BBC Online free via The Cloud

If you’ve ever heard the collective anger of thousands of commercial web sites in the UK, then imagine a field of people all growling under their breath. Now keep that image in your head, because the BBC has cut a deal with wi-fi firm The Cloud, which operates 7,500 hotspots around the UK, to offer BBC online services for free.

That means, without paying a log-in or subscription fee, Cloud users will be able to read the news, check weather or stream a BBC video. In the latter case, the broadcaster has signed a deal with Adobe to provide Flash video for the whole of the BBC’s video services, including a streaming version of its iPlayer.

However, quite what Ashley Highfield, the BBC’s director of Future Media and Technology, means when he says “This is a major step into the Web 2.0 world,” is, however, beyond my limited mind…

This is no doubt within the letter of the BBC’s charter, to provide to the people of the UK the content they’ve already paid for in the TV license. However, it also means that whereas before a user might have chosen another commercial service to deliver them content after signing-in to The Cloud, they needn’t bother as they can now just opt for the BBC’s free content instead.
And if you remember, The Cloud will also provide the WiFi network for iPhone users signed up to the O2 network. So they will get free BBC News on their iPhones too.
Admittedly the amount of traffic a commercial site will lose as a result of this deal will probably be small. But it does raise all the old arguments about the BBC’s place in the competitive landscape.

In other news, the BBC says it will now allow Apple Mac and Linux machines to use its TV catch-up service from the end of the year. Currently only Windows XP users can use iPlayer, downloading programmes on to their PC and keeping them for up to 30 days.