The BBC has misjudged pricing and platform for Doctor Who missing episodes

Editorial: iTunes, BBC? Really?

Doctor Who is nine episodes heavier this year thanks to Phillip Morris, his TIEA organization and the work of BBC Worldwide in bringing the now complete serial The Enemy of the World and it’s slightly less fulsome companion The Web of Fear to fans.

That is, fans who use iTunes.

Now, iTunes is hugely popular, with over 25 billion songs sold, and 575 million active user accounts. It’s a successful application and digital delivery service although, of course, you can’t hold whatever you’ve downloaded. You can’t smell the PVC on the box, pull out the cover art or reflect your desk lamp off the shiny disc. It’s impersonal, and it isn’t the way things are meant to be.

The main problem is, however, that not every Doctor Who fan has an iTunes account, or indeed wants one. In a marketplace where the domination of the iPhone is shrinking, limiting these newly found Doctor Who classics to a single outlet seems odd. But that’s only the start of it…

Amazon, for instance, is more than ably equipped to supply digital delivery of these episodes. So is, crucially, Google Play. Both have the market reach and the latter has the larger share of the mobile and tablet market.

If I was to install iTunes (a horrendous piece of bloatware that instantly negates every pretty word you’ve ever heard from an Apple fan) on my PC today, I could easily purchase and download iTunes, providing the software doesn’t refuse on a couple of episodes as it did with one of our esteemed contributors earlier today (hint: if this happens to you, turn it off and back on again).

From then on, I could watch the episodes on my PC. But I wouldn’t be able to transfer them to my Android phone or tablet, thanks to DRM. Digital Rights Management – presumably the very reason why BBC Worldwide chose iTunes – prevents this. Yet it is a system in place on Amazon and iTunes.

Now, this isn’t to say that I agree that the episodes should be given away. That is clearly madness and we don’t know whether any of the TIEA-BBC Worldwide agreement includes payment; the smart money would suggest that something must have exchanged hands.

However, subscription-based international BBC iPlayer aside (something that proves the BBC is geared up to take cash for viewing content), there remains the issue of the pricing.

$9.99 for US viewers seems fair enough, doesn’t it, equating to around £6 back home (and as a freelancer working largely with US-based companies, don’t I just know it…). But wait… £9.99 in the UK?


The management of the missing episodes official narrative over the past few weeks has left much to be desired. While Thursday’s press conference was superbly arranged and conducted, this pricing, and the distribution channels chosen, seems like a major misfire.

I’m loathe to fall back on the “well my licence fee paid for it” because in most cases, our licence fee didn’t pay for either of these episodes to be produced, unless you happen to be one of the very old Doctor Who fans. As for the TIEA deal, well, that would fall under BBC Worldwide in most cases and presumably this one too.

That leaves us, then, with a platform-related misstep (that is sadly indicative of the general BBC attitude to non-Apple technology) and an abhorrent pricing difference between British fans and US fans.

It would be irresponsible to suggest anyone use a proxy avoidance technique to get these episodes for the same price as former colonial cousins. Therefore, let’s hope that the price is reduced to £5.99 or thereabouts forthwith.

For me, after a certain amount of soul searching, I’ve decided that a complete DVD release – vanilla or not – is more important.

At least I can hold it.


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