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Digital Media Anywhere

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Erik Huggers Erik Huggers | 13:46 UK time, Monday, 13 October 2008

You may have already read the interview in today's Media Guardian where I lay out my vision for the BBC's digital future.

It should be no surprise that digital media are at the heart of the BBC's online strategy.

Audio/visual is the soul of the corporation and will form the backbone of a vastly improved bbc.co.uk in the years to come. It's sometimes easy to forget that we have made substantial progress over the last 12 months from a technical and editorial perspective.

The broad adoption of our embedded media player for on-demand short-form, long-form and simulcasting are great examples. Our podcast offering is growing in popularity fast and BBC iPlayer continues to go from strength to strength.

What I am most proud about is the wide variety of internet-connected devices that BBC iPlayer services can accessed on. I am sure you have seen the list somewhere, so I will go straight to what is new.

Today, we are announcing that in partnership with Adobe we are building a platform-neutral download client.

Using Adobe Integrated Runtime (AIR), we intend to make BBC iPlayer download functionality available on Mac, Linux and Windows for the first time later this year. Whatever platform you use, you'll now be able to download TV programmes from the BBC to watch later - on the train, in the garden, or wherever you like.

Given our obligations to rights-holders and the BBC Trust, these programmes are protected with DRM, but in a way that shouldn't affect your enjoyment of our programmes, whatever platform you've chosen.

We are also announcing that in partnership with Coremedia, Intertrust and CMLA, we have already enabled over-the-air iPlayer download functionality for the Nokia N96 mobile phone.

For the BBC, this is a first and yet again shows our continued commitment to give our audiences convenient access to our programmes wherever they are. As other advanced mobile phones become available, we will be looking at making the service available there as well.

where_to_get_iplayer2.png

While we are making great progress, I wonder if there is a more fundamental way for the BBC to contribute to making "media anywhere" a mass market reality. Getting your favourite programmes on a wide variety of devices is still too difficult for the average consumer. Device makers define what media platform functionality and user experience to support and mostly those are not consistent - which leads to trouble for consumers.

I have asked BBC Research to explore whether we should create/drive an open industry standard for IP-delivered Media On The Go. There is no fixed timeline for the delivery of Research's results at present, but when we have an update we will let you know. In the meantime, I'd be interested to hear what you think.

Erik Huggers is Director, BBC Future Media & Technology.

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    This is excellent news!

    I only discovered Adobe AIR a few weeks ago but some of the applications that have been developed are extremely responsive and effective. The eBay desktop app springs to mind as a fine example.

    All I have to hope for now is that the same technology is adopted by other broadcasters for their VOD efforts.

  • Comment number 2.

    Can anyone tell me whether this will include the Playstation 3? Thanks.

  • Comment number 3.

    Can you explain how your sense of platform-neutral doesn’t align with everyone else’s perception?

    You’re not neutral if you only reach three (Operating System) platforms out of many (OS and Architectures). If Adobe are planning on bringing AIR to the lesser platforms, then that is fine but otherwise I still can’t see how you’re fulfilling your promises to the Trust.

    ‘However, we remain committed to ensuring that iPlayer download functionality is available to all audiences, not just Microsoft users.’
    Note *all*.

  • Comment number 4.

    Another person wondering how AIR is considered "platform neutral". It's described on http://www.adobe.com/products/air/ as part of the "Adobe Technology Platform"

    Does it run on PS3, Wii or XBox360? No. Does it run on iPhone, Symbian, Android? No.

    It just gives us another way to access content from devices where we can already access content (albeit only via streaming)

  • Comment number 5.

    Given our obligations to rights-holders and the BBC Trust, these programmes are protected with DRM,
    They have head of Freeview, right? What is the point in imposing harmful DRM on the iPlayer when anyone who wants a DRM free copy can either take it from the broadcast version, or in the case of many shows, torrent a copy that someone else has taken off air?

  • Comment number 6.

    these are all questions...

  • Comment number 7.

    For people asking about iPlayer on PS3, the 2.50 update out soon (read later this week) supports Flash 9. Meaning that www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer will stream to it.


  • Comment number 8.

    @johndrinkwater

    I'm interested to know what you would do with iPlayer if you were in charge? What platforms would you like to see it on?

  • Comment number 9.

    "or wherever you like"
    I am interested in whether the BBC is considering "their" internet as the world wide web..... with or without boundaries. Adobe are a US business, and therefore the use of the product obviously gives income to them. Yet still the BBC, and the law, regard the web as a place where borders are the same as countries. Hence the use of GeoIP. It will be quite a shame if in future the BBC's customers... UK license holders, are locked out of the content as soon as they travel to Europe. After all, the web should make no censorship based solely on physical boundaries. An alternative of MAC addresses could allow this to flourish, in the same way as I agree to your license to post comments, perhaps I could also be afforded access if I register my equipment as an opt in with the overall License Fee. With or without DRM this would be helpful.

  • Comment number 10.

    Eric, you say "Whatever platform you use, you'll now be able to download TV programmes from the BBC to watch later - on the train, in the garden, or wherever you like."

    and

    "Given our obligations to rights-holders and the BBC Trust, these programmes are protected with DRM, but in a way that shouldn't affect your enjoyment of our programmes, whatever platform you've chosen."

    However, Adobe clearly stipulate in their EULA (as they also have with their flash player):

    "You will not use any Adobe Runtime on any (a) mobile device, set top box (STB), handheld, phone, web pad, tablet or Tablet PC (other than Windows XP Tablet PC Edition and its successors), game console, TV, DVD player, media center (other than Windows XP Media Center Edition and its successors), electronic billboard or other digital signage, internet appliance or other internet-connected device, PDA, medical device, ATM, telematic device, gaming machine, home automation system, kiosk, remote control device, or any other consumer electronics device, (b) operator-based mobile, cable, satellite, or television system or (c) other closed system device"

    So how can I watch any of this BBC digital restrictions management TV output on my Linux set-top box or converted games console? I run Linux/Freevo on an old Xbox at home and I'm sure others use XBMC on their set-top boxes or just run plain Linux on a handheld PC, or tablet PC. None of these can legally run AIR. So I can say, 'YES', this will, in a rather large way, affect the enjoyment of the BBC's programmes.

    Why use AIR when it basically has such a blatant pro-Microsoft bias? Will the BBC not put pressure on Adobe to remove these unhelpful restrictions?

    And what about the BBC's obligations to license payers?

    I wonder if Apple will be putting AIR on the iPhone?

    I also wonder if Adobe will help the free/open source software community with documentation on their proprietary RTMP protocol (used by the BBC on their flash based iPlayer) so that the flash version can be watched without having to use closed-source proprietary tools such as Adobe's flash player or AIR?

    - Phil Lewis

  • Comment number 11.

    Wow, people are insanely picky. Platform neutrality doesn't mean every single platform. Should the BBC invest time and money in trying to get the iPlayer to work on windows 3.1? No, of course not. And if you're still going on about DRM, grow up, they don't have a choice, because they don't own all the rights to all the programmes. I for one think this is excellent news, and look forward to using it on my macbook.

  • Comment number 12.

    @ClintEastman: Yep, if true, it's great news about Flash 9 on the PS3. I'm quite surprised considering Adobe's reluctance to license anything other than Flash Lite to hardware manufacturers.

    If the implementation is complete (i.e. Sony has licensed the various additional codecs etc.) it should make viewing iPlayer on the PS3 a much better experience.

    Then if they finally get round to fixing their JavaScript implementation I can finally shut down PS3iPlayer.com, redirect everyone to bbc.co.uk/iplayer and save myself some cash :-)

  • Comment number 13.

    From the Trust's "Platform Neutrality" review:
    "we remain committed to ensuring that iPlayer download functionality is available to all audiences, not just Microsoft users."

    Note two key phrases: "Download Functionality" and "All Audiences" - that means that using AIR does *not* satisfy the trust's goals due to the limitations stipulated in the AIR EULA (as stated above)

    It also means that the 2.50 update for the PS3 doesn't apply because it only enables streaming, not downloading.

    No one solution is going to fulfil the Trust's stated goal, and while AIR is a decent start, only if it is used alongside other content delivery systems will they be able to provide download functionality to all users.

    As for the DRM issue, I don't mind too much, so long as the BBC are open and clear about what they're doing, and it's effects on your system - don't install hidden crap on my computer, don't leave stuff running after the iPlayer closes and if you HAVE to do these things, warn me about them first! EA are getting sued in the US for the silent install of SecuROM on customers' computers, the BBC should take note of that.

    Still, I'm happy that the BBC are starting to take non-Windows platforms seriously.

  • Comment number 14.

    What about the XBox 360? The iPlayer is all well and good, but as the 360 itself supports downloadable DRMd expirable WMV content, why is there still no news about this platform?

    Especially as I'm sure I'm not alone in having an XBox 360 connected to a nice sized TV in front of an armchair, and a computer connected to a somewhat smaller screen in front of a computer chair...

    Guess where I want to watch TV content.

    As _Ewan_ said above:
    "...or in the case of many shows, torrent a copy that someone else has taken off air?"

    Well, the thing about those sorts of files (whether torrented or legit) is that they are supported by the XBox 360. (Note: Supported from an external drive, without having to switch on a computer. Very important point to me)
    But even with a completely suitable technology platform, the iPlayer means I have to either watch it at the computer desk or unhook my computer from where it usually sits to watch stuff through my real TV.

    I'm no fan of DRM, but can accept it as a necessary evil AS LONG AS it doesn't actively interfere with normal viewing habits. So please, Xbox Live Marketplace. Don't make the wrong solution (torrents) the best option.

    On the brighter side, I'm glad to hear a Mac/Linux downloadable option is on the cards. Although I'd be curious to know how DRM playback will be handled on Linux, where there isn't necessarily a common default playback software across all distributions, and where people are a lot more adamant about being able to use their player of choice. (VLC all the way for me, incidentally...)

  • Comment number 15.

    I'm one of the pesky consumers who downloads tv shows (usually in batches over sunday night) then watches them on my Xbox as and when i feel like it. I might watch 8 episodes of one series in a row or stick fairly close to the original (UK) broadcast time.

    This came about because of the combination of a hectic life and being terrible at remembering to even set the video! But in this digital age I guess this makes me a pirate, despite watching for free (via the internet) what i could already watch for free (via the freeview box and video).

    I think iPlayer is great so far, and lets me legally time-shift the bbc and I've been wishing for a true Open Media platform to come along and combine every man and his dog's Flash-embedded web site.

    I have some requests, however

    1. do not mandate drm or time restrictions, by all means support it, but do not force it

    2. Be truly open to contributors, not just to the media giants but to humble home grown set ups - by all means require them to go through a NewYouTube type startup but the startup has to be allowed a chance.

    3. Use open, free and well documented protocols (for the non-drm content) so that users and developers arent forced to pay monopoly corporations for access (non drm)

    What terrifies the media giants more than anything is not pirating but the rise of the independent producer and they will fight to mandate licencing fees, membership cartels and geographic exclusivity for all players, even those who pay for, produce and market their own content.

    iPlayer2 could be the dawn of the new media revolution and the 20th century "broadcasters" have no greater right to control it than any one else.

  • Comment number 16.

    How about AppleTV support, mooted back in January? No chance of using AIR for that either...

  • Comment number 17.

    For Adobe Air, please ensure you include the following!

    .alwaysInFront = true;

    Thanks!

  • Comment number 18.

    I second the comments about the XBox 360. Hopefully the BBC are making every effort to talk to Microsoft to ensure that a version of IPlayer is included in the New XBox Experience due out next month - but I'm not holding my breath.

  • Comment number 19.

    I would love to see AppleTV support too, I use my iPod Touch hooked up to my TV all the time to watch content but I would buy an AppleTV straight away if I could also watch iPLayer content on it!

  • Comment number 20.

    "Should the BBC invest time and money in trying to get the iPlayer to work on windows 3.1? No, of course not. "

    Yes, they should! This is a service paid for with my money and I, as a User, should be entitled to the same service as every other User. As a Mac User, I fundamentally object to the fact that my BBC viewing is relegated to streaming only, so I can't watch my programmes on the train unless I buy a windows machine or an iPod! I already have a portable computing device. We have been promised this the whole year and still nothing...!

    I have told everyone I can, I will no longer support the licence fee on the basis that the BBC doesn't think that I'm important enough to care about. Let them get out there and try to make it in the real world, like any commercial organisation.

  • Comment number 21.

    One thing that occurs to me is that the BBC might be in a bit of a no-win situation.

    Getting proper downloadable content onto the Mac, Linux, PS3 and Xbox 360 platforms would probably be a monumental undertaking.

    Putting law and ethics to one side for a moment, realistically the iPlayer is competing with torrented copies. Unless they're 100% certain they can compete successfully and conveniently with torrented content, it might be hard to either get it working or release an actual timeline.

    The problem is that they obviously can't actually tell people to torrent in the meantime. (nor should they) But they have to privately know that it's the option that many are using in the meantime. So they know that, to some people the lack of an iPlayer client for their system isn't actually a barrier to catching up on shows. Or that they use this instead of moving the PC or using a streaming option.
    But for those of us who would really like an official and legal method of catching shows we missed, it rather sucks.

    I still continue to hold out for an Xbox 360 version, though. It's attached to my TV, in front of the armchair. That is where I watch content, not at the computer desk.

  • Comment number 22.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 23.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 24.

    It just gives us another way to access content from devices where we can already access content (albeit only via streaming)

 

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