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What happened to iplayer streaming?

Ian Forrester Ian Forrester | 12:36 UK time, Thursday, 25 February 2010

XBMC media centre
Over the last few days people have been trying to access iplayer streams and finding out that nothing works. Then hitting the web looking for answers to what's happened recently to iplayer streams.

Well its a complex one, so to start lets look at the registers description

The BBC has quietly updated its hugely popular iPlayer with a verification layer that closes the door on open source implementations of RTMP (real-time messaging protocol) streaming, The Register has learned.

The Beeb applied the update to its online video catch-up service on 18 February, just four days after Adobe Systems penned a corporate blog post about its "content protection offerings".

The tweak means that free RTMP plugins offered by the likes of the XBMC community - whose code is based on the GNU General Public Licence v2 - can no longer stream iPlayer content. The latest iteration of XBMC's plugin was created in May last year and was being used by UK viewers to play TV and radio catch-up content from the BBC's iPlayer service.

This obviously means if your using an Adobe Flash plugin, iplayer streaming works like nothing has changed. However for the rest of us, this means no more open streaming via our XBMC set top box to the nice big TV. This also puts plugins for mobile clients and Boxee at risk.

Whats the BBC's official line on all this?

Since launch in 2007, BBC iPlayer has always used content protection in order to provide UK audiences with the most compelling content. We periodically review the level of security to protect BBC programmes, brands and trademarks.

So what have people been saying about this? Starting with the Backstage mailing list...

From Glyn Wintle

Technically easy to beat, but given that by passing "copyright protection mechanisms" is illegal in the EU and America it means it can not be rolled out to the general population.

Bonkers idea BBC.

Steff adds...

The writeup here: http://lkcl.net/rtmp/RTMPE.txt of the "protection"
offered by this mechanism would be hilarious if it weren't so sad (skip to the "Analysis" paragraph at the bottom). "When lawyers do crypto" :-(

Mo McRoberts brings up the neutrality perspective

Given there's a Trust consultation running on iPlayer, including provision for neutrality, it's possibly the worst time for the BBC to decide to implement this:


The XBMC thread on the iPlayer message board is out of control with people wondering why this has happened.

David Allonby who's a developer for XBMC had this to say about everything

I'm an XBMC developer who works on librtmp, upon which the iplayer plugin relies. It'd fall on my (or other people giving their time freely and without reward) shoulders to implement the SWFVerification feature.

Given Adobe's stance against rtmpdump (www.chillingeffects.... an open source tool which forked librtmp and added an implementation of the SWFVerification feature, I think it's fair to say that we'd rather not add this feature to our codebase, just to support iplayer.

The iPlayer XBMC plugin has a long history, following the 'spirit' of the iplayer rules to the letter (no recording, no geoloc evasion), gaining plenty of press attention and generally painting the BBC in a very positive light on a multitude of platforms. The plugin attracted the attention of BBC employees, and indeed was showcased on backstage.bbc.co.uk.

Perhaps i'm being naive, but I just don't see what implementing SWFVerification has accomplished here. If you *really* wanted to break the OSS community, you'd switch to rtmpe. All I can guess is that this was a misdirected 'ticked the wrong box' upgrade, and can hopefully be resolved swiftly.

The rest of the comments are pretty much complaints about the changes and asking why this was done over and over again. No one seems capable of replying which is causing even more upset. 

Petermcf wrote.

And still the tumbleweed rolls along the corridors of the BBC,
It looks like they cannot or will not provide a reply.
There's a lot of raw feelings about this whole issue and to be fair to the public little information about why from the BBC. I'm sure more is coming but in the meanwhile, there does seem to be a problem with streaming content generally. Without talking for the BBC, it seems clear that content deals are done to a limited amount of devices. So everytime a new one is added, it is cleared by legal and the copyright owners before hand. I know this makes little difference in a digital world and this is like the Hulu/Boxee stand-off, but we need to find a way to get through to the copyright owners, as they seem to be setting the rules.

Its not all doom and gloom, Channel4's move to YouTube has been praised by many and with others following the path towards HTML5 video. Will it be long before this whole discussion is simply forgotten in the march towards openness?


  • 1. At 6:16pm on 26 Feb 2010, Mo McRoberts wrote:

    I think even more frustrating than the lack of replies for me is the fact that there are people at the BBC who quite clearly get it, and even they don't seem to be able to make their voices heard (for whatever reason) to those whose responsibility it is. Maybe it’s a matter of resources, or remit, or etiquette, but perhaps there needs to be somebody ‘on the inside’ whose job it is to keep an eye on Backstage, and what’s going on outside of the corporation, but also to sit down with the decision-makers and temper and influence strategies appropriately — underscoring the public-value principles, and examining internal proposals to alter the way content is rights-managed or streamed and posing the question as to whether the cost and negative publicity is actually worth the benefits (if any).

    I have no idea if such a person exists — I wouldn’t want to make it widely known if so (for fear of being deluged by the entire Have Your Say contingent), but from this side of the fence, it looks like if they do exist, they’re being prevented from being able to carry this role out effectively.

    I realise the Trust is supposed to do this to an extent, but the Trust is broadly non-technical, which means the devil which lies in the detail can often be lost.

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  • 2. At 6:27pm on 26 Feb 2010, The Phazer wrote:

    "Its not all doom and gloom, Channel4's move to YouTube has been praised by many and with others following the path towards HTML5 video. Will it be long before this whole discussion is simply forgotten in the march towards openness?"

    This would be the Channel 4 move to YouTube where none of the programmes are available on mobile platforms on the HTML5 trial because Channel 4's contract with Google compels them to use RTMPE and SWF verification on any player that displays their content?

    HMTL5 for professional video will never, ever happen. Period.


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  • 3. At 12:54pm on 27 Feb 2010, Dan Brickley wrote:

    "Without talking for the BBC, it seems clear that content deals are done to a limited amount of devices"

    I wouldn't expect the BBC to make those deals public, but it would seem reasonable to make some of the underlying terms and definitions public. Are specific devices and platforms being named, or specific classes of deployment ("set top", "desktop" etc.). Does the BBC use common definitions across a variety of deals, or the definitions are set by the content owners?

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  • 4. At 7:47pm on 27 Feb 2010, Nick Reynolds wrote:

    People leaving comments here may be interested in this comment from a post on the BBC Internet blog.

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  • 5. At 7:50pm on 27 Feb 2010, Nick Reynolds wrote:

    And here's a blog post about BBC iPlayer Syndication policy (which contains a link to the current policy)

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  • 6. At 12:43pm on 28 Feb 2010, dougalmac wrote:

    From browsing the syndication policy, I find it difficult to see how it justifies the implementation of SWF verification. In fact it would seem to be a change to the existing [web] syndication which breached (or at least diminished) the key principles. Notably:
    15 c. Subject to value for money and as technology allows, Content must be provided on a platform neutral basis;(Note 5)
    Note 5: This means that Content must be provided to third parties regardless of what platform they propose to use to distribute the Content
    The only exceptions are money and technology. There are free and proven solutions for platforms not suitable for Adobe's flash, for which content is no longer provided because of this change.

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  • 7. At 11:02am on 01 Mar 2010, Eponymous Cowherd wrote:

    All of these DRM shenanigans are all rather silly and pointless. The BBC broadcasts its content "in the clear", so trying to restrict who can access it, and what they can do with it, on a catch up service like iPlayer is nothing more than paying lip-service to the wishes of the various rights holders. It doesn't actually accomplish anything useful for the rights holders and merely frustrates and annoys legitimate users.

    Legitimate users who will now be tempted to use less legitimate sources and so having the opposite effect the introduction of DRM is intended to have.

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  • 8. At 2:50pm on 15 Mar 2010, Alex Cockell wrote:

    I've bunged in one possible suggestion... maybe a library released under LGPL and close discussion with FOSS devs could help?

    Maybe the Beeb could meet the devs halfway? http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/bbcinternet/2010/03/bbc_iplayer_content_protection.html#P93628193 - is my idea

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  • 9. At 02:48am on 12 Sep 2010, Kevin wrote:

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the House Rules.

  • 10. At 5:25pm on 06 Dec 2010, U14714220 wrote:

    Football looking at? Include Sports Channel, CSKA - Feynord .... sick! :) Here we are Russian! Unfortunately I did not have big problems with English.

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  • 12. At 6:00pm on 19 Dec 2010, Ronnie wrote:

    Here is a blog post about BBC iPlayer Syndication policy

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  • 13. At 7:26pm on 11 Jan 2011, U14730871 wrote:

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the House Rules.

  • 14. At 10:24am on 29 Jan 2011, U14767691 wrote:

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the House Rules.

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