Freeview HD Copy Protection Update
Some of you will have seen a blog post a few days ago from Tom Watson MP that suggested that the BBC intends to make millions of Freeview PVRs obsolete by encrypting the service information data of the DVB stream. Some of you may also not have seen his later updates. There has been a lot of confusion around this post and a subsequent one from boing boing that has resulted in a lot of conversations on Twitter and in the press. Some interesting posts can be seen on cnet.co.uk and paid content, but we thought it would be only right for you to get the information straight from the horse's mouth.
First of all, as we have already said publicly, no existing Freeview boxes will be affected by this whatsoever. So don't think that your current Freeview box is suddenly going to go off because that's not the case.
Secondly, and this is the difficult bit, the BBC is committed to ensuring that public service content remains free to air i.e. unencrypted. But a form of content management is required to enable us to launch Freeview HD to audiences in early 2010, so we have a simple choice; either we wait for a resolution to the copy protection debate or go ahead and launch Freeview HD and give UK audiences who can't or don't want to pay for subscription services a way to get HD.
The BBC is tasked to offer content on as many different platforms as possible, and with the other PSB partners, want to deliver Freeview HD before the World Cup in 2010.
We've said before that we are specifically avoiding encryption of the broadcast signal to ensure that the public service content remains free to air. Content protection gives content producers comfort to give consumers early and free access to more content, without jeopardising future revenue streams.
Our preferred content management approach (Huffman's Look-up tables) as stated in our letter to Ofcom describes how using this method will allow us to deliver Freeview HD on time, with the least disruption to manufacturers, and the least restriction to audiences. But it is important to stress that the technology places no restrictions whatsoever on copying standard definition content - nor recording and viewing any HD content stored on a PVR. Even in its most restrictive state it still allows one HD copy to be made to Blu-ray and unrestricted copies in SD (and for most content there will be no restriction whatsoever on the number of Blu-ray copies permitted).
We want to make our content as accessible as possible but we have to balance this with the amount of content we have the ability to show. We could have said no to the content owners' request and delayed the launch of Freeview HD, but we had to balance this with the fact that respecting the request for content protection should result in more programmes and hence a better viewing experience for our audiences.
We are confident that Freeview HD will be great, and you'll always be able to copy programmes for personal use. Most people will probably never know that any form of content management exists since they'll not be prevented from the normal home enjoyment or recording on PVRs, DVD and Blu-Ray recorders.
The only actions that may be prevented, and only for certain programmes, are retransmitting the content in HD over the internet or, in some cases, from making more than one digital copy of the highest-value content onto Blu-ray.
Graham Plumb is Head of Distribution Technology, BBC FM&T