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iPlayer Choices

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Mark Thompson Mark Thompson | 13:31 UK time, Thursday, 7 February 2008

damages.gifI've had quite a few letters and emails over the last year or so about the BBC iPlayer. Much of it has been very positive - since the Christmas Day launch, many people have let us know just how handy the service can be. A viewer from Scotland wrote to tell me that she had missed an episode of Damages on BBC ONE and forgotten to set the video. Happily, we were able to help... she wrote: "I am a technophobe, but still managed to google BBC iPlayer... and there it was".

Others, however, have asked very pointed questions on the question of platform neutrality. It came up at the Public Accounts Committee I recently attended, and I have (quite properly) taken quite a grilling from MPs representing the views of constituents deeply concerned that on launch, BBC iPlayer focused on a Windows-based solution.

public_accounts_ctte.jpgI've just responded to a letter on exactly these lines. My reply gave me an opportunity to explain the BBC's position - why we made the decisions we did, where we are now, and what our plans are for the future. I thought it worth posting the substance of that reply here, in blog format - not least because it includes what I hope is good news for Mac and Firefox users in particular.

The first thing to say is that - contrary to what some believe - the BBC actually works hard to provide internet services on a "platform agnostic" basis. The BBC iPlayer has made programmes available to Mac users and users of other operating systems via streaming since December 2007 - a move which I'm told has gone down very well indeed. However, the issue of download of programmes to Mac and other platforms has always been a more complex issue for technical and rights reasons. Our response to those challenges has been the subject of much debate and conjecture and I'd like to do what I can to clear this up here.

The world of rights is a complex one - over which the BBC does not have absolute control. This issue has been absolutely critical to our ability to offer a useful and popular download service to the public - one which, crucially, offers value for money. In particular, the BBC's ability to secure agreements with major rights holders like PACT was conditional on our implementing DRM to protect the commercial value of their programmes. At the time of development, both the take-up of PCs and the availability of robust, compatible DRM software - software which would satisfy rights holders - meant that a Windows-based solution was accepted as the best technical solution immediately available.

The BBC has, however, always been committed to exploring alternative DRM systems with Real Media, Adobe and Apple and we are part of a consortium looking at developing alternative, cross-platform DRM systems. As many people reading this will know, the application to the BBC Trust for approval of the BBC iPlayer expressed the hope that we would be able to provide a platform neutral solution within two years - although it has to be said that the BBC is also dependent on the cooperation of third parties to achieve this.

The Trust recognised the practical difficulties facing the BBC but required it to report progress on a six-monthly basis. Work is still ongoing, but I am happy to be able to confirm here that we are aiming to launch a download version of BBC iPlayer for Mac this year. I can also confirm that Firefox users are now able to download BBC iPlayer programmes. I hope this good news is evidence of the hard work that the BBC is committing to supporting other platforms.

Ultimately, the BBC has had to balance our desire to achieve platform-neutrality against:

  • the demands of our rights holders
  • the viability of alternative technical solutions
  • value for money to the licence-fee payer.

At the time of the development of the BBC iPlayer, the BBC was forced to choose between offering the service to a majority of users immediately - or to not offer catchup TV over the internet until full platform neutrality could be achieved. We chose to begin by serving the greatest number of licence-fee payers possible, and to follow up on that work to extend the service to other operating systems at the earliest opportunity.

I'm told that analysis of our streaming stats (since this service is available to all users, it is considered an accurate representation of actual market penetration of those wishing to play BBC content online) shows that 90% of those users are running Windows, as opposed to 9% Mac, and 0.8% Linux. Given therefore that some 90% of people playing BBC content as streams are on PC, we estimate that our PC-only download solution is currently reaching 90% of the target audience.

I recognise that to many people's minds making this service available to only a proportion of users was not the correct decision, and I accept that for some there is nothing I could say to justify this choice. I hope, however, that those people might at least appreciate why the BBC believed that making the service available in the shortest time frame to the greatest amount of users was the most effective and responsible way of serving our licence-fee payers.

It goes without saying that the BBC must always act in an entirely responsible manner with the limited funds at our disposal. However, I think it is fair to say that a certain degree of pragmatism will always be necessary when we consider how best to employ those funds. Were we to choose to not develop any systems or services until they could be received by every single individual licence-fee payer, our capacity for development and innovation - in the interest of serving those who fund our services - would be severely limited.

I hope that this post has at least gone some way towards explaining the decisions made by the BBC in launching the BBC iPlayer, and that it makes clear our primary aim: to serve as many licence-fee payers as possible as effectively as possible. I believe that on this score the BBC iPlayer more than delivers, and I hope you will agree.

Mark Thompson is the BBC's director general.

N.B. Clarification 4.13 p.m. The phrase "Firefox users are now able to download BBC iPlayer programmes" above means that Firefox users can download programmes on their PCs, not on all platforms. Nick Reynolds (editor, BBC Internet Blog)

Comments

  1. At 04:00 PM on 07 Feb 2008, Neil wrote:

    At last. It pains me to hear friends and others speaking about the BBC being somehow "biased" towards Windows. As a Mac user it was awkward not having access to iPlayer for a time but the new streaming service is definitely a world leader in my opinion.

    I look forward to being able to download programmes to my Mac, but until then I'm happy with streaming.

  2. At 04:51 PM on 07 Feb 2008, dave crossland wrote:

    Sad to see that the BBC still doesn't understand how socially corrosive DRM and proprietary software is. When will they drop DRM altogether instead of just offering an alternative without supporting free software for accessing that alternative?

  3. At 05:19 PM on 07 Feb 2008, Tim Dunne wrote:

    The BBC should be making their content available on as many sources as possible!? itunes and other digital download services
    I've noticed that Damages is now available to download from itunes and that it mentions that this is also available on BBC 1. I'm not sure if this is in conjunction with the BBC or not? but it's a step in the right direction. itunes as a media player now has a bigger market share than real player. I think a big part in wanting to download content would be to put it on a portable player?
    It would be nice if a deal could be made with Apple to make BBC shows available to download to own (for a price) and download as a (cheap or free) rental for the catch up service?

  4. At 05:27 PM on 07 Feb 2008, Richard wrote:

    Basing your decision on market share is entirely missing the point.

    Would you feel happy if reporters could only attend press conferences based on their audience figures?

    The open source solution, regardless of difficulties and platform, should have been your priority, not an afterthought.

  5. At 05:39 PM on 07 Feb 2008, Ivan wrote:

    I continue to be very disappointed in the way the BBC has handled the whole iPlayer project.

    Mark, you continue to speak of "Platform Neutrality" and then go on to say how you're looking into developing cross-platform DRM solutions. How is this neutral? This is you picking platforms to support, not being neutral at all.

    Being neutral would mean publishing media using open standards so that anybody on any platform would be able to access your media.

    The fact that you spout a term such as "market penetration" just further proves to me how far away you are from understanding this issue. Are you really saying you are prepared to completely shut out a minority group of viewers in such a discriminatory way?

    As a licence payer I'm disgusted.


  6. At 06:39 PM on 07 Feb 2008, Steffan Davies wrote:

    While the clarification of your position is appreciated, you seem to have misunderstood the phrase "platform neutral". Having a version for each of the n biggest platforms is not platform neutrality, it's just supporting more than one platform. To be platform-neutral you'd want to use published open standards such that any OS or device conforming to the standards is able to replay the content, without your having to care about what exactly it is.

  7. At 07:14 PM on 07 Feb 2008, JW wrote:

    I think he made it clear that it's not up to the BBC. There are copyright-holders who are demanding DRM, so they need to use it. And if there isn't a viable DRM solution on the Mac, then we're out of luck. Netflix has had the same problem bringing their movie player to the Mac.

    It's good news that they're planning a Mac version this year, though. I wonder what DRM system they're going to use.

  8. At 07:29 PM on 07 Feb 2008, James Goodwin wrote:

    @Dave Crossland

    The BBC can't drop DRM. If they did, the iPlayer platform would be worthless as so few programmes would be available to watch due to lack of rights.

    Remember the BBC don't set the rules for where the programmes can be used. That comes from those who create the material and wish to protect it.

  9. At 08:03 PM on 07 Feb 2008, D Forbes wrote:

    I am confused as to why DRM is required for the internet service but the Freeview system requires none.

    A PVR can record transmissions permanently and these can be transferred quite easily to other media. You seem to be wasting an awful lot of resources trying to 'protect' something that you have already transmitted freely to millions of people.

    Are those 'rights holders' unaware of your old fashioned television broadcasts?

    The situation resembles that with the DRM free CD and music download market. While a DRM free version is available to the public the DRM protected version protects nothing successfully. For your system to succeed you will need to stop transmitting over Freeview which seems a bit unlikely.

  10. At 08:43 PM on 07 Feb 2008, Austin wrote:

    This is the kind of lowest common denominator utilitarianism that gives up dancing on Ice, for God's sake. How can this be justified. Can I pay a proportion of my license fee reflecting only the programmes I like? No, that would be ridiculous.

    V V Disappointing, blaming DRM for the BBCs failure to be creative in delivering media.

  11. At 10:06 PM on 07 Feb 2008, Luke Young wrote:

    Wait a minute, I just installed the Firefox plugin, and it just opens an Internet Explorer window. What on earth? Nice 'solution', but no thanks!

  12. At 11:28 PM on 07 Feb 2008, Stuart Davenport wrote:

    I'm a Mac user and was understandably a little frustrated at first when iPlayer was in Beta that I couldn't logon and check out whats going on with the latest online apps from the BBC.

    However, since December, with streaming now available at the moment I am totally satisfied. For me, and this is only my opinion, having 7 days to visit the site and watch the programs is plenty of time. I am pretty happy with the quality of the stream too. If it needs to re-buffer, its really quick at doing so.

    For me, I am looking forward to seeing the BBC iPlayer (or its content) available across more platforms. Specifically this years CES announcement that BT will be providing its IP TV service on the Xbox 360 (using Microsofts Media software), it would be really interesting to see the BBC on there too. Apple TV is another interesting proposition (I think Ashley Highfield made a brief mention about this in an earlier post).

    I personally love the vast amount of content I can get access to online via the BBC, its overwhelming the quality of the content and the product (website) that serves it. As a developer though, it would be interesting to see it open up a little more as a platform. Though the inherent DRM issue is a bug bare I must admit...

  13. At 12:15 AM on 08 Feb 2008, Paul G wrote:

    I have a suggestion which may help in alleviating the stated problem of limited funds.

    There are many potential viewers who live outside the UK (and who do not pay an annual license fee) who would be will to pay for BBC programming. While revenue sharing with rights holders will have to be worked out, I believe that such a system could be revenue-generating for the BBC and its partners. If a limited-time feature was included this may make such a system palatable to distribution partners in other countries (e.g. Discovery Communications Inc.in the USA).

  14. At 01:52 AM on 08 Feb 2008, Robin wrote:

    "N.B. Clarification 4.13 p.m. The phrase "Firefox users are now able to download BBC iPlayer programmes" above means that Firefox users can download programmes on their PCs, not on all platforms."

    Platform neutrality in action! What a farce.

    Why should downloading be restricted to specific browsers on specific operating systems, equipped with unnecessary proprietary extensions? Why is the video stream so low quality?

    Other broadcasters seem capable of appeasing their rights holders without this mess. Perhaps it's the BBC's competence at negotiating in the public's interest that should be reviewed.

    Oh, and why no mention of who was ultimately responsible for the decision to go with Microsoft's expensive DRM solution, and who they used to work for?

    Please stop wasting our money on DRM junk.

  15. At 12:46 PM on 08 Feb 2008, Andy wrote:

    The Linux numbers may be low because there has been no announcement that satisfies them that the download is as free as Linux itself is.

    I do not want to take gratis something that money is being asked for. So I would be prepared to pay for a download I wanted. What I do not understand is why the BBC is acting as a distribution medium for third parties. Surely the programme makers can host their own downloading and could add whatever content control they want to. However, what the BBC itself produces (news reports??) I could expect to be made freely available, no DRM, in a freely available standard format, because it is already paid for by the vast majority of people in the UK as part of the BBC's public service remit.

    It raises the question, though, as to why license fees are being used to provide a revenue stream for third parties (the content makers).

  16. At 01:05 PM on 08 Feb 2008, DomBass wrote:


    iTunes has offered TV show downloads to UK Mac users for ages now and still no significant BBC content.
    iTunes supports DRM protected files. In fact FairPlay is one of the most secure.
    Any ideas as to why the Beeb has not posted any content on iTunes.

    Is a proprietary player that important? (because proprietary players friggin' annoy me, for one)

    Or is iTunes revenue model the problem? (Can't see why. Apple would love to host free content for us UKers. It would drive iPod sales like crazy and that is the only iTunes area where Apple makes any money)

    I only hope that the 'BBC on Apple TV Rentals' idea is followed through. And quickly.

    Imagine if the Beeb offered a service that was only available to right-handed people. "Oh its okay. You lefties will be catered for soon. At some point. Probably this year. Definitely within two years, anyway. Three years max. Anyway, why are you moaning? 90% of people out there are right handed and they can use the service right now. So whats the problem?"

    THE PROBLEM IS I PAY MY LICENCE FEE LIKE ANYONE ELSE!

  17. At 02:52 PM on 08 Feb 2008, Mark O wrote:

    'N.B. Clarification 4.13 p.m. The phrase "Firefox users are now
    able to download BBC iPlayer programmes" above means that Firefox
    users can download programmes on their PCs, not on all platforms.'

    I Presume by this Mr Thomson actually means "... on their PCs (but
    only if they are running Microsoft Windows)
    ...". Nevertheless,
    I'll try it on my PC at home (which runs Linux), unless the BBC have
    already clarified by then that they are using the shorthand "PC" to
    mean "PC running a Microsoft operating system".

    He also cites that in their streaming stats, only 0.8% of users are
    running Linux. He doesn't indicate if this information was gathered
    by examining web browser User-Agent strings but if it was then these
    are likely to underestimate the non-Windows statistics since users on
    other platforms often have to set up their browsers to spoof the agent
    string to work with many sites. Perhaps the streaming plugin does
    some better platform identification?

    In any case, my own (non-user agent spoofed) Linux system will not
    show much in their stats since I've found the streaming service
    unusable, with frequent stops to refill the buffer making watching
    unbearable. this is despite the suggested speed check site in their
    FAQ reporting that my (8MB) connection is far faster than their
    suggested minimum for streaming. Also the small picture resolution
    (and the inability to resize/make it full screen) makes the streamed
    option even less attractive.

    A download service would be much more usable for me. Unfortunately,
    the "Platform neutral" BBC won't even indicate when I might be able to
    use one on my non-Microsoft platform.

    Perhaps they should offer more options on the licence fee. As well as
    colour at £135.50 and Black and white at £45.50 they could perhaps
    offer "colour (without Microsoft windows)" at, say £135.50 less the
    price of a Windows Vista licence. PC world have Windows Vista home
    Basic for £179.99, so I reckon that means the Beeb would owe me
    £44.49.

  18. At 03:31 PM on 08 Feb 2008, Nick Reynolds (editor, BBC Internet Blog) wrote:

    Robin - regarding the BBC and Microsoft - this has been adressed by Ashley Highfield in his Groklaw interview and by Erik Huggers at the end of this blog post.

  19. At 03:40 PM on 08 Feb 2008, Nigel wrote:

    M$'s failure to invest and participate in open standards should not have been the BBC's excuse to perpetuate their near monopoly by adopting their closed DRM solution.

    The streaming player works excellently on Linux / Firefox for me though, so well done for that.

  20. At 03:44 PM on 08 Feb 2008, Nigel wrote:

    Mark O:

    I can't help with the lag you're suffering but upgrading to the latest flash plugin will fix your inability to 'full screen' the video window. (Yes, in Linux).

    HTH.

  21. At 03:48 PM on 08 Feb 2008, Richard Williams wrote:

    @ Mark O
    "PC world have Windows Vista home Basic for £179.99, so I reckon that means the Beeb would owe me £44.49."

    Say you have a tv without a digital tuner after the switchover, do you expect the BBC to pay for you to have a new TV?

    How ridiculous, I use a mac, I chose a mac knowing compatibility issues with a large proportion of the IT world (powerpoint is my biggest issue between the platforms), i don't expect to forgo a part of my tv license because the BBC are catering for the masses. They're working on a solution of a complex solution, give them a break!

    If you haven't worked out that when the majority of people say PC they mean a windows running computer by now.. well where have you been. Stop being so pedantic. When you choose to be in a minority (which I am being a mac user, and you are with linux) do expect to be the top of the list!

  22. At 08:45 PM on 08 Feb 2008, Mark O wrote:

    @Nigel,

    Thanks for the tip - I'll try a Flash update. (I'm on 9.0.48.0 now, it looks like 9.0.115.0 is available. I have a button that looks like it should expand the screen but doesn't do anything, but it does look like my Flash version is fairly out of date). Regarding the lag, I just tried a quick blast of the England-Wales 6 Nations match on streaming iPlayer, and didn't have any lag during the few minutes I watched, so maybe I just had bad luck the last couple of times I tried it.

    @Richard Williams

    You wrote: "Say you have a tv without a digital tuner after the switchover, do you expect the BBC to pay for you to have a new TV?"

    Of course not. In fact, my whole paragraph regarding licence fees was meant as a humourous adjunct, I'm sorry you missed that - I'll try to remember to add on a smiley or something in future.

    However, in the situation you describe, I wouldn't expect the BBC to ask me to pay a TV licence at all if my TV equipment was unable to receive any broadcasts after the switchover. If they did require a licence fee for equipment that couldn't receive anything that they broadcast, then the analogy in your response might have some validity.

    You wrote: "If you haven't worked out that when the majority of people say PC they mean a windows running computer by now.. well where have you been."

    Of course I know this. There are, however, places where a degree more precision is called for than hoping that the reader will make that assumption. I'd assert that a statement from the BBC management regarding the platform coverage of downloadable content for iPlayer was one of those places. Especially when the statement "Firefox users are now able to download BBC iPlayer programmes" appears to imply that the platform reach of downloads has been extended.

    You wrote: "When you choose to be in a minority (which I am being a mac user, and you are with linux) do expect to be the top of the list!"

    Whilst targetting the majority of the customer base and ignoring a minority might be OK for a commercial enterprise, it's not in the spirit of the BBC charter for public service broadcasting. I'm not alone in that view - it appears to be shared by many people, including, it seems, the BBC Trust (which is "the sovereign body of the BBC" and amongst other things oversee the Charter compliance of the corporation) who have stated that "the entire service must be platform neutral".

    One interesting question, which I have never seen answered in any of the discussions I've read so far, is why the content providers demand DRM at all since, as D Forbes astutely points out in a previous comment above, the same content is already broadcast on air (both analogue at the moment and digitally via freeview) without DRM such that anybody with a PVR could theoretically do anything with recordings from air that they could do with a downloaded copy. Only the BBC knows what justification their content providers give for that anomaly. Perhaps they'd share the answer that the content providers give to that question with the public since the DRM requirement is at the core of their choice to give special treatment to Windows users and their inability to serve the content in open formats where platform neutrality issues would have been moot.

    Regards,
    Mark O

  23. At 09:12 PM on 08 Feb 2008, dave crossland wrote:

    @James Goodwin:

    The BBC can drop DRM, it already provides a non-drm alternative with streaming which it many times more popular than the DRM download service.

    The BBC certain does set the rules for what it does. It is wrong for the BBC to use DRM, and it is responsible for treating DRM as acceptable. Those who create the material and wish to restrict the public from viewing it on their computers however they chose ought to be told by the BBC that the BBC will not support them restricting people like that, because it is wrong to treat people with contempt like that.

    If the BBC had the spine to do this, the iPlayer platform would be much more worthwhile as although fewer programmes would initially be available to watch, we the public would be able to watch what there is in more ways (video iPods and PSPs? AppleTV style media centers? Slingboxes? etc etc) and the attitudes would soon change - just as they have in the music industry.

    The BBC should take the lead and drop the DRM download service completely.

    (Personal opinion)

  24. At 10:04 PM on 08 Feb 2008, Darrell Woodley wrote:

    Hi all & the big boss at the beeb!
    The iPlayer is Great! I watch at least 3 episodes a night or whenever the urge takes me. Thanks for the convenience and great mac solution.
    One note on the streaming service is you could have different streaming qualities based on your connection. As your service works in bursts of information and dosn't utilize the uk's high broad band standards.
    If you wanna see how to stream properly, talk to apple!
    Jobs is your perfect uk partner! Get the content available on Front Row, apples built in streaming media mac experience, and on apple tv, and on itunes and your sorted! Apple DRM Works. We don't wont a separate download for mac program. How old / Windows school.
    Anyway thanks for the streaming anyway. Yours sincerely
    D Woodley

  25. At 11:57 PM on 08 Feb 2008, Jonathan wrote:

    Strictly speaking, "PC" refers to the hardware, meaning what used to be called an IBM-compatible PC. The hardware is capable of running a number of operating systems, including Windows, Linux, and various flavours of Unix. I think the clarification about Firefox still needs to be clarified!

    I should add that, although I'm a Linux user, I have seen the iPlayer in action on Windows and I'm impressed by how easy it is to get it working. It isn't fussy about versions of the web browser, media player, etc., and doesn't even grind to a halt if behind a router or firewall - a fact that makes it simple to run iPlayer on Windows inside VMware on Linux!

  26. At 01:33 AM on 09 Feb 2008, david faibish wrote:

    how utterly pathetic!

    this is the same kind of self-serving tripe - which is being passed off as 'pragmatism' - that every functionary offers up as a rationalization for collaborating with an illegitimate regime.

    it is appalling that a /public/ broadcaster is deliberately choosing to ally itself with a convicted cyber-criminal (to wit: microsoft).

    the essential mandate of public broadcasting is to undertake precisely those vital services that can not be performed by the private sector on account of what are (supposedly) commercial considerations!

    it is no more acceptable for a public broadcaster to cow-tow to a corporate villain when it comes to the /distribution/ of content than it would be for the public broadcaster to tailor the /production/ of its editorial content to fit the needs of self-seeking sex criminals, drug lords or war-crimes despots!

    the bbc has already had YEARS AND YEARS (and spent millions of pounds) to develop its digital media platform strategy, so there is no excuse to say that the bbc was in some crisis situation. The need to rush out a solution - damn the torpedos - any solution rests upon a false (and self-created) dichotomy.

    the bbc could have at any time struck a deal with microsoft to extend its drm on a cross-platform basis (why does no one ever ask this question about a convicted monopolist?!) or indeed used apple's existing drm (Fairplay) which is already cross-platform (perhaps using an oem or private label version - like those that exist for academic content at iTunesU- if the bbc was obsessed about branding more than it was concerned with just getting the job done) ...

    ... and considering that apple not microsoft is the dominant market player for digital media, one is immediately suspicious about the red-herring (viz web browser marketshare) proffered by the bbc's corporate apologists, given that the situation is entirely different when it comes to internet Media Player market share!

    moreover, the bbc could have taken a leadership role in the mpeg standards process over the last 5 years by catalyzing joint ventures with industry and academia & other public broadcasters in order to ready the specs for mpeg21 (drm) and the mpeg7 (metadata) ... it is to their shame that the bbc has done nothing about ensuring that open standards prevail, all the while suckling at the teat of an organization that has done untold damage to productivity & innovation a both the enterprise & at the consumer level.

    this corporate indolence by the bbc new media management team raises the possibility of serious & troubling ethical questions regarding the structural & institutional incentives viz the professionalism of certain bbc decision makers --

    for instance, is senior staff at the bbc governed by the same restrictions as would apply to senior civil servants viz a ban on the the practice a the 'rotating door' in which senior staff (in this case media/technical staff) take cushy jobs with their erstwhile suppliers as a reward for directing business their way?

    as a matter of transparency, should the public not be able to satisfy itself - through the existence of a senior staff register - that personnel are drawn from & then move onto organizations that are at arms-length from their former vendors (and the eco-systems which surround those vendors) ... having to google press releases about personnel appointments unfairly shifts the burden away from the bbc and onto the individual.

    if the bbc has nothing to hide about how it reaches its strange & implausible arrangements (with shady corporate villains) then it should post the full bios of all personnel as they are appointed *as well as* posting info about their new position when they leave. The public should be provided enough information in order to "connect the dots" (if any there be).

    perhaps everything is entirely above board at bbc new media -- though the lack of RFP's, white papers, technical lab reports, consultations, and minutes from meetings etc etc -- does raise questions about the potential for 'revolving doors' ... questions that can only be answered by a commitment to transparency.

    In sum, the bbc new media group has a long history of dropping the ball ... but this fanny-covering & last-minute scrambling viz DRM is not at all convincing.

    while a good house-cleaning is probably in order at bbc new media, the public will not be satisfied in the interim unless there is alot more accountability in the process & alot less mediocrity in the results!

  27. At 10:27 PM on 09 Feb 2008, Chris Gibbons wrote:

    As a frustrated BBC lover and expat living in Bermuda (oh - and Mac user - that's 3 strikes), can the BBC please either make iPlayer content available outside the UK - I am sure I am not alone when saying that I would be willing to paying for this service - either on a consumption or subscription basis. Failing that, put it on iTunes - DRM free, of course!

  28. At 03:28 AM on 10 Feb 2008, Izaak Gray wrote:

    Where's the apology? You've favoured proprietary software over the free and socially concious alternative. Perhaps the irony of a public service having its content content delivery determined by commercial organisations doesn't strike you. Fortunately the internet in all its adhocratic merit provides plenty of alternatives, and as marxist one could only assume content creation will follow the same trend, and it is. YouTube.

  29. At 12:21 PM on 10 Feb 2008, Chris Walker wrote:

    Count me in as one of those that would like to see BBC programmes in the iTunes ecosystem. BBC content could appear on Macs, iPods and AppleTVs in one fell swoop, as well as giving choice to Windows users of which media player to use.

    I hope Apple's listening too. I will buy an AppleTV if this happens (that should be some incentive to make this happen).

    I have to take issue with your 'clarification' above, which reads, "Firefox users can download programmes on their PCs." A PC running Linux is still a PC, and indeed modern Macs are PCs as they use the same architecture as most other PCs. What you meant to say was 'Windows PCs'.

  30. At 10:15 PM on 10 Feb 2008, Fred Manteghian wrote:

    I wish I knew a lot of British swears so I could correctly describe my feelings towards the Beeb for not letting us Yanks take a gander at your programming online. Rumour has it (yes, "rumour" not "rumor" - we can be retrained) that you've come a long way since Sheep Herding in the Highlands, or whatever it was I watched that one time. Well, just to say, two can play at this game and you're not allowed to read my Blog.


    It's the honor system. We don't quite have your IT budget. We certainly look forward to your cooperation.


    Despondent in the USA

  31. At 01:21 AM on 11 Feb 2008, Greg K Nicholson wrote:

    “our streaming stats (since this service is available to all users, it is considered an accurate representation of actual market penetration of those wishing to play BBC content online)”

    That's not quite right.

    The streaming iPlayer uses Flash, which is a proprietary file format—there's no publicly available specification. The only mature piece of software able to play Flash (Adobe's Flash player) is proprietary and closed-source. (There's an open-source project called Gnash, but it's young.)

    Adobe's support for Linux is somewhat lacking. For example, for quite a while recently, it was difficult-to-impossible to install Adobe's Flash player on Ubuntu: something changed at Adobe's end and that caused Ubuntu's elaborate installation method (which they're forced to use to work around Adobe's redistribution policies) to fail.

    So this service isn't available to all users, because you chose to use a proprietary file format (instead of, say, Ogg Theora, or even the BBC's own Dirac format).

  32. At 08:11 AM on 11 Feb 2008, Miles wrote:

    "Given therefore that some 90% of people playing BBC content as streams are on PC, we estimate that our PC-only download solution is currently reaching 90% of the target audience."

    No.

    Given that the PC-only download system requires "Windows XP or Windows Vista" and "Windows Media Player 9 or later", it is completely wrong to suggest that 100% of the people using the streaming service on PCs users meet these requirements. The streaming service is in fact supported on any platform which runs Flash 9, which on a PC includes Windows 2000, Windows ME and Windows 98 in addition to Windows XP and Windows Vista. It is reasonable to assume that these operating systems make up more than 0% of the users streaming on the iPlayer site, like the statement above suggests. I challenge the BBC to release the statistics showing the percentage of Windows XP and Vista users separately from the percentage of Windows 2000, Windows ME and Windows 98 users. You have the statistics, you just have to publish them.


    "I’m told that analysis of our streaming stats (since this service is available to all users, it is considered an accurate representation of actual market penetration of those wishing to play BBC content online)..."

    No. The service is available to all users, but surely some users are accessing the download service instead? If more than 0 users are, then the streaming stats are not an accurate representation of market penetration. You would need to add the streaming stats to the download stats. And it appears that the BBC has steadfastly refused to release (admit?) the proportion of downloaders compared with streamers. Again, I challenge the BBC to release these statistics in the interests of openness and honesty.


    "At the time of the development of the BBC iPlayer, the BBC was forced to choose between offering the service to a majority of users immediately - or to not offer catchup TV over the internet until full platform neutrality could be achieved."

    The "time of the development" of the BBC iPlayer was 2005, when the first trials on Windows PCs began (after some time in development). The Windows-based service launched in mid-2007, almost two years later. The Flash streaming service was announced on 16 October 2007, and was launched (in beta) on 13 December 2007, some three months later. Although the BBC has not released statistics, it would seem likely that more users are using the streaming service than the download service.

    In other words, launching a streaming service first would have reached more users faster. Choosing to build a download service instead reached fewer users slower.


    The BBC has consistently misled the public about the iPlayer, in particular omitting information, in order to justify their poor decisions (after the fact). This blog posting shows that nothing has changed.

    - M.

  33. At 08:16 AM on 11 Feb 2008, Second Class wrote:

    Two Quotes:

    "As many people reading this will know, the application to the BBC Trust for approval of the BBC iPlayer expressed the hope that we would be able to provide a platform neutral solution within two years"

    &

    "I’m told that analysis of our streaming stats ... shows that 90% of those users are running Windows, as opposed to 9% Mac, and 0.8% Linux."

    To paraphrase:

    Users of open source operating systems are second class users when it comes to BBC Content.

    &

    Not many users or open source operating systems visit our site.

    Have you considered there may be a correlation between these two facts?

  34. At 08:21 AM on 11 Feb 2008, Second Class wrote:

    At what percentage do you deem an operating system worthy of support (leaving aside the fact you could support all operating systems by adopting open standards)?

    Do you regard the possibility that the percentage of users using open source software to access your content may increase over time as remote?

    Do you regard the success of Firefox as an anomaly not worth paying attention to?

  35. At 12:41 PM on 11 Feb 2008, Nick Reynolds wrote:

    After taking legal advice I have published David Faibish's comment above (no 26).

    I know that people have strong views about Microsoft. But I remind those who comment on this blog that comments which are defamatory, legally unsafe or abusive will not be published.

  36. At 03:03 PM on 11 Feb 2008, Phelim Brady wrote:

    First, two replies:

    "I use a mac, I chose a mac knowing compatibility issues with a large proportion of the IT world (powerpoint is my biggest issue between the platforms),"

    I'm sorry? Have you never heard of Microsoft Office for Mac, or indeed iWork which opens PowerPoint?

    "I think a big part in wanting to download content would be to put it on a portable player.
    It would be nice if a deal could be made with Apple to make BBC shows available to download to own (for a price)"

    Absolutely, Damages is the first BBC show to get on iTunes, indeed the first episode was actually free. I hope the BBC have already begun talks with Apple on this, as you say iTunes is the second most used media player now and it has been the number 1 in online music and TV show sales almost since its inception.


    The streaming version of the iPlayer came as a very nice surprise, and after the first few weeks it really started to work quite well. But they really do need to get a move on with a download client.

    Now, they say the rules aren't up to them etc, etc... which i believe but, as another poster pointed out, the BBC already lets people record TV live shows using PVR's and products like EyeTV.

    I wish someone from the BBC would clarify how they can allow, or at least not hinder, people to record broadcasted TV but not allow them to download physical copies of TV shows to computers, if they are license payers of course.

  37. At 01:19 AM on 13 Feb 2008, Simon Tyrrell wrote:

    The BBC were under an obligation to deliver iPlayer as a cross-platform product. They then proceeded to base iPlayer on a DRM that was never going to allow them to fulfil that commitment. This was either stupid or outrageously arrogant. The BBC then continued to pretend that they intended to meet their obligation, even though they knew full well that the Microsoft DRM they had chosen would never be allowed to run on any other OS other than Windows.

    The problem here has been the inability of the BBC trust to control the BBC. I believe the problem is with the make-up of the BBC Trust. This mess would never have occurred had someone like Tim Burners-Lee been on the board of the Trust.

  38. At 11:19 AM on 14 Feb 2008, joolz wrote:


    Once I can download full quality music and films legally free from any DRM rubbish I will do so. Currently as a licence payer I am rather amgry that my failure to BUY a commercial product from either microsoft or apple which supports the BBC DRM filled IPlayer I am excluded from accessing something which I have been FORCED to pay for. I can't honestly remember the last time I watched any BBC tv channels because the reception in my particular corner of the country is very poor, and below watchable.. Yet I still have to pay for a TV licence.. for a service I am denied (though most of the independent, advertising supported free to air channels work just fine thankyou)..

    It happens that, due to work commitments I was unable to visit with friends on Monday evening and missed the wonderful David Attenborough show, which I was looking forward to all week.. So as a linux user I put this to you.. what choice are you giving me to watch something I HAVE PAID TO SEE! The iPlayer does not work on my platform and I have the latest flash player installed which emphatically does not work correctly ..
    Piracy, that's what.. plain and simple. Luckily for those of is who are feeling excluded and stolen from there are people in the world who care about us and are prepared to strip the drm and supply this content for us free of charge.
    DRM forces people into piracy, and compulsory subscription creates angry and non trusting subscribers.
    It's time for all the media companies to get with the program.. and that program is called sopcast and vuze.. free media at full quality paid for by advertising, free from DRM and watermarking.. because who will steal what is free anyway? and does it matter if they do??

    there is a great opportunity being missed here, and I wonder just who in the higher levels of the BBC is getting a nice fat kickback for this misguided attempt to benefit private corporations.

  39. At 12:58 PM on 15 Feb 2008, Mick Dann wrote:

    The use of DRM is bizarre - I regularly record much higher quality programs from all channels onto my Mac using an Elgato usb tuner, I can do what I like with that content, record to DVD, even stream it wirelessly to my iPod touch. So why the DRM cludge with the iPlayer ?

    As for the player itself what a mess - you have two choices of size, a small window or full screen with ugly artifacts all over it - try watching one of Steve Jobs' keynotes instead, streamed straight off the web in much higher quality. The technology exists already to do this much better, why try and re-invent you own ?

    What really makes no sense is that most of the content is probably produced and edited on Macs in the first place - why not use h.264 to send it out instead of converting it to the low-res format you are using ?

    Mick Dann

  40. At 03:00 PM on 15 Feb 2008, Rob Ollier wrote:

    'You cannot keep all of the people happy all of the time'
    There is not one streaming/viewer/browser 'platform' that covers every operating system, browser available, so pragmatism rather than dogmatism is needed.

    iPlayer streaming uses Adobe Flash which is the most ubiquitous 'platform' available. Windows is the second most ubiquitous. Link to Adobe.com


    If you look across telecoms, broadcasting, IT, you will be hard pressed to see any service that accommodates 100% of users – it’s never economically viable (diminishing returns). I don’t want my licence fee wasted on the BBC spending £millions to develop multiple platforms to give 100% coverage.

    There's a lot of miss-information about DRM on these comments. Studios who produce, own and license content are under no compulsion to licence content to the BBC or any other organisation. As it stands, they will only do so once they are sure that their content is protected as appropriate by DRM, CAS, etc.. Studios may take a more open/enlightened view over time, but this is the reality today.

    All DRM systems have been hacked; arguing that one system 'is more secure' than another misses the point.

  41. At 09:54 AM on 17 Feb 2008, robert ronson wrote:

    If the BBC intends to offer programs that they don't hold the rights for on iTunes, what's to stop the rights holder offering them and charging for the privilege.
    If I was the rights holder I'd be preventing this at all costs unless I was getting something out of it. Does the BBC pay the rights holders for each download or streamed program?

  42. At 10:45 AM on 25 Feb 2008, Chris Townsend wrote:

    I don't have a problem with waiting a little longer for the downloadable service to become available for my Mac. What has concerned me in the past is the likes of Ashley Highfield, your Director of New Media, who made some gloriously off-message comments last October and got an equally glorious slap-down from the BBC Trust for his trouble: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/technology/7047381.stm .

    When your own staff - particularly ones whose boss (namely Erik Huggers, in this case) used to work for Microsoft - are prone to making suggestions that platform neutrality for the iPlayer is a question of 'if' rather than 'when', it's hardly surprising that the result is a growing belief that the BBC is engaged in some kind of plot, or is otherwise less committed than it claims to be.

  43. At 11:25 AM on 25 Feb 2008, Nick Reynolds (editor, BBC Internet Blog) wrote:

    Chris - Erik Huggers has adressed the Microsoft question at the end of this blog post.

  44. At 09:45 PM on 25 Feb 2008, Miles Rochford wrote:

    A reply to myself: "The service is available to all users, but surely some users are accessing the download service instead? If more than 0 users are, then the streaming stats are not an accurate representation of market penetration."

    The BBC has decided not to release statistics on this blog to illustrate this point - all of the references in their recent press release are to "streamed or downloaded".

    But they'll tell The Guardian that streaming is outplaying download by a factor of 8:1 (in fact, slightly more, since 30% of shows downloaded aren't actually watched) - so more like 11.5:1.

    In other words, the BBC spent years (and a considerable amount of money - much of it paid to Microsoft) developing a download system which, on their own statistics, is used at least 90% less than the streaming version.

    - M.

  45. At 10:29 AM on 26 Feb 2008, Nick Reynolds wrote:

    Miles Roachford:

    Regarding your point about streaming versus downloads. Ashley Highfield did mention this in a previous blog post.

    I quote Ashley: "Streams are outnumbering downloads by a factor of eight to one".

    So we did release information about this on the blog.

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