Research on BBC content for GNU/Linux
In RAD, we've wanted to experiment with non-DRMed content for a while - and managed to assemble some content which was available to access in a number of ways.
One of the complex things about putting content on desktops or OSes (apart from the two closed operating systems) is the number of options available. Free software's all about choice - but for a large corporation like the BBC, sometimes choices take time. So, in my team, RAD, we have made initial discussion about our work with a number of vendors, and selected Canonical (who produce the Ubuntu flavour of GNU/Linux) for this piece of work - other work in a similar vein is currently under discussion with other vendors/distros. Of course, this work is also available for people/vendors to port to the two closed operating systems, should they wish to do so.
We then worked with colleagues around the BBC and selected a list of available, updated, current content which we could make available both in and outside the UK, a feed of this content using the URIplay metadata framework, with our partner MetaBroadcast.
We then worked with Canonical and their software partners Collabra to deliver this feed to the Totem media player, and Gstreamer multimedia platform, to display available content in a simple, browsable window using a free software plugin, where the feed is updated using the Internet, when the user starts the player.
Lots of this work involved changes to the underlying infrastructure of Gstreamer, as well as developing the plugin for Totem. We then moved on the adding content to the feed, and helping to optimise the playback experience - eg to download suitable codecs if they were available to the end user. As the service develops, we will start supplying content in several different formats - some of these are totally free and open, some aren't - we've reflected the wishes of content owners here, obviously.
We're happy with this first iteration, and are already seeing patches to the upstream software sources, to allow other OSes and distros to use these improvements. Longer term, we'll be looking to improve the content sources, as well as optimise the UI - to show channel or programme icons, for example. Because this is free software, we can make changes to this - and so can you/other users! The whole stack is free software - from URIplay through to Totem, the media player. Some codecs will involve a download, and in some territories (mainly outside the UK) may be restricted, but the underlying framework is free and open.
This, quite clearly, is not a competitor to BBC iPlayer. It surfaces a lot of BBC content that is already available, but you won't see Doctor Who or Dragons' Den on there anytime soon. What you will see is an increasing list of content, in both audio and video formats, that we can share with you in an experimental way, allowing us to explore and test new ways of viewing and listening to some of our TV and radio shows. Some of the blog posts already online have mentioned that this involves all BBC content - that's incorrect - it's a limited subset designed for us to explore and evaluate how new platforms might need new distribution systems.
I'll be posting more technical information explaining how URIplay fits into the system, and our other plans for it, later this week, as well as sharing some of our plans for work with other free software partners.
George Wright is Portfolio Manager, Rapid Application Development, Research & Innovation, BBC Future Media & Technology.