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BBC targets music downloads in Internet strategy

U.K. broadcaster is considering partnerships and testing software to let consumers download its TV and radio programming.

The BBC wants to be a major player in the digital media world and is considering partnerships with private businesses to sell music downloads.

The publicly funded broadcaster is testing software called MyBBCPlayer to let users download its TV and radio programming, and plans to use its powerful presence to take its place among Internet media giants like Google and Yahoo, Mark Thompson, director-general of the British Broadcasting Corp., said Saturday.

"Everything we know about the online world suggests that it's the big brands--the eBays, the Amazons, the Microsofts--that punch through, and the BBC is one of the big brands," Thompson said in a speech at the Edinburgh Television Festival.

The BBC's Web site is the fifth most popular in Britain, according to Nielsen/NetRatings.

It already makes recent radio programs available for post-broadcast listening on its Web site, and in recent months, 1.4 million users downloaded recordings of nine Beethoven symphonies that the broadcaster offered for free.

There were 60 million online requests for video footage following the London bombings.

Thompson said that people listening to BBC Radio 1 online could eventually click on a link to buy a song being broadcast.

The idea that "there needs to be a vast cordon sanitaire" between public service and commercial transactions "flies in the face of the way the public actually uses the media now," he said.

The BBC plans to a launch a trial incorporating parts of MyBBCPlayer next month, with a full rollout in 2006. The plan is to offer on-demand TV and radio programming, live streaming of BBC channels, and access to the broadcaster's huge archives.

Thompson said it was "ridiculous" to think that technology-savvy consumers "would not welcome the opportunity to actually buy a download of a piece of music they have heard on a BBC Web site."

The prospect of the BBC using its massive heft is likely to upset U.K. media and Internet companies, which have often complained that the corporation--funded by a mandatory tax on U.K. television households--has encroached on activities in the private sector.

Thompson said that when and if the BBC links to online music stores, "the choice of commercial providers (would be) fair and open."

Ashley Highfield, director of BBC New Media and Technology, said that the BBC has not yet held any discussions with online music providers.

Story Copyright © 2005 Reuters Limited. All rights reserved.