For the first time, the BBC will allow iPlayer users to download streaming media to their iOS devices for offline viewing. Media streamed by BBC's iPlayer has traditionally been exclusively streamable. Although current plans treat iPhone and iPad owners first, a future update will also allow Android users to enjoy the offline viewing feature.

Even more interestingly, downloads will be provided at no additional charge for "license-fee payers". The BBC license fee is essentially a tax collected from any U.K. citizen who owns a television or similar device. As such, iPlayer access is not available to other countries, including the U.S.

Many comparable services do not allow users to download streaming content or decidedly charge extra, presumably due to concerns of both profit and copyright. This makes iPlayer's offline viewing feature an unusual offering, but the BBC is in a unique position to offer it. 

As The Guardian points out, BBC's new feature is likely to evoke criticism by players in the private sector. iPlayer's allowance of downloading TV shows, for example, may prove to be disruptive for commercial rivals who charge an additional premium for DVR-like services.

Offline viewing should be particularly beneficial for mobile device users who are prohibited to stream iPlayer content via 3G. Traditionally, these users have been required to maintain a Wi-Fi connection at all times in order to watch iPlayer's offerings. Now, users can download their iPlayer favorites and take it with them on the train, plane or into the remote countryside and still enjoy it.

iPlayer for the iPad has proven to be a remarkably popular way to watch streaming video, coming in second only to the desktop player. Activity for the iPlayer service itself has inflated by 142% in just the past year to 30 million users while one-fifth of all U.K. adults access the service at least once a week.