BBC to offer video downloads

Afraid of losing out to illegal download sites, the BBC is piloting a radical new service that will allow you to download television programs from the previous weeks television schedule onto a PC, PDA or DVD disk to watch at a later date.

The system, called iMP (Internet Media Player) plans to work in a similar vein to the corporation's current radio player that presently allows you to download any program that has played on a national BBC radio station in the last seven days.

Later this month 500 BBC employees will be given a PDA and access to download a number of BBC programmes including the soap EastEnders and the hospital drama Holby City. Also available will be the series One Life, the dramas Cutting It and Grease Monkeys, the motoring show Top Gear and a smattering of news bulletins.

The idea behind the scheme is to allow people to catch programmes they perhaps missed the night before. Additionally snippets of future
programmes will be available although users will only be able to download full programmes once they have been aired on television.

The scheme has been drawn up by Ashley Highfield, the BBC's director of new media and technology:

"iMP will allow you to record programmes in advance, like Sky+ or the humble video recorder. It will stream programmes live and will allow you to download any content we have broadcast in the last week"

The internal pilot is planned to run for three weeks, after which if it has been successful a second pilot will be launched with 1000 broadband subscribers selected from service providers AOL, BT and Tiscali to trail the system.

The BBC hope that the trial will allow them to examine whether people watch more television with iMP and if they change their viewing patterns, such as "starting to watch EastEnders in the morning", Mr Highfield said.

The BBC's announcement comes ahead of a new wave of portable media devices that are hitting the shops over the next couple of months that will allow you to store television programmes and videos to watch when you are away from home.

Some of the players are able to store up to 175 hours of video in a device no bigger than a small address book. Users of the service will also be able to transfer the recordings on to a DVD disk to watch in a standard television, although the BBC admits the quality won't be as good as standard transmission usual viewed on your television.