BBC iPlayer Downloads: simpler, more reliable downloads for desktop

Thursday 26 September 2013, 15:01

Dan Taylor-Watt Dan Taylor-Watt Head of BBC iPlayer

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Hello, I'm Dan Taylor and I'm the new Head of BBC iPlayer.

I'm passionate about listening to and responding to feedback from users and read the BBC's online feedback log over my breakfast every morning.

The iPlayer feature that has most frequently appeared in this log has been our desktop downloads solution, BBC iPlayer Desktop. Many of you have not been happy with the service, so one of my first jobs was to try and implement a solution. Today, I'm pleased to announce the release of a new desktop downloads solution, BBC iPlayer Downloads, which aims to address the underlying cause of many of those issues.

bbc_iplayer_downloads.jpg BBC iPlayer downloads in action

BBC iPlayer Desktop relied on users downloading and installing Adobe AIR. Unfortunately updates to this underlying technology often resulted in issues with the BBC iPlayer Desktop, with users reporting that they had lost downloaded programmes and/or were unable to download any new programmes.

BBC iPlayer Downloads doesn't require users to download and install Adobe AIR and consequently, shouldn't be vulnerable to issues resulting from updates to Adobe AIR.

We've also taken the opportunity to simplify the application, focusing it on the core tasks of the download and offline playback of BBC TV programmes. So, for example, we haven't rebuilt the Series Record functionality in the new application, which introduced significant complexity and was only used by a minority of users. Similarly, we haven't rebuilt the Live TV and Live Radio areas, which couldn't be used offline and duplicated functionality on the BBC iPlayer website (minus great new features like Live Restart).  

The Parental Guidance Lock has been integrated with the BBC iPlayer website (so you don't have to set it up twice, or remember two separate passwords) and is now triggered at the point of download rather than playback.

We've also simplified the download mechanism on the website so it's less vulnerable to browser updates and we've consolidated the download links so they now only appear on episode pages, in line with the download experience in our mobile applications.

Unfortunately, we've had to discontinue downloads in the Windows Media format as it was no longer cost-efficient to produce these downloads.

I appreciate some users will miss these features but I hope you'll agree that having a more reliable download solution is worth the trade off.

From today, it will no longer be possible to download the old BBC iPlayer Desktop client but any programmes already downloaded should continue to be playable until they reach their natural expiry date.

More information on installing and using BBC iPlayer Downloads can be found on our Help pages.

Do let me know what you think of BBC iPlayer Downloads in the below comments and don't forget you can also download programmes using our mobile and tablet applications.

To preempt a likely question ("What about downloads for radio?"), the good news is that the BBC Trust recently approved proposals from the BBC Executive to offer BBC radio content for download and we hope to roll out downloads for radio in 2014.

Dan Taylor is Head of BBC iPlayer, BBC Future Media

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  • rate this

    Comment number 1.

    At last a replacement for the flawed DLM. One immediate issue Win 8 / Chrome .... The Windows window appears not to want to maximise to fill the screen. The box on the top right does nothing when clicked. Full screen to watch can be, of course activated within the player window.

    Would be nice to have that fixed.

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    Comment number 2.

    Amazing! Brilliant! Couldn't ask for more! Keep it simple!

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    Comment number 3.

    Please allow us to chose where the downloads are saved to.

    A "settings" page that doesn't actually allow you to to set anything seems a bit flawed.

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    Comment number 4.

    Seriously unimpressed that the only file size offered is huge. Used to download WMV because they were small. If some people want lower bandwidth offered on iPlayer then some will want lower file size on download too, or is that not 'cost efficient'?

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    Comment number 5.

    This should close the gap and make offline play simpler. Any chance of bringing back Linux support?

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    Comment number 6.

    Really dissapointed I will have to download each episode manually as series record is discontinued - you need to find some solution to this - a reminder function or a calendar or something. I'll just miss stuff otherwise. It was often the only way I knew what was on each week that I might feel like watching. I could just boot up the lappy, let it download for 10 mins and see what was new each day. Glad to have improved stability though as I was fed up of continually reinstalling the iplayer desktop.

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    Comment number 7.

    Well I hope you really are passionate about listening, because you have just scuppered my ability to watch anything! Due to restrictions on my computer for various reasons which I can't change I can't access the iplayer website, have to download programmes elsewhere and transfer the files. This was fine with wmv files but the new files can only be played on the iplayer downloads on the original computer they were downloaded on. WMP says it is missing a codec and VLC won't work. Anything that will? I can install iplayer downloads app on my computer, but because the files weren't downloaded there I still can't use it to watch them. It all seems un-necessarily restrictive and I am stuck.

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    Comment number 8.

    I am sad to lose the Windows Media format for download. I had a technique on my home network that allowed me to see catch up programmes on my main TV. Now that you have removed this feature I am stuck. It seems very costly to keep up with the times. I now need a SmartTV I guess.

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    Comment number 9.

    Excellent simplification! The app icon is particularly nice.

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    Comment number 10.

    GeeTee, I've found if you copy the media files (which look like encrypted mp4s to me) from machine to machine then they can be played. You have to put them in the folder the app uses then start the download again via the website. Looks like the app finds the mp4 is already there and skips the download process.

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    Comment number 11.

    Can I add a call that you look to the series link option please? This will really be missed and was one of the main reasons I liked using iPlayer.

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    Comment number 12.

    Thanks for your comments. A few responses:

    @KernowChris - Thanks for the feedback and for your patience - I know from your tweets to @BBCiPlayer that you've been waiting for this update for a while. We'll look into the feasability of enabling window resizing/maximisation in a future release.

    @JCS - Thanks for the positive feedback. It's great for the team who've been working their socks off to deliver the new solution to hear from happy users.

    @Pete Howells - It's a fair cop! We ended up paring back the scope of the Settings page shortly before launch in order to get it out as soon as possible. Being able to specify your preferred download location is on the backlog.

    @paul canning - Sorry to hear that. Producing the WMV downloads required a different process which incurred significant additional cost and accounted for less than 0.1% of requests.

    @Ian - Thanks for the feedback. Unfortunately Adobe AIR stopped supporting desktop Linux distributions in June 2011 so we've been without a desktop Linux downloads service for a while. Of course, Linux users can still enjoy the full range of programmes on BBC iPlayer via the website.

    @xue - I hear you. Rest assured we'll be looking at alternative ways of making sure users don't miss out on programmes they'd enjoy. While we're working on that, have you tried our Favourites feature (

    @GeeTee - I'm really sorry to hear that. We've tried hard to ensure iPlayer Downloads can be installed on the majority of computers, although that's obviously no help if you're blocked from accessing the iPlayer website. I'm afraid we can't allow unrestricted copying of iPlayer downloads between devices as we need to respect content rights restrictions.

    @shaungjones - Sorry to hear that. There are some other cheap ways of getting BBC iPlayer on most TV sets. Does your TV have a VGA or HDMI port?

    @Benjamin - Thanks!

  • rate this

    Comment number 13.

    Downloading programmes just doesn't seem to work for me, is there something I can do? The programmes show up in iPlayer Downloads but are just stuck at 0%

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    Comment number 14.

    Excellent news. Thanks Dan and your development team! The new player looks good so far - I like the simplicity of the interface and functionality and personally won't really miss the series record feature (although obviously some will). I will certainly be delighted to get rid of iPlayer Desktop (and Adobe AIR) which seems to have been badly broken on the Mac for months.

    I will be interested to see if the licence checking functionality is any less annoying than it was on iPlayer Desktop - nothing more frustrating than settling down for a long train journey to watch some TV, only to get a message that it's currently "unavailable"!

    One important point on the Mac version of the new iPlayer Downloads. I understand from your blog post that the new player does not use Adobe AIR. I will therefore be uninstalling AIR asap. But I just noticed that iPlayer Downloads stores its licence/support files in the same place as iPlayer Desktop - in the folder:
    ~/Library/Application Support/Adobe/AIR/ELS/BBCiPlayerDownloads/
    That's a seriously bad choice if it's not using AIR. That folder will be disappearing when I uninstall AIR, taking my new licence files with it! These files should more sensibly be stored in:
    ~/Library/Application Support/BBCiPlayerDownloads/
    Not sure of the situation on Windows, but hopefully your developers can fix this in the next release.

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    Comment number 15.

    A bit too retrograde to be applauded.

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    Comment number 16.

    Just tried to check out the favourites link you gave and "This part of i player has temporarily stopped working"! Oops!

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    Comment number 17.

    A slightly better announcement on the website would have been helpful rather than a pop up referring to an app I thought I already had, oh sorry you put 'downloads' at the end! The help section still refers to iPlayer throughout so doesn't help much. From what I can tell so far the series download is missing now which means I need to keep manually checking and downloading programs. The storage limits and scheduling has also gone. I'm hoping that the subtitles and now in sync in this version!

    Whilst I will not miss Adobe AIR in any way this just seems to be a cut down and poorly announced version.

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    Comment number 18.

    Came to watch previously downloaded programmes. None showed. Presumed it was the "usual problem" with AIR. Removed iPlayer desktop etc. Had to reload new one. Now can't access programmes already downloaded! Also no series link! Why do I need to watch other channels through BBC iPlayer? Not a "happy bunny"!

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    Comment number 19.

    Very far from impressed, no Series Record etc. Yes, I do use Favourites but that won`t automatically download programmes if I am away. How am I supposed to see if a programme is downloading as that doesn`t work. It looks like a system from a bygone era, completely out of date. Looks like I`ll have to buy another DVD Recorder as this is a mess.

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    Comment number 20.

    - No more expiring after seven days instead of thirty.

    - No ability to maximise the client.
    - No sorting programme series into collapsible lists to save having to scroll through a long list to find specific series/episodes.
    - Removal of series auto-downloads, meaning I now have to search the website and download each and every programme separately, a time consuming process as I tended to have many series on auto-download in the old player. This also means there is a chance I will miss programmes since I have to trawl though the site to find them.
    - New iplayer UI design is *less* streamlined and easy to use than the old one.

    All in all, I feel the fix of the DRM issues was *not* worth the loss of so many useful features. Either re-add the features into the new iplayer or let me download to the old player again. I am extremely disappointed with the one step forward, three steps back this new iplayer has taken.


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