes, and only on TVs connected to those boxes. Content is streamed to YouView boxes each time it is watched, not downloaded. This raises the question, what happens to customers’ “owned forever” content if or when they no longer have access to the BT TV service?>

The answer appears to lie in BT’s Terms. BT tells customers that it will provide a permanent copy of purchased content within 12 months of the date of purchase, in the form of either a digital copy for download or a DVD. BT says they retain the right to decide which option a customer gets.

BT also says that, if a digital copy is provided, the customer will also be able to stream the content to a compatible device. In this case the copy can be downloaded up to a maximum of 5 times on up to a maximum of 5 compatible devices. In each of these cases, the customer must be a BT subscriber.

If the content purchaser no longer subscribes to BT services he will not be able to download the content any more. So anyone deciding to leave BT who has purchased buy-to-keep content must download one or more copies before cancelling the BT service, otherwise they will no longer have access to their “owned forever” content.

These restrictions are similar to those offered by Comcast’s Xfinity Purchases service. In summary, if you do not continue to pay for TV or any services from the pay TV service provider, the content you bought-to-own is only available on devices you owned at the time you were still a customer. You cannot transfer that content to other devices. Given that PCs, smartphones and tablets typically survive in use for less than five years, this would seem to be some way short of owning the content “forever”.

There is also the question of whether purchasers, who have bought a movie to watch on their TV set, will be happy that they can only watch it on a small screen if they stop subscribing to the pay TV service. It seems unlikely that portable devices will be able to play HD content onto a TV screen using an HDMI lead because of HDCP restrictions. Without being able to watch their purchased HD content on HDTVs customers might think they are being short-changed.

All of these issues are of course ultimately driven by the demands of the content rights owners. They are similar to the restrictions on digital copy usage which apply in Ultraviolet and similar OTT services. The conclusion for the customer should be that only way to be really sure of owning a piece of content “forever” is to buy it on a disc and hope that a) the disc doesn’t deteriorate and b) the hardware to play the disc continues to function. Perhaps BT customers would rather have a copy of the DVD after all.

David Mercer

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