The BBC has been aggressive in bringing its iPlayer video service to mobile devices, and it looks like a new level of functionality is arriving: video downloads. The Guardian reports that subscribers to the iPlayer service will now be allowed to download video content to their smartphones and tablets for viewing at no additional cost. The feature is said to be coming to the iPhone and iPad starting tomorrow, with the capability arriving on Android devices in the "near future."
The iPlayer mobile apps had previously allowed streaming alone. The BBC's general manager of on-demand programs, Daniel Danker, told The Guardian that the new capability "fundamentally changes one of the most annoying restrictions about viewing programmes." Downloads will be available over Wi-Fi networks to start, though 3G downloads are on the roadmap. Downloaded programs will carry some restrictions with them, however. After a user downloads a program, they will have 30 days to watch before it expires — and seven days to finish once they begin.
Streaming is often seen as a delivery method that provides content to users while also side-stepping many of the headaches of DRM, but it's clear that the BBC sees a strong future for downloadable content. Having already announced it's working on a premium download service dubbed Project Barcelona, it may very well be that the BBC is hoping to use iPlayer downloads as a bridge between the two services in its efforts to monetize its content catalog to the fullest.
Update: The release window for video downloads on Android has narrowed a little bit. According to the BBC, the feature won't be coming to the platform until "early 2013."