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Round up: Wednesday 24 February 2010

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Paul Murphy Paul Murphy | 17:00 UK time, Wednesday, 24 February 2010

moore_300.jpgLast week's announcement in Barcelona that the Beeb are going to be producing mobile apps was greeted in equal measure as both a good thing (by smart phone owners) and a bad thing (by newspaper barons). In case you missed it there's a demo of what a BBC news iPhone app might look like on the Internet blog.

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Art lovers can find a wealth of cultural goodies about the great British sculptor Henry Moore on BBC Archive including 5live's Richard Bacon, then of Blue Peter, helping to move a Moore sculpture.

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Over at BBC News Have your Say has migrated over to BBC iD, the sign in system used across blogs on the BBC. Alex Gubbay, BBC News's social media editor, writes that:

"the switchover will address the most frequent complaint we get about Have Your Say: that comments take too long to appear."

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The Register reports on unhappy developers who have been made unhappy by recent changes to iPlayer:

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...

So what does this mean?
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.

The report concludes:
Now, it seems, the BBC has once again picked a fight with openistas by closing the door on freely developed RTMP plugins for the iPlayer, and in so doing has forced users to download Flash if they wish to view and listen to the Beeb's telly and radio shows.

Read the full story at The Register and have a look at the xbmc iPlayer thread on the iPlayer messageboard.

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The BBC R&D website has been revamped which should make finding things like White Paper 173 The Challenges of Three-Dimensional Television much easier. You can find out more about this on the R&D blog.

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At the Online Journalism blog, Paul Bradshaw writes about a recent visit by MA Online Journalism students to BBC News's User Generated Content Hub:

As we were discussing the changing nature of the hub - it is increasingly looking to engage with users beyond the core BBC audience - it became apparent that there is a paradox at the heart of what the BBC does here - and by extension, any UGC effort. And it's a paradox around objectivity and neutrality.
There's video and audio of the visit linked to from Paul's post.


Paul Murphy is the Editor of the Internet blog. The picture is of a Henry Moore sculpture.

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    It's ironic that the effect of closing down access to the iPlayer streams by Open Source projects like XBMC will likely increase the incidence of people downloading the torrents that are already available.

    I don't know what the intended effect of switching on SWF Verification was meant to be. However if it was to reduce the ripping of streams and distribution of BBC content I'm fairly sure it will achieve the exact opposite.

    I assume this puts the kibosh on streaming iPlayer in the web browser via the Gnash plugin as well?

  • Comment number 2.

    Thanks for mentioning The Reg article... but does the BBC have no comments/response to add?

  • Comment number 3.

    Neil - there's a statement from the BBC in the Register article:

    "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."

  • Comment number 4.

    Nick – is there any way in which you could enlighten the assembled masses as to how the decision would have been arrived at (or whether the only option is a FOI request — something I’d prefer not to do, as I know how much of a pain they can be)?

    The decision to switch on SWF Verification, considering what it is and does, simply doesn’t make sense from the perspective of “protection”.

    This thread on the Backstage list may prove illuminating for some who aren’t aware (includes technical background on what SWF Verification actually is and designed for).

  • Comment number 5.

    Sorry, but when you say 'Smartphone app', will this be available on anything but Iphones?

    It would seem incongruous with the service charter for one business to be favoured in this matter, and if this is, as appears to be, the case, I for one will oppose this. If you start bowing to one businesses needs, you deserve to be owned by Murdoch.

  • Comment number 6.

    "Sorry, but when you say 'Smartphone app', will this be available on anything but Iphones?"

    Maybe you should try actually reading it. Especially the bit about Android, Blackberry and other platforms.

  • Comment number 7.

    I cannot see the difference between using iPlayer on a Nintendo Wii and any of the devices which are excluded by the SWF Verification change.

    There is a technological difference (Wii uses Flash), but there is no functional difference (all can play through a television, use a remote control, and are essentially set-top boxes).

    Someone from the BBC needs to be quite explicit about the reasons for this move. Which devices and software is this move intended to lock out? Using a functional, non-technology, non-software vendor specific description, which devices are acceptable to the BBC and/or their content providers?

    Is the issue with set-top boxes versus browser based usage on a PC? Is the Wii a set top box? Using the Wii for iPlayer is explicitly condoned according to the iPlayer help site, and Nintendo currently have a high value ad campaign centred around such use.

    Some clarity please. Politician style phrases like "iPlayer has always used content protection in order to provide UK audiences with the most compelling content" is meaningless waffle. What relationship does content protection have with the compelling or otherwise nature of the content. This implies only that content providers (presumably only those offering compelling programming) are unwilling to provide content for delivery to non-broadcast/on-demand set-top boxes. So we are again back with the functional definition of the Nintendo Wii.

    So lets get back to basics and have a clear, functional definition of what is and is not a permitted viewing device. As a functional description, this should not favour or even mention any specific software vendor, operating system or platform.

  • Comment number 8.

    Oh BBC!!! The iPlayer plugin for XBMC was one of the greatest innovations since iPlayer itself! Sure, if you want to close the door on it, I can understand ONLY if you provide support for Xbox / XBMC in it's place??

  • Comment number 9.

    "I cannot see the difference between using iPlayer on a Nintendo Wii and any of the devices which are excluded by the SWF Verification change."

    Err... my understanding is the Wii iPlayer has a shed load of content protection, and indeed encrypts the streams using some proprietry Nintendo system.

    It's "excluded" by virtue of having actual proper DRM on it already.

    Also notable that the Wii doesn't get an awful lot of content that the PC version does...

  • Comment number 10.

    There are separate issues here, so let's separate them,

    1. Mode of use

    Some content providers presumably do not wish for their content to be viewable "on-demand" on a television using a set-top box under existing contracts.

    In this respect, the definition of the Wii is very important, as it is functionally equivalent to the devices being excluded.

    2. Protection from piracy

    As pointed out several times, this change does not stop piracy. It doesn't even stutter it. The SWF Verification change is easily circumvented by ne'er-do-wells. Even a switch to Adobe's stream encryption (rtmpe) would not dent the problem of piracy. Fundamentally DRM is broken concept when the viewing device is an open platform such as a PC or Mac - you only need to look at iTunes (heavily DRM'ed) to see that this is so. DRM only (almost) works for systems closed in both hardware and software.

    3. In conclusion

    This is about excluding some classes of device and some platforms, and locking users in to specific technology. The piracy argument is moot because the pirates will continue unhindered, and the only people being punished are the legitimate users.

    I feel that this is about content providers stamping their feet because they didn't realise people could watch content through a TV, and the 'new delivery channel' dollar signs faded from their eyes. This is why I feel it is important to understand why the Wii is considered to be acceptable.

  • Comment number 11.

    Some links that may aid the discussion here.

    Rahul Chakkara on BBC iPlayer syndication policy.

    Graham Plumb on DRM (although the post is about Freeview HD the same broad arguements apply to any form of DRM)

    This story from the Telegraph from last year.

  • Comment number 12.

    This is how I read the .swf/protection format debate:

    The fact is, the BBC can and will do what ever it feels it needs to do, be it because of their own internal policy or that of their external providers, if we do not like it then - put simply - tough, iPlayer is not considered a core activity (yet)...

  • Comment number 13.

    “It's "excluded" by virtue of having actual proper DRM on it already.

    Also notable that the Wii doesn't get an awful lot of content that the PC version does...”

    Indeed: the more locked down the platform in general (and so the less likely somebody is to use it as an avenue for piracy), the less content is made available to it. Genius.

    Contrast with web-based streaming iPlayer, which currently doesn’t have any DRM at all (just some minor obfuscation). Here, the only further option available to it (aside from switching it off entirely) given the platform choice is switching on RTMPe, which is not any more inconvenient than SWF Verification (i.e., not at all) to an actual pirate but. In fact, all it does do is make life more difficult for those wanting to utilise the service on unsupported platforms. That’s the extent of the effect of the change.

    The BBC is, for the time being, within its rights pursue this path — undoubtedly driven in part driven by rights-holders who have been sold on the promise of DRM (see this post on my blog for a handy cut-out-and-keep guide to content protection) — however a point will eventually arrive where the light dawns upon those making and driving these decisions and the realisation occurs that the changes are having no positive effect upon illicit distribution but are having a minor negative effect upon on-demand viewing figures and, perhaps more importantly, not providing value for money. The choice at this point will be stark: shut down iPlayer altogether, or stop wasting money on content protection schemes which are by this point no better at protecting content than voodoo rites.

    This is, of course, assuming the aim isn’t to prevent people from streaming to platforms because some parties have designs on making that content available to those platforms within the 7-day catch-up window in some kind of directly-paid-for fashion (e.g., rentals or purchases). I’m assuming this isn’t the case, however, because that would be a constructive breach (possibly even an actual breach) of several of the BBC’s policies, starting with the syndication policy.

  • Comment number 14.

    The problem with DRM is that it is a flawed concept. Because the means of decrypting the content must be delivered to the end user it will always be susceptible to reverse engineering and, therefore, circumvention. As far as I know there are no DRM systems that have survived for more than a few months before being circumvented.

    A second problem with DRM is that it causes a lot of collateral damage. It often causes a lot of problems for legitimate users, either preventing the protected content from playing on their device or, in some cases, actually damaging them (as in the case of the Sony "rootkit" CD protection fiasco).

    Finally, it actually does very little to prevent "piracy". Indeed it can often benefit "professional" pirates. If a certain DRM system defeats a home user then they are more likely to obtain a pre-ripped version from a "knock-off Nigel" or from BitTorrent rather than buy a legitimate copy that, because of DRM, cannot be transferred to their (say) portable player, PC, etc.

    Yes, I know said "fair use" is still illegal in the UK (though not in the US and most of the rest of the EU) but, hopefully, that will soon change. A surprising 3 out of 5 people in a poll by NCC (for youGov) didn't realise that copying for personal use is illegal in the UK! A view probably bolstered by the plethora of devices that aid such copying (often by the self same companies that vehemently protest about that sort of thing).

  • Comment number 15.

    Quite ironic that directly under item on "Have Your Say", which has removed the popular "recommended" feature, you link to The Register, a news site that not only permits users to comment on and rate almost all articles, but also permits the up and down voting and replying to comments made.

    In short, a fine example of what the BBC should be providing to its users rather than the currently castrated "Have Your Say"

  • Comment number 16.

    Hello, regarding the iPlayer plugin for XBMC - I've dug out a bit more information on this which may be useful.

    The BBC implements a range of technologies that attempt to check that BBC content is being played out in iPlayer, and not an unauthorised 3rd-party app that may or may not respect BBC content rights.

    Before a device is allowed to access BBC content, we attempt to check that it’s not some application that might be trying to download our content and for example keep it for longer than 7 days, or download it outside the UK.

    Recently a number of applications were identified making unauthorised use of a number of our media types, and so we implemented enhanced security – importantly this was done for several of the formats and content delivery types, not just for Flash.

    The result was that a number of applications that ‘deep link’ to our content may no longer work.

    I'm told that most of iPlayer is built on open-source products, so this isn't about the BBC being anti open source. However, BBC content needs to be protected from applications that make unauthorised calls to it, even if those applications are open source.

    Hope that helps

  • Comment number 17.

    Hi Nick,

    As ever, appreciate your efforts, but it sadly doesn’t really help too much.

    The problem is… the change doesn’t really affect anybody intending on using some third-party tool or player in order to keep downloads for longer than they’re supposed to (or redistribute them), because the people willing to go that extra mile in order to achieve this are generally able to find a tool which still works (I know of at least one—which I won’t link to, don’t worry—which works flawlessly, and is indistinguishable from the current Adobe Flash Player as far as the BBC’s and its partners’ servers are concerned).

    For those not intending to do any harm, and perhaps aren’t as technical or determined, it’s now just broken.

    In other words, the outcome is (again…) precisely the opposite of the intended one.

    Serious question: does the BBC want people to download their programmes via BitTorrent, Usenet, private exchange, or other illicit mechanisms? Entirely aside from the rights and wrongs and focussing on the reality of it, I’ve already seen anecdotal evidence that this change is driving people to these forms of distribution because their do-no-harm setups no longer work.

    If the answer to this question is “no”, I think the BBC needs to make its rights position crystal clear to the public in general: the public are under no circumstances permitted to use third-party tools to obtain its on-demand content, and (although it’s stating the obvious), the public are not permitted to obtain it from elsewhere, either (timeshifting themselves doesn't count).

    And, if the corporation isn’t keen on stating this position in clear and unequivocal terms, I’d be really rather keen to find out why, assuming some reason beyond “telling the truth is sometimes bad PR”.

  • Comment number 18.

    @ Nick Reynolds

    Once again, the important points have been missed, and I think in particular this post reveals a lack of understanding of the problems.

    The first point you miss is that it is not possible for the BBC to distinguish between iPlayer accessing content and piracy app XYZ. In fact piracy app XYZ will have been updated on the 18th to become impervious to this change. Unless you move away from the Adobe stack this will always be the case. And since Flash is currently the only realistic way to reach a wide audience across PC and Mac within the UK... this isn't going to a change that is imminently feasible.

    However, non-piracy app ZYX is now crippled, because the developers do not want to act like piracy app XYZ.

    > I'm told that most of iPlayer is built on open-source
    > products, so this isn't about the BBC being anti open
    > source.

    Well yes you are, what you are basically saying that that you are happy to benefit from Open Source, taking with one hand, then slapping the same Open Source developers and users with the other. I imagine in fact that some of the same code is involved. Maybe the original contributors should amend the licence to lock out the BBC on the basis that they are not operating within the spirit of the licence? I know that would never happen but the concept does tweak my irony bone.

    Bottom line, if I am within the UK, and I'm not a pirate, I should be able to use whatever device I choose to access BBC content, whether it be broadcast, on-demand or some yet to be conceived delivery method, so long as in doing so,

    * I don't represent a higher financial burden on the corporation or it's ability to deliver services;

    * the device I use doesn't bring the BBC into disrepute;

    * that the device I use doesn't change the BBC's editorial message;

    * the device I use doesn't permit me to use content with different rights, for example outwith the condoned period.

    As the device I was using was entirely derivative in terms of asset presentation and editorial, those points can be ticked off. The device I was using didn't allow me to view or retain content outwith the 7-day period - tick! And so on...

    I will not be forced to line the pockets of Nintendo, Sony or Apple in order to enjoy the same experiences as UK residents who do own one of these devices! That's what I call technological lock-in, and commercial bias.

    If you're really pro-open source and genuinely want to address the issue of piracy, why not discuss it with some developers and work towards making Open Source offerings acceptable to everyone? As it will be Open Source, it will be free (as in beer). It would be a fool's errand however, as the pirates will still pirate using closed-source software, modified Wiis, PS3s, Sky boxes, Freeview HD boxes, VCRs, .... need I go on?!


  • Comment number 19.

    @ Nick Reynolds

    Appreciate you trying to look deeper into this, but as many before me have said, whatever the BBC think they are doing, you are just pushing away the good guys and not touching the bad guys!

    I too can no longer use my legitimate 3rd party plugin to STREAM iplayer content. The important word here is STREAM, as in the content is not stored, and when the BBC remove it after 7 days then I cannot play it any more.

    If I really want to keep content then I can simply use an off the shelf DVR or freesat+ box and record it and keep for however long I want! But the point here is that many people have invested in a simple slick solution (XBMC, MediaPortal, Windows Media Centre) and do not wish to use any other method, which we are entitled to!

    Why should we be forced into going the Flash or Wii route when what we were doing was all above board! Surely this is a breach of your promise to the british public and a complaint be filed ???

    I would really like to hear what the BBC thinks it has gained from this!

  • Comment number 20.

    What the BBC have really gained from this is negative PR and a significant step AWAY from anti-piracy concerns.

    The people who were using the XBMC plugin, whether regularly or (like me) as an occasional one-off, were using it because it provided a nice, legal alternative to grabbing missed shows via torrent - or watching live TV when the aerial's bust. Yet actually at the TV, not at the keyboard.

    iPlayer is a great idea. And I think it's probably doing a pretty decent job or reducing people's usage of torrents. But it's still tied to the computer desk. And if your TV and armchair/sofa is your preferred viewing location, it's not exactly ideal.

    The thing about this plugin, though, is that it appeals to the build-it-yourself types. And if you already have an HTPC setup, or just a spare bit of computer hardware knocking around, it means being able to access the iPlayer in the correct place (TV). And even when using it at a PC, if you already have XBMC, it can use the hardware (if available) for video decoding, and not be reliant on Flash.
    Sometimes it's just a case of "use what works with what you already use". And if XBMC is a preferred media player, why step outside it?
    Especially when, if brutally honest, it works just as well (if not better...) with otherwise-acquired material. And if you use the one piece of software for playing DVDs, DVD rips, fanfilms, home videos and.... ummm... "domestically unavailable television programming", who wants to have to fire up a different (and possibly inferior) media player just to catchup on TV?

    I guess it comes down to one thing. Does the BBC just want to pay lip-service to providing a legal alternative for downloading missed TV? All the while putting in restriction that the tech-savvy can (but often don't really want to) easily bypass.
    Or do they want to genuinely make the iPlayer more convenient than "other means", and make it THE way of watching programs after-the-fact?

    Make it easier to download legally, and most people will be too lazy to use other methods. Otherwise, that same laziness will means that if the easier approach is to grab a torrent... well, you get the picture. People will use the "path of least resistance" - so it's in the BBC's best interests that the iPlayer IS the least-resistant path. (And on as many platforms as possible.... but that's another argument)

    Of course, I'm preaching to the converted here. But hopefully someone in BBC Upper Management will realise that relaxing this restriction would actually do a great deal to discourage casual piracy.
    (And the non-casuals are a lost cause anyway)

  • Comment number 21.

    Way up above someone said "DRM only (almost) works for systems closed in both hardware and software.". This I think is the key to the debate and action of the BBC. They are sold on the idea of having a set-top box they can licence and control. They are doing this for the new HD TV project, where they are pushing Ofcom to approve DRM which can only be decoded by a licensed box.

    So I think that bringing in DRM on the iPlayer content is just a precursor to licensing the use of that DRM to specific box makers. Thus blocking out completely PCs and other hardware which could play the streams.

    What say you BBC? Is this your game? Are you being pushed by studios and content providers to do this? And have you no guts to say NO to them? And are you prepared to get into bed (again) with a proprietary technology, this time from Adobe, last time from Microsoft?

  • Comment number 22.

    21. At 5:50pm on 01 Mar 2010, Doge wrote:

    Are you [the BBC] being pushed by studios and content providers to do this [deploy DRM content management]? And have you no guts to say NO to them?"

    Do you have a wish for only subscription, BskyB etc, to be offered such content by the studios, that is the question you need to ask yourself before jumping up and down to much over this.

    Sometimes a little drop of unpalatable medicine keeps even worse ailment away...

  • Comment number 23.

    @Boilerplated

    That approach didn't serve Neville Chamberlain very well.

    On a serious note, the BBC is probably the only global broadcaster that has a realistic chance of standing up to the big content producers and igniting a mainstream debate on open formats and sensible copyright reform. Encouraging projects like the Iplayer viewer for XBMC is only one of the many ways they could go about doing this but unfortunately it appears BBC Management lack the courage to pursue such a progressive agenda.

  • Comment number 24.

    #23. At 8:38pm on 01 Mar 2010, gpuk wrote:

    "@Boilerplated

    That approach didn't serve Neville Chamberlain very well."


    Assuming you are referring to my comment @ #22, I think you have miss read history and his "Peace in our time" speech in 1938.

    "On a serious note, the BBC is probably the only global broadcaster that has a realistic chance of standing up to the big content producers and igniting a mainstream debate on open formats and sensible copyright reform."

    Rubbish, you might have had a point if the BBC was the only broadcaster, even if there was only the BBC and ITV but as soon as you start talking about BSkyB and any number of other satellite broadcasters - and they do not need to even be UK based, nor use UK based up-link facilities, just have a subscription sales outlet in the UK - your argument flies out of the window, it only needs one of these broadcasters to say "Yeah, we can do business on those terms [use DRM content management], being sole broadcaster for your content will be very marketable"...

  • Comment number 25.

    @Boilerplated

    I think you may have missed the point of my post. It was a not too subtle attempt at pointing out your suggestion resembles very closely the arguments used by Chamberlain et al. for pursuing a policy of appeasement in the 1930s. The "Peace in [sic] our time" speech you reference is actually an excellent example of the failure of appeasement. You may wish to read up on it a bit more (even Wikipedia has a basic article).

    You may have also have missed my second point. The BBC is likely the only broadcaster that has a chance of reigning in big content producers due to the unique combination of the way it is funded, its global reach and the quality of its output. Big content producers cannot simply exclude the BBC in favour of more commercially orientated broadcasters, this notion simply isn't credible.

    If you don't believe the BBC is as strong as I'm suggesting, you may wish to read up on James Murdoch's MacTaggart lecture for a view of how serious a threat the commercial broadcasters view the BBC.




  • Comment number 26.

    #25. At 10:30am on 02 Mar 2010, gpuk wrote:

    "@Boilerplated

    I think you may have missed the point of my post. It was a not too subtle attempt at pointing out your suggestion resembles very closely the arguments used by Chamberlain et al. for pursuing a policy of appeasement in the 1930s. The "Peace in [sic] our time" speech you reference is actually an excellent example of the failure of appeasement. You may wish to read up on it a bit more (even Wikipedia has a basic article)."


    I have a better grasp of the true meaning of those events than you do, in the context of our exchange.

    "You may have also have missed my second point. The BBC is likely the only broadcaster that has a chance of reigning in big content producers due to the unique combination of the way it is funded,"

    What an utterly daft thing to say, you prove that not only do you not know anything about the media industry but that you don't even bother open your eyes to what is on the TV screen or listed in the TV listings! Of course if you are correct, that would explain why BSkyB has what, 10 film channels plus many more PPV & VOD film channels, has rights to sole or first rights various sporting events, has sole rights to various US productions etc, then we have other satellite broadcasters who offer unique content that no other broadcaster is even offered - sorry but you have just proved how utterly clueless you are about all this....

    If you don't believe the BBC is as strong as I'm suggesting, you may wish to read up on James Murdoch's MacTaggart lecture for a view of how serious a threat the commercial broadcasters view the BBC."

    Why would I wish to take lessons from someone who would dearly like to be the sole, monopolistic, media company in the UK if only the law and regulators would allow, sorry but a lot of the steam he let off against the BBC in that speech can also be directed at his own (daddies) News International empire.

  • Comment number 27.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • Comment number 28.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • Comment number 29.

    This is indeed a totally stupid thing to do - the BBC are checking the IP numbers so only people living in the UK would be able to see the material - so what does it matter if they stream the IPlayer in a way they want to?
    When the BBC prevents this the result is undoubtedly that a lot of people are going to digitally record programs of the air and then upload it to the internet and get spread all over.
    Good move BBC.

  • Comment number 30.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • Comment number 31.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • Comment number 32.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • Comment number 33.

    Quite ironic that directly under item on "Have Your Say", which has removed the popular "recommended" feature, you link to The Register, a news site that not only permits users to comment on and rate almost all articles, but also permits the up and down voting and replying to comments made.

    In short, a fine example of what the BBC should be providing to its users rather than the currently castrated "Have Your Say"

  • Comment number 34.

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

  • Comment number 35.

    The BBC Trust is running a consultation how on the way the BBC makes its content and programmes available on-demand (such as via the BBC iPlayer).

    The starting assumption for this review is that the BBC must control, and so must develop, every player for every platform.

    Can I suggest that anyone interested in open standards complete the survey and disabuse them of this notion?

    Please take the opportunity to point out that, as a public service broadcaster, the BBC shouldn’t be developing a few proprietary, closed, commercial solutions.

    The consultation can be found at:
    http://www.bbc.co.uk/bbctrust/consultations/departments/bbc/on-demand-syndication/consultation/consult_view

  • Comment number 36.

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

  • Comment number 37.

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

  • Comment number 38.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

 

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