Future Media Standards & Guidelines

Audio-Video Standards v2.4

1 Document Purpose

1.1 This document describes the BBC standards around displaying and distributing audio and video files on BBC online (bbc.co.uk websites).

1.2 It explains:

  • Which media player you can use to present the files;
  • Which file formats you can use; and
  • Whether the content can be streamed or downloaded.

1.3 It does not discuss how audio and video files are displayed and distributed on other platforms; for example, wifi, radio, mobile phones, and games consoles.

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2 Definitions

2.1 In this document we use the following definitions:

  • Downloads

    Audio and video files that must be saved to a user’s computer before they can be played. Once saved they can played at will, shared with others, or transferred to other devices. Example: mp3 files that can be played on a computer or portable music player.

  • DRM (Digital Rights Media) downloads

    Audio and video files that can be saved to a user’s computer and replayed as many times as desired for up to 30 days. In the BBC these types of file are delivered through iPlayer. Example: downloading the latest episode of Doctor Who from the iPlayer website using the iPlayer Desktop application.

  • EMP (Embedded Media Player)

    The standard Flash-based media player for BBC online.

  • iPlayer

    A seven day catch-up service for all scheduled audio and video content. It uses the EMP to deliver the files on BBC online.

  • Off-schedule content

    Audio and video content that has not been broadcast previously on linear television or radio. Example: short video news clips displayed on BBC online.

  • Progressive download

    Streaming technique that uses standard HTTP web server capability, where content starts playing as soon as enough of the file has downloaded to ensure a continuous listening or viewing experience. Seeking is only possible to parts of the media which have already downloaded.

  • Scheduled content

    Audio and video content that has previously been broadcast on linear television and is available to watch on BBC online. Example: watching the latest episode of EastEnders through iPlayer

  • Simulcast

    Audio and video content that is streamed on multiple platforms at the same time, such as online, on television and on radio. Example: CBeebies, which users can watch on the CBeebies website or on the CBeebies television channel.

  • Streaming

    Audio and video files that are played as soon as they arrive on a user’s computer. The user’s streaming software makes a semi-real-time connection to a streaming server that sends a stream of compressed audio/video over the internet that are displayed as they arrive. Once playing is complete there is no material available on the user’s computer. Example: listening to radio programmes or watching TV programmes through iPlayer on the internet.

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3 When to use iPlayer

3.1 The iPlayer displays all content that has been approved for use by the Online Steering Group. This Group includes representatives from Vision, Journalism and A&Mi and determines what content should be displayed using the iPlayer.

3.1.1 In general, this is all scheduled audio and video content that has been broadcast in the previous seven days.

3.1.2 If in doubt, contact the FM&T Controller, Vision and Online Media Group.

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4 When to use the EMP

4.1 You MUST use the EMP to display audio and video content on bbc.co.uk that is not displayed using the iPlayer; namely, off-schedule and short-form video and audio content.

4.1.1 The only exceptions to this are:

  • if you need to provide the EMP in a language other than those currently supported, in which case you MAY use your own player (for the latest information about which languages the EMP supports, refer to the EMP website [Internal BBC website internal BBC site]Restricted access - Post-NDA only); and
  • where you are embedding non-BBC third-party content, e.g. an editorially-relevant video from YouTube, please see the Third Party Hosting Requirements standard.

4.2 You MUST follow the instructions provided on the EMP website [Internal BBC website internal BBC site]Restricted access - Post-NDA only].

4.2.1 You MUST apply for an exemption in order to use the chromeless EMP (the version of the EMP that has no user controls).

4.3 You are strongly advised that you SHOULD NOT include more than three instances of the EMP on any one webpage. This is due to performance issues.

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5 Archive content

5.1 When providing legacy formats such as Windows or Real Media on your website, you need to consider the editorial proposition of your site and use it as the driver for whether to transcode the content into a format supported by the EMP, or not.

5.2 If you are relaunching or actively directing users towards a site that includes archive audio or video files, you SHOULD transcode the assets into Flash and use the EMP to display them, as specified in the sections below.

5.3 You MUST transcode any legacy content that is rebroadcast; however, you do not need to transcode legacy content that is already provided online if there are no plans to rebroadcast it (for example, the back catalogue of the Today programme).

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6 Streaming standards and formats

6.1 You MUST stream rights-sensitive audio and video content UNLESS the content is to be distributed as a DRM download using the iPlayer Desktop application.

6.2 You MAY stream audio and video content that is not rights-restricted or where the user would benefit from ‘seeking’ (navigating quickly to a chosen point within a stream.

6.3 Where the encoding infrastructure exists, you MUST stream live audio and video content in Flash format: where it does not you SHOULD stream the content in Flash format.

6.3.1 There are two exceptions to this:

  • BBC World Service, who SHOULD use Flash for new services but MAY use Real and Windows for existing services.
  • If you are updating content on an existing site that uses Real Media or Windows Media formats that has not been updated to Flash and/or cannot be easily updated to Flash you MAY continue to use Real Media or Windows Media formats.

6.3.2 Also refer to section 5 above for information about transcoding archive content.

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7 Progressive download standards and formats

7.1 You MAY use progressive download for fully-rights cleared audio and video content; however, you SHOULD stream audio and video content by preference.

7.2 You MUST NOT use progressive download for rights-restricted audio and video content.

7.3 If you need to provide progressive download for audio content you MUST contact either the Executive Producer for Audio Services, A&Mi, or the Managing Editor, World Service Future Media, depending on what content it is.

7.4 You MUST use the EMP to deliver progressive downloads of audio and video content.

7.4.1 The only exception to this is if you need to provide the EMP in a language other than those currently supported, in which case you MAY use your own player. For the latest information about which languages the EMP supports, refer to the EMP website [Internal BBC website internal BBC site]Restricted access - Post-NDA only.

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8 Download standards and formats

8.1 Video

8.1.1 You MUST make scheduled video downloads available only using iPlayer and its Desktop application, which allows users to download videos to their computer for a specified period of time.

8.1.2 You MUST NOT create off-schedule video downloads; for example, video podcasts.

NOTE This is a BBC Trust policy. For details, refer to section 3.1 in the BBC Trust document BBC on-demand proposals: Public Value Test final conclusions.

8.2 Audio

8.2.1 You MUST NOT make rights-restricted audio content available for download.

8.2.2 If you want to provide audio downloads (podcasts) you MUST have permission from either the Network Controller in A&Mi, the Executive Product Manager in Nations & Regions or the Managing Editor, World Service Future Media, depending on which department the download is for.

8.2.3 If you want to provide one-off audio downloads you MUST have permission from your local interactive head.

8.2.4 If you have permission to provide audio downloads you MUST use the podcast maker to create them. Once you have ben given permission to provide audio downloads you will be provided with access to the podcast maker and training on how to use it.

9 Video encoding standards

9.1 Scheduled and live simulcast programmes

9.1.1 Scheduled video programmes are encoded and provided to you by the iPlayer team, and live simulcast programmes by Siemens, with the exception of the BBC News Channel which is managed by News.

9.2 Off-schedule programmes

9.2.1 You SHOULD encode your video using iBroadcast, as this system supports Adaptive Bitrate technology. It will automatically deliver the user the best video stream that their internet bandwidth can support. To enable this to work, content is created in a range of different bitrates which currently include lower rates, typically used for mobile platforms, and higher rates for users with 3G broadband, used for SD and HD content. Additional transcodes are created to allow the content to work on Wii, iPhone, DRM downloads, etc. Given the large range of bitrates that need to be created, and the very specific encoding software parameters needed to ensure the best possible video quality and meet the requirements of Adaptive Bitrate switching, it is no longer feasible to support people creating their own video encodes in the long term.

9.2.2 Before using iBroadcast you SHOULD complete the internal BBC iBroadcast training course[Internal BBC website internal BBC site]. Upon completion of this course you should receive an iBroadcast log-in via email. If you do not receive this log-in or for urgent log-in requests please contact the iBroadcast team.

9.2.3 You MUST ensure that you include copyright details in the video encoding and that the content has been rights-cleared through the appropriate body before going live on BBC online.

9.2.4 All BBC video content, including syndicated content, MUST display the branding of the lead channel (or appropriate division or department)that commissioned the site or related programme. Pan-BBC events, such as the Proms, should use the BBC blocks.

NOTE This requirement does not apply to video content that does not originate at the BBC, e.g. an ITV news clip. For further advice on branding, contact the Head of HD and Multiplatform Marketing.

9.3 Video bitrates

9.3.1 Encoding SHOULD be done using either the iPlayer video encoding system (for on-demand content) or, for off-schedule content, iBroadcast (see 9.2.2).

9.3.2 If you need to encode your own video files you SHOULD always consider the type of content you are encoding and the target audience, and adjust your video to audio encoding ratio accordingly.

9.3.3 You MUST encode your Flash video using On2’s VP6 codec (Flash version 8.0+) or, where the transcoding infrastructure is available, the H.264 codec.

NOTE You should be aware that using different codecs produces different results.

9.3.4 You MUST encode your video in accordance with the sizes specified on the EMP website[Internal BBC website internal BBC site]Restricted access - Post-NDA only

9.3.5 The only exception to this is grant-in-aid funded content, which MAY be encoded at a bitrate appropriate for its audience.

9.3.6 Where technically and/or financially possible you SHOULD keep a high-resolution file of any transcoded content to enable any future changes in standard/s to be retrospectively applied. This format would normally be a 'mezzanine' or 'intermediary' format, between broadcast and Future Media output quality.

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10 Audio encoding standards

10.1 Scheduled programmes

10.1.1 Scheduled network A&Mi audio programmes are encoded in Coyopa and provided to you by A&Mi, with the exception of content from Scottish and Welsh and Northern Irish national stations.

10.2 Off-schedule programmes

10.2.1 If you are encoding A&Mi-specific audio files you MUST encode them according to the EMP website[Internal BBC website internal BBC site]Restricted access - Post-NDA only

10.2.2 If you need further help encoding audio files for World Service, contact the World Service Future Media Digital Delivery team for advice.

10.2.3 For all other audio content you SHOULD refer to the encoding profiles listed on the EMP website[Internal BBC website internal BBC site]Restricted access - Post-NDA only

10.2.4 You MUST ensure that you include copyright details in the audio encoding and that the content has been rights-cleared through the appropriate body before going live on BBC online.

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11 Audio and video window sizes

11.1 Audio

11.1.1 You MUST use the approved audio EMP sizes listed in the EMP website [Internal BBC website internal BBC site]Restricted access - Post-NDA only.

11.2 Video

11.2.1 You MUST use the approved video EMP sizes listed in the EMP website [Internal BBC website internal BBC site]Restricted access - Post-NDA only. You MAY embed the EMP at smaller or larger sizes than the encoded content but recognize that the best performance and picture quality are provided by using an identical window and encode size.

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12 Guidance labelling

12.1 Scheduled audio and video content

12.1.1 ‘G for Guidance’ labelling is applied by the iPlayer team for scheduled video content.

12.1.2 For scheduled audio programmes, ‘G for Guidance’ labelling is added by network interactive teams, using the PIT (Programme Information Tool).

12.2 Off-schedule audio and video content

12.2.1 For Vision sites, you MUST ensure that you only use agreed guidance labels on short-form video content and that labels are only applied after agreement with the Repeats and Reversioning Unit. This is to ensure that we maintain consistency in our guidance labelling on all platforms.

NOTE For further details, refer to Vision’s Guide to Short Form Content Production website.

12.2.2 For A&Mi sites, contact the Head of Compliance for advice on applying ‘G for Guidance’ labelling to short-form off-schedule radio-specific audio and video content.

12.2.3 For FM&T Journalism sites, most guidance labelling is added automatically during content production; however, if you have any concerns you should contact your editor.

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13 Syndicating content onto third-party sites using the EMP

13.1 You MUST have editorial approval and sign off from the relevant person or department in your division if you wish to syndicate content onto third-party sites using the EMP.

  • In A&Mi this is the Executive Producer, Syndication.
  • In FM&T Journalism, this is the Head of Business Development.
  • In Vision Multiplatform, this is Steve Hornby, the Senior Content Producer, Entertainment and Comedy Programme Support.
  • In World Service, this is Head of Rights.

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14 Distributing audio and video content

14.1 By default, you MUST restrict all Flash audio and video content to the UK only, with the following exceptions:

  • Content that has been approved by BBC Worldwide for international distribution: see section 14.2 below.
  • Grant-in-aid funded content that is approved for international distribution; e.g. embedded video on the BBC Persian website.
  • Current audio streams that the A&M Board agrees can be distributed outside the UK.

14.2 You MUST email projected usage details of the proposed Flash content on your site to one of the following teams prior to its launch. This is to ensure there is enough capacity in the infrastructure to host the content.

  • In Vision Multiplatform, FM&T Journalism, and Nations & Regions contact the Digital Distribution team. Also refer to the document “Flash Streaming – How It Is Distributed”.
  • In A&Mi, email the A&Mi Digital Media Team.
  • In World Service, email the World Service Future Media Digital Distribution team.

14.3 If you would like to distribute your content internationally, you MUST:

  • Ensure that appropriate rights have been cleared for the content - contact the Talent and Rights Negotiation Group for guidance; and
  • Contact BBC Worldwide to see if they will fund international distribution costs.

14.3.1 BBC Worldwide MAY agree to pay for distribution costs if your content is able to deliver commercial revenue.

  • BBC Worldwide will need to work with you to determine the optimal commercial and editorial experience to recoup distribution costs. Contact the Business Development Manager at BBC.com to assist you in developing your proposition.
  • For further technical information refer to the document ‘Flash Streaming – How It Is Distributed’.

14.4 If you cannot get rights-clearance or funding to distribute your content internationally, you MUST either:

  • Remove the content and all references to it in the surrounding text for internationally-facing IPs, and move the editorial content up in its place; or
  • Replace it with a static promotion of other internationally-relevant content.

This is to avoid a poor user experience for international users who cannot access the content.

14.5 All streamed files MUST be served from the streaming servers.

14.5.1 For instructions refer to the document Flash Streaming – How It Is Distributed.

14.6 All download and progressive download files MUST be served from the server downloads.bbc.co.uk.

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15 File naming and storage conventions

15.1 Scheduled programmes

15.1.1 File names and storage conventions for scheduled programmes are managed by the iPlayer team.

15.2 Off-schedule programmes

15.2.1 You MUST follow the conventions described on the bbc.co.uk/emp/ for file path, file name and extension standards for off-scheduled audio and video content.

15.2.2 If you are providing audio and video content using a player other than the EMP, and in a non-Flash format, refer to the withdrawn Audio-Video Standards v1.55 for details of how to name and where to store your files.

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16 Embedding your files into web pages

16.1 For details of how to embed your audio and video files into your website, refer to the EMP website[Internal BBC website internal BBC site]Restricted access - Post-NDA only.

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17 Music reporting – audio clips only

17.1 Music clips MUST NOT exceed either 30 seconds (for any non-classical music) or 1 minute (for classical music) UNLESS you have gained a special agreement through BBC Music Copyright.

17.1.1 This is because the use of commercial music clips on BBC online is restricted according to our licence with the music copyright collecting societies.

17.2 You MUST include reporting information if you are providing music clips (downloaded or from CD) that are unique web content on bbc.co.uk; that is, the clip is not an internet re-broadcast of a BBC TV or Radio programme.

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18 Live events

18.1 You MUST inform the Digital Distribution team if you are encoding live. This is for capacity planning purposes.

18.2 For compliance requirements you SHOULD make a local, backup copy in source quality of any audio or video that you stream from a live event.

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19 Games

19.1 For the purposes of this document, a game is an interactive application that contains audio and video content, but is not led by that content.

19.2 You SHOULD safeguard the quality of your games content and balance it with quality of service.

19.2.1 Recognise that there may be a trade-off between providing high-quality audio and video content for a game, and ensuring that the content itself can be delivered efficiently to the audience.

19.3 You SHOULD email projected usage details of your game’s audio and video content to the Digital Distribution team prior to its launch. This is to ensure there is enough capacity in the infrastructure to host the content.

19.3.1 For instructions refer to the document Flash Streaming – How It Is Distributed.

19.4 It SHOULD be noted that you do not have to use the EMP to deliver video that is a seamless part of a game rather than a distinct item to watch.

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