Where next for the BBC iPlayer?
Many of you may have seen Micro Men on BBC 4 (or on the BBC iPlayer) last week. It was an interesting reminder of the UK home computer boom of the early 1980s. Much has changed since then but I think there are some parallels to be drawn between the emerging UK microcomputing market then and the connected devices market of today.
In the 80s rival manufacturers were unconcerned with developing systems that could be used or operated reciprocally. Each hoped to emerge from a fragmented but rapidly growing market as the winner. It happened in computing, it's still happening in mobile, and it could well happen in connected TVs. This post is about how we deliver our video-on-demand service to a variety of platforms so that audiences can enjoy BBC content on them.
When we launched the BBC iPlayer in 2007, it was initially in Windows, but we wanted to make the service available on as many platforms and devices as was technically possible and economically sensible. It remains important that the platform strategy complements our content syndication policy. This means that, as well as taking the BBC iPlayer itself onto multiple platforms, we will continue to license BBC content to a range of third parties. This policy has worked well for the industry and for audiences.
The BBC iPlayer has now been rebuilt for more than 20 different platforms and devices, enabling Licence Fee payers to access BBC content in a way that is convenient to them and delivers public value. We now average 100 million streams a month and although most viewing is still via the web, already more than a quarter of views are through the connected pay-TV platform Virgin Media and just under 10% through the PS3. Increasingly users are also accessing iPlayer on mobile devices.
We hope to add more platforms before the end of this year, but to deliver a high-quality user experience we sometimes need to adapt the product ourselves, and the huge variation of standards in the market makes this an expensive and complex process.
The number of connected devices entering the market over the next few years is likely to accelerate. We'd like them all to be able to access iPlayer, and we'd encourage them to use our standard technologies to do so. However, for some that may not be possible. An ever increasing number of companies want us to build them a bespoke iPlayer; more than we can reasonably afford.
Today we've published new guidelines that outline how potential partners can syndicate our standard iPlayer product. They also lay out the scope for our investment in customisation and bespoke development for larger platforms.NB Editor's note - the text in the previous paragraph was inaccurate and we have now corrected. Apologies. Today we've published a clarification on where the BBC believes the balance currently lies between generating public value and value for money considerations.
We hope this move will make life clearer for the industry, and easier for people to access and enjoy our content, whatever device they use and wherever they are.
(Update 21.12.09) In light of the Trust ruling on IPVision we have taken down the clarification published in October. The clarification will now be considered as part of the Trust's review of the BBC's on-demand syndication policy, which begins in January 2010. In the meantime, we continue to rely on our pre-existing policy until the Trust complete their review.
Kerstin Mogull is COO BBC FM&T