The BBC's trial of its Integrated Media Player (iMP) has been a success, apparently. Families with the player watched an average of two programmes a week on their computers, rather than on TV.
No launch date yet as the iMP has to be analysed by Ofcom to see what effect it will have on the internet market. At a time when a lot of companies (including the one I work for) are looking at ways of making money out of video, either by charging or by advertising, the BBC's plans to offer its programmes free of charge will have a big impact.
The BBC is hoping to have its entire broadcast output on the player - including feature films (and think what that is likely to mean for the nascent businesses offering films on download to your PC for a fee).
The BBC has had to negotiate hard with rights holders and the current agreement is that programmes will be available for a week after broadcast. But this is likely to frustrate viewers used to the video/Tivo environment in which you can record shows and watch them whenever you want. How frustrating to find that the key episode of your favourite show that you thought you had saved has vanished from your computer because you were a bit tardy in watching it. What use is a mere week's grace when you are on holiday for a fortnight?
Long term it's hard to imagine that the seven-day stipulation will survive. On the other hand, what would a world look like in which valuable TV programmes and films were available to anybody, at any time, free of charge?
Some web idealists claim this would be a paradise, a new golden age of artistic and intellectual freedom. They may be right to argue that digital technology will soon make copyright meaningless. But what then? People and businesses that make TV programmes, films and music - including the BBC - need to make money out of their labour. Otherwise they won't bother.