In a speech to the Royal Television Society in London last night, BBC Director General Mark Thompson said the new project aims to open a new "window" on its content. Currently the BBC makes its shows available through BBC iPlayer, which is a streaming service. Most shows expire after a seven days, however, with lots of the content no longer available online after that window.
"On television, despite all of our existing forms of public service archival and commercial windowing, the overwhelming majority of what the BBC commissions and broadcasts becomes unavailable when that iPlayer window expires," Thompson said. "We want to change that."
Once the new service is in place, episodes of BBC TV shows would be available online shortly after broadcast - via iPlayer and for "permanent" download through the new service. The BBC means permanent in two ways: first, it's a file that the customer permanently has access to, and second, it'll be online for a window that will never expire. Each download would cost a nominal fee.
It's the fee that's raised some eyebrows in the U.K., since TV watchers there are already hit with an annual charge just for owning a television (it's how the BBC gets most of its funding). Some see the new downloading fee as charging twice for the same content.
Thompson said this isn't the case at all, and that Barcelona is just the digital equivalent of going to the store to buy a DVD.
"This is not a second licence-fee by stealth or any reduction in the current public service offering from the BBC. For decades the British public have understood the distinction between watching Dad's Army on BBC One and then going out to buy a permanent copy of it."
Since Project Barcelona is still in the planning phase, it's not known when it would debut and what downloading a show would cost. The BBC is still in the process of acquiring the download rights on many of its shows, although Thompson said taking part in Barcelona wouldn't preclude a content provider from making its shows available to other services, like iTunes.
A previous report said the BBC was going so far as to offer a more lucrative deal to content owners than the standard iTunes 70/30 revenue-sharing model, but the BBC wouldn't comment on those details.
One thing that's almost certain is that the service will be U.K.-only, at least at the start. Project Barcelona is a BBC effort, as opposed to BBC Worldwide, the company's global arm. However, the iPlayer service went global last year, so it's certainly possible the new service could expand to other countries after the launch.
UK residents: What do you think of the BBC's plans for Project Barcelona? As described, is it better than iTunes? Let us know in the comments.