BBC Store To Close: What Next For Animated Doctor Who?

The announcement on 25th April that BBC Store will be closing in November 2017 will have come as no surprise to many Doctor Who fans.

Since its launch in late 2015, the service has failed to gain popularity, with subscription streaming services such as Netflix and Amazon Prime (where many episodes of Doctor Who are available to access already) proving hard to beat. This was a very late attempt by the BBC Worldwide to enter the digital video market, but one that the team behind the project obviously thought would be highly successful. So why did this seemingly forward-looking venture go so horribly wrong for the BBC? And since the service was arguably the primary, if not the only, motivation for the BBC to release an animated reconstruction of The Power of the Daleks, what are the implications of Store’s demise for the possibility of future reconstructions of missing Doctor Who serials?

I would suggest that the root cause of the failure lies in the tagline of the BBC Store, which was plastered just about everywhere during the site’s promotion: ‘Buy. Download. Keep’. These three words have just cost the BBC thousands of pounds, and each illustrates why the Store was doomed to fail even before its launch, and also why it did not prove popular with fans such as ourselves.

Buy

The first word indicates how out-of-touch the team at BBC Worldwide were when planning this project (and this is a reason apart from the fact that the Doctor Who serials on the Store were massively overpriced: Ambassadors of Death, for example, was priced at £11.99 on BBC Store, whilst the DVD can be bought, new, for just £6.99 from Amazon).

If it were 2003, the year Apple launched its iTunes store, this ‘buy’ idea would have been ground-breaking: a virtual store where customers can purchase digital copies of their favourite shows to watch on the go.

But in 2017, a new competitor into the market of this business model can no longer be successful. This is not only because similar stores, such as iTunes and Amazon Video, have already been offering digital TV purchases for years, with vast catalogues of episodes that include much of the Doctor Who back-catalogue, it’s also down to the fact that, over the past few years, consumers have rapidly been moving away from the old ‘buy’ model towards subscription-based streaming services. These platforms charge users a monthly fee (for comparison, it’s around the price of one or two classic Doctor Who DVDs) for access to the company’s entire library of content. This is a far more attractive monetary investment for people than the BBC Store model of spending money on purchases of episodes or series individually.

Why would people want to spend £10 on one series, when they can have a month accessing a thousand series (and films, don’t forget) for the same price?

Perhaps this word is why:

Download

The BBC Store allowed customers to download their purchases, a feature that allows a blending of the streaming model – customers could stream content via iPlayer if they wished – and the iTunes-style download store.

However, since the service did not offer DRM-free downloads for people to ‘keep’ (i.e. customers could only watch their downloaded episode within a BBC app), all purchases will become unwatchable after the store closes, so the promise that customers can keep what they buy from BBC Store has resulted in BBC Worldwide having to cough up thousands of pounds to refund purchases upon the close of the Store.

But anyway, as internet speeds are so fast these days, there’s hardly any need for downloads, unless it’s so people can:

Keep

This final promise for BBC Store has been both the cause of its downfall (due to its out-datedness) and by far the costliest of the three words. By vowing that users will be able to keep their purchases forever, the BBC hoped to replace the market for DVDs of its programmes with a virtual service that would hopefully be much more convenient for the company (and potentially cheaper too, cutting out the cost of physical packaging and production) and their customer base. Keeping episodes would mean that viewers can own a DVD-like library, but without the DVDs.

However, most people don’t even want to ‘keep’ episodes, as they don’t normally watch more than once, so they choose services such as Netflix; the rest, such as us Who fans, definitely do want to keep episodes, but like to have a collection of actual, real DVDs, with their hours of special features – which, as it happens, were absent from all but a few BBC Store Doctor Whos, another major issue.

There is therefore no real market for the ‘buy, download, and keep’ model amongst either casual viewers or television super-fans.

The future for Doctor Who and the missing episodes.

In November 2016, The Power of the Daleks was released on BBC Store in animated form. The Store was likely the only reason this project was undertaken, so does the closure of BBC Store mean that we will not see any more missing episodes reconstructed? Hopefully not, as judging from the number of Amazon UK reviews – the DVD and Blu-ray of Power has over 180, compared to 72 ratings for City of Death – the title was extremely popular and must surely have made a profit for BBC Worldwide.

Although it was essential in bringing it about, I would maintain that the Store was by no means necessary for the Power project to succeed, as the only reason most of us will have bought the title from the BBC Store is that it was released there first, and a very select few got free art cards thrown into the deal. The majority of fans likely went and bought the DVD or Blu-ray anyway, meaning that any supposed success for the Store as a result of this serial was simply down to the fact that they took advantage of us fans, knowing that would want to watch the animation as soon as possible, so would eagerly line up to give our money to the Store whilst we waited for our DVDs.

BBC Store probably gave Worldwide the excuse to commission the animation, but the success of the Power of the Daleks has now proved that future releases are economically worthwhile for the company. Therefore, I wouldn’t hesitate to assume that we will see many more reconstructions of missing stories, despite the unfortunate fate of the BBC’s latest scheme.

After all, they only have to make one penny of profit out of the animation DVDs for them to be more successful than BBC Store!

The BBC Store will officially close on 1st November 2017.

  • daft

    If the service had been DRM free, worldwide access and been reasonably priced (whether a subscription service or individual purchases) they might have accrued a small but dedicated following of people wanting access to the vast back catalog of Beeb stuff. Of course, for that to happen they’d have to lay the ground work years ahead in third party deals on newer content to allow for it. Of course, it would also undercut their BBC First cable/satellite service. It was all too late to market, too slapdash in its approach and ultimately costly 2x over – I’m assuming the customer get refunded their initial outlay (or just a portion)? I think in the long run the Beeb just has too many competing interests to truly embraced the digital subscription model market, it’s probably best they just shove stuff up on Amazon Prime and waive goodbye to the 30% (or whatever) loss of income from porting through a third party service – like their audio. As to whether there will be more animations, surely they must be working of EotD already. I’d suggest that might be it, you would think Masterplan might also be on the radar, but given the amount of episodes necessary to complete it, it might not be considered financially viable. I’d suggest the remaining missing non-Dalek ones would be a hard sell.

    • Ranger

      I’ve received the email from BBC Store and to answer your question on reimbursement, they are offering 2 options: either receive vouchers for Amazon Video for the whole of your outlay, plus 10% or just receive a cash reimbursement for the whole of your outlay.

      All this makes me very worried. I have been various things in my long career: two being an archivist and librarian, so I am well acquainted with preservation protocols. What I see happening at the moment with new and rapidly changing technology makes me despair. It has already been stated that the last 20 years are going to be the least documented for future generations. Future generations, ironically given the amount of data and information currently being generated, will know more about the political and social history of the Romans than they will about the last 20 years. There is no coordinated attempt to preserve information, it is all ephemeral; in my current job I see documents that would have been of immense value to future historians deleted because there is no coherent record-keeping policy because the technology changes so rapidly.

      So let’s apply this thinking to Doctor Who. Video has been replaced by DVD, DVD is under threat from blu-ray, which in turn is being challenged by digital. We threw out our old videos of Doctor Who because DVDs came along that took up a lot less storage space and had various additional goodies and they don’t manufacture video players anymore. Blu-ray comes along, better picture, throw out the old DVDs. Or if you’re like me, miss out blu-ray altogether and go straight to digital. BBC Store: oh good, we can buy and it will be ours forever. Oh, sorry that was a lie, here’s your money back, you won’t be able to view after November. No problem, let’s go to a streaming platform to watch Pyramids of Mars. Oops! Netflix has decided that it is not economically viable to provide Doctor Who anymore because new ways of viewing/transmitting information has evolved which new programmes are already formatted for, but old programmes are not and it’s not worth converting them, there’s not a big enough audience for them. No problem, I’ll watch Pyramids on Mars on my old dvd player, because I had the foresight not to throw out all my dvds. Oh no, my dvd player has died and they don’t make the players any more because everyone is watching their telly through cyber implants. I can’t watch Doctor Who ever again.

      I’m being too extreme? In the early 80’s the BBC, in conjunction with various academic institutions, decided to undertake a modern Domesday Book. The country was painstakingly surveyed and the results put on laser disc. Today, that information cannot be accessed. Forget the current missing episodes scandal, I predict a time when there will be no Doctor Who in any format. And that time won’t be too long in the future.

      From a very gloomy Ranger today.

  • secretlybadass bar

    Interesting article Joshua. We can’t stream here – broadband here crawls like an arthritic tortoise. I’ll stick to the DVDs.
    Maybe also I’m old enough to prefer having the means of watching at my own command, not on being signed up to a company that doesn’t pay tax!

    • Lived With Otters

      You get arthritic tortoise speeds?!? So jealous! Availability online is also good (when available) for download-and-go. I can watch, say, Series 8 even more conveniently than a DVD via the microSD in my phone. It has its place – just needs a team to do what everyone else is (no wheel inventing needed).

    • Joshua N Stevens

      Thanks!
      Ah that’s a good point – and slow broadband also means downloads take forever, so the BBC Store didn’t make sense at all for you then… 😀

  • ColeBox

    I do wonder if the BBC misunderstood its customer in a different way. Opening up the BBC archive to episodes of 60’s and 70’s Play For Today was great for the vintage TV enthusiasts, but there just weren’t enough of said enthusiasts to sustain the BBC Store; especially as the vintage programmes were painfully slow to reach the service. Additionally, the vintage back-catalogue appeared to be propped up by the usual suspects that have already been available on DVD for quite a while (Doctor Who, Dads Army, OFAH etc).

    • daft

      Yeah, it never felt like they were going in wholesale, just testing the waters. I’d imagine there various O.S. third party broadcast deals got in the way of a fully dedicated service.

      • ColeBox

        If I may digress a moment; BBC store was my only hope for getting Rockliffe’s Babies and series two of Shoestring. Network have fulfilled Rockcliffe, but I don’t hold out any hope for Shoestring series 2 at all now …

        • Womble in a pyramid

          My understanding is that there are severe copyright issues with series 2 of Shoestring (what with it being set at a radio station). Why that didn’t stop them releasing series 1 i don’t know.

          • ColeBox

            For a lot of us, Shoestring was the DVD release holy grail. It was glorious when it was released. However, as far as I understood things, the sales weren’t particularly strong. In turn, there was no desire to make the gargantuan effort to clear all the music for a series two release, if it wasn’t going to sell.

            Still, at least I was able to retire my 1984 BBC Video copy (two episodes only).

          • The Red Womble

            I was once in a one act play directed by a former professional actor who appeared in the second episode of Shoestring

  • secretlybadass bar

    Tried to reply to Ranger, but for some reason it won’t let me:
    Well said Ranger. I can only praise the work of the DW restoration team, who have given us old WHO again using old cassette tapes made by standing a cheap portable tape recorder in front of the telly and telling the rest of the family to shut up, with bits of warped film trims, versions on a different system from another country, amazing modern colouring techniques and computer tech, some sticky-backed plastic and an old egg box. Where there are who fans, there will always be the will to recover the magic from obsolete systems.
    Let’s concentrate on there being a future, and we’ll find a way to fill it with WHO.

    • Ranger

      My rant seems to have disappeared! I blame the monks myself….

      Your reply makes me think of John Noakes 🙁 Another precious piece of my childhood gone, it’ll be Peter Purves next. Oh dear, I really am gloomy Ranger today! I’ll go and look at some pictures of cats.

      • secretlybadass bar

        Not for a while I hope! Meanwhile, let’s enjoy Steven Taylor while we’ve got him. He’s so lovely at conventions. Who royalty but joins in like an ordinary fan. Hope the cats cheer you up. 🙂

        • Ranger

          Yes he is lovely isn’t he? I haven’t seen him at a convention, but he was at a dog event down the road from me last year and he came and stood next to me and we had a laugh and a cheer for the police dogs chasing down “criminals”. Then he signed my t-shirt for me and he was really pleased when my girls, who had gone all shy, said that they knew and loved him as Steven. My youngest even admitted she had a teddy bear called Steven in his honour.

          • secretlybadass bar

            Is it a panda on a chair?

          • Ranger

            That’s where the inspiration came from 🙂

          • Womble in a pyramid

            IDBI lol

      • Philip

        Sorry bar and Range – no idea where your comments have gone! Don’t know what could’ve caused issues either. I blame Disqus!

        • Ranger

          It’s all very mysterious – clearly there is a global conspiracy behind it.

          • Womble in a pyramid

            You say global conspiracy. I say globe artichoke.

          • Ranger

            Or possibly Jerusalem

          • The Red Womble

            Only among the dark, satanic mills

  • Lived With Otters

    BBC is having a fail in the world of streaming. Pyramid hasn’t shown up to Google Play and Google says BBC hasn’t provided it yet.

    • Joshua N Stevens

      Haha they’re probably too busy crying about the Store..!

  • Rick714

    I’m just happy the site’s back. For about a week, I was getting this goofy “password and user ID” prompt before getting denied. I was just about ready to delete the bookmark and the site as a lost cause.

    • secretlybadass bar

      They’ve had trouble before and ALWAYS made it back sooner or later. Still the best site – where else do you get Dear Davros and Alternative Facts?

    • Philip

      Oh don’t worry, Rick – we’ll always be back. It’s literally been HostGator mucking us about. Hopefully, we’re looking into other host sites that’ll be more reliable!

  • daft

    Thanks for your reply, Ranger. It seems to have disappeared in the heat haze of future technology. 😉 I kind of get the feeling that TV programmes are still looked at as low-culture, therefore, of little consequence. It’s a shame if you happen to come from working class stock, and adore it in it’s many forms – you don’t see the same mistreatment to the same extent with even cinema. I personally would have supported a Beeb store that actually worked for me, but clearly that’s not going to happen now, which probably means only the more commercial old Beeb stuff will see the light of day – it’s not viable to clean stock of lesser known things when you don’t get 100% return in compensation. 🙁

    • Ranger

      I have moved on to the theory that the BBC is trying to gag me