New BBC Media Player for Android phones and tablets

Wednesday 19 September 2012, 12:00

Chris Yanda Chris Yanda Executive Product Manager

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BBC Media Player in Google Play

BBC Media Player showing subtitles and playback controls with BBC on-demand video content

Today the BBC's mobile technical teams have begun rolling out a new way of securely playing video and audio content on Android phones and tablets. It's called BBC Media Player and we are starting to use it with the mobile view of the BBC's iPlayer website. Next week we plan to release a new version of BBC iPlayer on Android which will use this player. Other applications and websites will follow.

We want people to have the best experience possible when they're watching BBC TV programmes or listening to BBC radio programmes. This means, amongst other things, making them available on as many devices as is practical.

I want to reassure you that Android is an important platform for us. And I know (not least from the comments on David Madden's recent post) that this platform is an important one for many of our users. We've supported iPlayer on Android since June 2010 .

The Android operating system is constantly evolving and has been upgraded several times in the last two years. Back then version 2.2 (FroYo) was the latest OS. Today the latest version is 4.1 (JellyBean) and in between we've had Gingerbread, Honeycomb, and Ice Cream Sandwich.

As many of you are aware, we chose Adobe Flash as the media format to stream to Android devices. Doing so provided us with a number of cross platform efficiencies as the same infrastructure can be used for delivery on PCs, Android phones, and set-top boxes.

Adobe's strategic decision to remove support for the Flash Player plug-in meant that we had to change the way that we play back this content.

We looked at a number of solutions, but there were a few key points we had to keep in mind:

1. We needed a solution that would work on the newer Android devices running the JellyBean operating system.

2. We also had to cater for the all the devices which are still on earlier OS versions. The diagram below shows that vast majority of Android users are on Gingerbread and FroYo.

3. We needed a solution which would work both for our websites and for our native Android applications.

4. We needed a solution which would meet the security obligations we had agreed with our rights holders.

5. We needed a solution which would not require a significant and costly change to our current infrastructure.

Android platform pie chart

Platform version information from developer.android.com for the 14 day period prior to 4 September 2012

We looked at a number of different solutions, for example, Http Live Streaming (HLS) which is used to stream BBC media to other platforms. Unfortunately, HLS isn't supported on Android OS versions prior to Honeycomb.

In the end, Flash was still the best choice of media format for us to use. And the only practical technology for us to play this format back on Android is Adobe Air.

We are keenly aware that mobile development is a fast-changing environment and that this approach may have to adapt in the future. We also wanted a generic simple application that would be as transparent as possible, both for users of our websites and users of our native applications like BBC iPlayer.

For these reasons, we decided to go with a separate application that we've called BBC Media player. This approach allows us to focus on solving all of our media playback challenges in one place and in one app. Any improvements that we make will benefit everything in the BBC that uses the Android platform.

We are making this change with our eyes open. No technology is perfect. We've seen some of the challenges that other Adobe Air based apps have had in the marketplace and so we have worked hard, both internally and with our technology partners to build the best application we can.

Adobe have been a long-standing collaborator with the BBC and have been excellent throughout this process, working closely with our teams to ensure continuity and a great experience throughout the London 2012 Olympic Games and then thereafter to support our requirements around this project.

We have put a lot of work into BBC Media Player and we think it will improve your experience of watching BBC TV and listening to BBC Radio on your Android phones and tablets.

We will continue to work on this application and on improving media playback and mobile experience on Android smartphones and tablets. The team and I would love to hear what you think about this approach and how well this new application works on your device.

Chris Yanda is Executive Product Manager, POD Mobile Management, BBC Future Media

Update, Thursday 13 December 2012: Dave Price has written an update post on Android.

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Comments

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    Comment number 1.

    So, since you're still using flash, will iplayer still refuse to play audio-only content when the screen is on? This is unacceptable - it makes all your radio content unusable on android due to excessive battery use.

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    Comment number 2.

    Fantastic news! Glad to see the BBC continuing to support Android platforms as Adobe pull out.

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    Comment number 3.

    Presumably this is why video on the BBC site no longer works on my PC ("You must upgrade Flash")?

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    Comment number 4.

    Will the update next week include the offline support recently introduced for ios?

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    Comment number 5.

    I'll reserve judgment until I actually use it, but I *really* hope the content is downloadable for offline viewing.

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    Comment number 6.

    So if this app is the "one place and in one app" to "focus on solving all of [your] media playback challenges" then why not use HLS (and hence native video) on devices running Honeycomb (3.0) and later, and fall back to Flash for earlier Android releases?

    I think it's also worth pointing out that whilst you like to claim Flash as being a great solution for earlier devices, my past experience is Flash is slow and choppy compared to native video on such devices. Today even on my high-end Galaxy Nexus I could quickly spot that Flash was probably being used for playback.

    Meanwhile other DRM-using video providers, such as Netflix, are able to deliver video without Flash. Of course the large majority of Android devices support local h.264 playback, so surely you could just have your iPlayer app download the programs for offline playback (though there's DRM to consider...).

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    Comment number 7.

    Does not work (HTC Sensation, Android 4.0.3). Keeps saying I need to install BBC Media Player when I try to play anything from mobile iPlayer site (yes, I did install it.

    Ah! I have to install Air as well? So for the future iPlayer I'm going to need 3 apps installed!?!

    Nope. Installed Air and I still get prompted to install Media Player (even though I have installed it!!!).

    If Netflix can produce a media streaming app that satisfies the "rights holders", runs (and works well) on most Android devices and doesn't require the installation of 3rd party bloatware, then why can't you?

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    Comment number 8.

    I agree with Rob P above: Why not use HLS on devices later than Honeycomb? Surely it's more stable than still relying on flash based content? Who's to say Adobe aren't going to pull Adobe Air support anytime soon? The usage figures of Froyo and Gingerbread are only going to decrease over time.

    Either way - attempting to play last nights' Eastenders on my Galaxy S3 with this new app has just caused my entire device to crash. I've had to hold the power button and restart it to get control back. Immediately uninstalled the app after that.

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    Comment number 9.

    Installed it. Seems to work fine. Will wait to see if the new version of iPlayer supports offline play.

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    Comment number 10.

    Yay, seems to work on Nexus 7... quality isn't that great on the 7" screen, is there an option to play the HD streams I'm missing somewhere?

    I didn't need to install Air separately (not that I'm complaining about this!); is that expected?

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    Comment number 11.

    That is good news indeed. I wonder if it will increase the liklihood of an app for Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8 as they can now support HLS (via a plugin http://3ivx.com/technology/windows/metro/http_live_streaming.html)

    Good work though Auntie Beeb

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    Comment number 12.

    If the iPlayer app now works on my ICS ASUS Transformer, I'll be a happy bunny!

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    Comment number 13.

    fantastic news! thank you for talking the time and effort to explain the background, it must have been frustrating for you all taking flak and keeping this under wraps till now.

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    Comment number 14.

    One nice to see would be the magical reappearance of the three Android navigation buttons when you press pause. All worked well on my Nexus 7 however when I paused I didn't think the back and home buttons were available at first as I couldn't see them.

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    Comment number 15.

    Hopefully, you'll one day be able to offer this content via HTML5 video. Are the BBC still working with the W3C to create a standard for DRM on the Web?

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    Comment number 16.

    I can't believe the lies here.

    "We've supported iPlayer on Android since June 2010"

    No. You haven't. A link to a webpage is not "support".

    "We looked at a number of solutions"

    No. You haven't. Because you aren't using HTML5.

    "We have put a lot of work into BBC Media Player"

    No. You haven't. You fanbois do not put work into anything but crapple products, along with all the free advertising you give them.

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    Comment number 17.

    There's more to consider than the version of Android.

    My phone used Gingerbread, but flash will not work because the processor isn't compatible.

    Looking on Google Play, Adobe Air is not compatible so I suppose I still won't be able to use IPlayer.

    The annoying thing is I expect it's just down to the DRM again, I can play the videos on the news pages.

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    Comment number 18.

    "We needed a solution which would meet the security obligations we had agreed with our rights holders."

    If you've signed up to anything that requires more restrictions that free-to-air TV broadcasts, then you are Doing It Wrong. Any interesting material will wind up on torrent sites anyway, off air. You know that, and you know that you're mucking everyone about for the sake of bolting a stable door long, long after the horse has bolted.

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    Comment number 19.

    Another request for HD content here. The streaming video on a 7" tablet looks blocky and pixelated.

    For any Nexus 7 or other tablet Jellybean users, you can sideload the flash player .apk and use Firefox browser to access the iPlayer desktop website where you'll be able to choose HD or SD video. The quality on both is far greater than that offered on this new mediaplayer.

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    Comment number 20.

    When will you provide windows phone/windows 8 support?

 

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