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Ashley Highfield

BBC iPlayer On iPhone Update


beta_iplayer_iphone_corner.pngEasy For Legitimate Users, Hard For Hackers

Sorry to be posting this a few days after all the fun, but I've been on paternity leave and yesterday was my first full day back in the office.

So, the BBC iPlayer service on the iPhone got hacked. A way was found to take the iPhone streams and turn them into download files to your desktop. This was obviously not our intention.

We want to get iPlayer onto as many devices and platforms as we can (and as many as makes economic sense, given that we have fixed funding).

The launch on the iPhone/iPod touch platform has increased traffic to iPlayer by 10% (7% from general increased awareness and 3% specifically accessing iPlayer from their iPhone/touch). The team led by Anthony Rose has done a fantastic job: the iPhone implementation of iPlayer looks great, and neither Anthony, nor his boss Erik Huggers, nor I, have any intention of taking down the service.

We know that with each new platform comes more complexity and issues. We know that some platforms are going to be easier to break than others.

But we know that by offering a legitimate service to as many users as possible, most people, most of the time, will respect that rights holders want the BBC to only let their content be available for free at the time of transmission, and now with iPlayer, for a week post-transmission, and that therefore most users will use the legitimate iPlayer product in a legitimate manner.

In fact, more than most: the vast majority. Something like just one twentieth of one percent have accessed a BBC iPlayer programme via a hack.

Clearly, anything more than zero is not ideal, but we live in the real world, and at this level the hack does not undermine the trust we've built with our contributors, rights holders, and on-screen talent, particularly as it does not appear to be a malicious or commercially motivated attack.

iplayer_benjamin_watt.jpg

As some commentators have pointed out, the reason the volume of iPlayer hacks is this low is probably because if you want to keep a permanent copy of a BBC programme for your personal use, there are easier ways to do it than hacking the iPhone implementation (which we've made considerably harder, if not impossible). You can simply tape/PVR your desired programme from air. If you really want to illegally distribute BBC programmes, then this is possible too. PVR BBC programmes off-air, and then upload the files to a file-sharing site. Most people don't want to break the law. And we do have legal redress, but have needed to use it, or even to threaten to use it, extremely rarely.

We'll try and ensure that it's easy for legitimate users and hard for hackers, and I think the team here is doing a great job at both - but no service (whether the beta of iPlayer last summer or the beta on the iPhone a couple of weeks ago) will necessarily work perfectly out of the box.

I hope that the vastly improved dialogue we now have with the various interested communities out there (developers, Linux users, etc., via this blog among other channels) will enable us to build the services that everyone wants, and that the vast majority of people can get to enjoy BBC programmes on demand... which is the point of all this.

Ashley Highfield is Director, BBC Future Media & Technology. Main image by Benjamin Watt.

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