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A Plea to the BBC: Let Me Throw My Money at You

By Kathy Benjamin | Think Pieces | June 5, 2012 |


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Two days ago I was trying to watch the most recent episode of Have I Got News For You. For those of you who are not familiar with this BBC show, imagine if The Daily Show only ran a few weeks a year and had a panel of comedians instead of Jon Stewart. Also, they talk about British and European news and hardly mention the US at all. I was doing the dance that is so often necessary in order to watch the shows I fell in love with while living in England, jumping between different segments of the show on different websites in order to watch the entire episode (the BBC usually only blocks the first part on copyright ground for some reason.) In my frustration I dashed off what would end up being the most popular tweet I've ever written.

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Obviously my plight is shared and understood by many other people, be they ex-pats or simply television viewers with very good taste.

Like the Game of Thrones fans desperate to purchase their own episodes that were so perfectly illustrated in the infamous Oatmeal comic, I just want to be able to give the BBC my money. Unlike the GoT fans, I don't have a single legal way to watch most BBC shows in the first place. If I'm lucky they might show up (edited down to allow commercial breaks) months from now on BBC America. If I'm VERY lucky the show might be such a hit it eventually ends up on Netflix, like the first season of Sherlock. But if I want to watch topical or smaller shows, like QI or Mock the Week, I have no choice what-so-ever other than to watch them illegally.

I don't want to do this. The BBC is one of the greatest institutions in the entire would, and I would happily help fund it. It works like this: every home that owns a television in the UK pays a yearly TV license fee and that goes most of the way to funding the state-owned media entity. It is a great example of socialism actually working, everyone contributing together and getting something great out of it. The BBC doesn't treat its viewers like idiots. It is happy to try out experimental shows, controversial shows, smart shows, and to keep favorite ones, like Have I Got News for You, around for forty-something seasons. Its quality is why people the world over clamor to watch the things it produces. And right now, it is losing so much money because it won't let me pay for the privilege.

In theory, this should not be a problem. The BBC has streamed virtually every show from all of their channels and radio on BBC iPlayer since 2007, but you can only access the television shows if you live in a few select countries. For years there have been rumors that a subscription service for Americans is right around the corner; various news articles from last summer assure me that we will have the service by the end of 2011...oh wait. Then in November, more assurances that it would happen any day now, especially as Canadians now had access to the service.

So it's coming, they totally promise, really, really soon. Honest. Just like it has been for years. Even if we take them at their word, what exactly has been the hold up? There is a huge demand for it, and surely America is a bigger market that Belgium and Luxembourg, countries that already have access. Those YouTube accounts that post shows right after they air have tens of thousands of subscribers until they are inevitable taken down for copyright infringement. And Google reveals page after page of tips for how to watch BBC shows abroad. The only answers I can find about the hold up is one illusive quote from BBC.com managing director Luke Bradley-Jones. Apparently they could have launched a US version of iPlayer "within a week" but there would have been "a few too many missing parts."

Please, Mr. Double-Barrel, let us poor Americans decide that. Something is better than nothing, honestly. Roll out further shows as you manage to work out the rights issues (issues you don't seem to have with the series' on Netflix or BBC America. What's up with that?) Just please, for the love of God, let me throw my money at you.


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