Friday 6 August 2004

The cost of BBC DVDs.

Much as I detest the BBC these days, one area where their standards haven’t slipped and they can still claim realistically to be the best in the world is in wildlife documentaries. I’ve got the box sets of The Life of Mammals and Volume 1 of The David Attenborough Collection, and they’re just utterly brilliant. But they’re far from cheap. And that’s what got me thinking about the price.

When I buy a DVD of, say, Season 3 of CSI (arrived last week — yay!), I’m paying the producers not only to manufacture the DVD but also to produce the TV program in the first place. Obviously. But this is not so if the producers are the BBC.

The production of BBC TV programs is paid for by funds raised through the license, as we all know. So I and millions of others had already paid for The Life of Mammals to be produced. To release the series on DVD, the BBC needed to burn the DVDs (dirt cheap), manufacture packaging (dirt cheap), distribute them to shops (not so cheap, but still pretty damn cheap), and, er, that’s it.

So I have two questions. Firstly, why are BBC DVDs priced similarly to DVDs produced by private TV companies? All I should be paying for when I buy a BBC DVD is the manufacturing and the distribution — not the production (the expensive bit), which I had already paid for through taxation. It can’t be that the BBC are trying to make a profit, because they’re above that sort of thing, and it can’t be that they’re pricing according to market demand, as the very purpose of their existence, as they keep telling us, is to ignore market forces.

Secondly (and, I think, even more puzzlingly), why does the price of BBC DVDs vary so much? Example: on Amazon, the complete Black Adder costs £35.97 while just Black Adder II is £15.98. The complete set should cost a bit more, for the extra discs and a bit of extra cardboard packaging, but these are very small costs — not twenty quid’s worth. What usually makes twelve hours of DVD significantly more expensive than three hours is the production cost of the original material, which, in this case, was paid in full long before the DVD was invented.

So what is their pricing model? Hmm.


Squander Two said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Gary said...

There are a few reasons for the price of the DVDs, I reckon. First of all there's royalties: any music will require an MCPS royalty (I don't know the rates for DVD), and as many, many BBC programmes are made by third parties there will almost certainly be a licensing charge levied by those third parties: their original contract (the licence fee bit) will have been for broadcast-only, and either won't cover resale or will specify some sort of royalty agreement. I know that actors get repeat fees for rebroadcast, and I'd assume something similar applies if their work is reused in a different format. As someone whose living is based on copyright, I'd like to think that's the case :-)

Then there's the distribution and retail markup which, if CDs are any indication, is pretty significant. When Tower was flogging CDs at £16.49, they were buying them in at around £8 or £9 from the labels. I'm not sure what the distributor's profit margin would be.

When you say that the BBC isn't interested in making a profit, that may apply to the broadcast business but it definitely doesn't apply to its other operations, such as BBC Magazines or BBC Video. Imagine the outcry from the Periodical Publishers' Association, NUJ etc. if the licence fee was propping up commercial enterprises that didn't have to turn a profit. There's a similar wrangle at the moment with the BBC's website: commercial Website operators are screaming blue murder about it, and they argue that the BBC is providing a free service that's a direct competitor to paid-for or ad-funded services. They argue - rightly, I think - that anything outside the public service remit should be a commercial enterprise.

Back to free content: one thing that the Beeb *is* working on is a free internet archive of programming, so in the future you'll be able to download episodes of The Blue Planet or whatever for nothing. It's a bit of a minefield due to the involvement of third parties in much of the BBC's output, but it'll happen in some shape or form reasonably soon.

Oh, and welcome to blogging. What took you so long? ;-) You should call it "Jo Blogs", you know...

Squander Two said...

Damn you for making good points, you knowledgable bastard.

I don't see why the outcry from the NUJ etc if BBC Magazines were non-profit would be any more significant than the current outcry about their TV business. The principle is basically the same.

Your point about retail mark-up obviously doesn't have that much to do with it because the prices are just as high when you buy from

And what took me so long? Damn good question, that.