Archives for February 2010

What happened to iplayer streaming?

Ian Forrester Ian Forrester | 12:36 UK time, Thursday, 25 February 2010

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XBMC media centre
Over the last few days people have been trying to access iplayer streams and finding out that nothing works. Then hitting the web looking for answers to what's happened recently to iplayer streams.

Well its a complex one, so to start lets look at the registers description

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, The Register has learned.

The Beeb applied the update to its online video catch-up service on 18 February, just four days after Adobe Systems penned a corporate blog post about its "content protection offerings".

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.

This obviously means if your using an Adobe Flash plugin, iplayer streaming works like nothing has changed. However for the rest of us, this means no more open streaming via our XBMC set top box to the nice big TV. This also puts plugins for mobile clients and Boxee at risk.

Whats the BBC's official line on all this?

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.

So what have people been saying about this? Starting with the Backstage mailing list...

From Glyn Wintle

Technically easy to beat, but given that by passing "copyright protection mechanisms" is illegal in the EU and America it means it can not be rolled out to the general population.

Bonkers idea BBC.

Steff adds...

The writeup here: of the "protection"
offered by this mechanism would be hilarious if it weren't so sad (skip to the "Analysis" paragraph at the bottom). "When lawyers do crypto" :-(

Mo McRoberts brings up the neutrality perspective

Given there's a Trust consultation running on iPlayer, including provision for neutrality, it's possibly the worst time for the BBC to decide to implement this:

The XBMC thread on the iPlayer message board is out of control with people wondering why this has happened.

David Allonby who's a developer for XBMC had this to say about everything

I'm an XBMC developer who works on librtmp, upon which the iplayer plugin relies. It'd fall on my (or other people giving their time freely and without reward) shoulders to implement the SWFVerification feature.

Given Adobe's stance against rtmpdump (www.chillingeffects.... an open source tool which forked librtmp and added an implementation of the SWFVerification feature, I think it's fair to say that we'd rather not add this feature to our codebase, just to support iplayer.

The iPlayer XBMC plugin has a long history, following the 'spirit' of the iplayer rules to the letter (no recording, no geoloc evasion), gaining plenty of press attention and generally painting the BBC in a very positive light on a multitude of platforms. The plugin attracted the attention of BBC employees, and indeed was showcased on

Perhaps i'm being naive, but I just don't see what implementing SWFVerification has accomplished here. If you *really* wanted to break the OSS community, you'd switch to rtmpe. All I can guess is that this was a misdirected 'ticked the wrong box' upgrade, and can hopefully be resolved swiftly.

The rest of the comments are pretty much complaints about the changes and asking why this was done over and over again. No one seems capable of replying which is causing even more upset. 

Petermcf wrote.

And still the tumbleweed rolls along the corridors of the BBC,
It looks like they cannot or will not provide a reply.
There's a lot of raw feelings about this whole issue and to be fair to the public little information about why from the BBC. I'm sure more is coming but in the meanwhile, there does seem to be a problem with streaming content generally. Without talking for the BBC, it seems clear that content deals are done to a limited amount of devices. So everytime a new one is added, it is cleared by legal and the copyright owners before hand. I know this makes little difference in a digital world and this is like the Hulu/Boxee stand-off, but we need to find a way to get through to the copyright owners, as they seem to be setting the rules.

Its not all doom and gloom, Channel4's move to YouTube has been praised by many and with others following the path towards HTML5 video. Will it be long before this whole discussion is simply forgotten in the march towards openness?

Global Ignite Week

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Ian Forrester Ian Forrester | 18:52 UK time, Friday, 12 February 2010

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Global Ignite week

The first week of March is Global Ignite week, if you've never been to an Ignite night they are like nothing you've been to before. Tim O'reilly calls them The Twitter of conferences, a way to quickly share information and spark enthusiasm. The Ignite slogan is Enlighten us, but make it quick, and fits perfectly with its auto-advancing slides and 5mins maximum talks.

Each Ignite has the same format: an evening event, often in a bar or other informal meeting place, starting out with a Make: contest, followed by a series of short talks, with 10-15 speakers given five minutes to speak on the subject of their choice, each with 20 slides auto-advancing every 15 seconds. Organizers invite speakers and, like any event organizer, pick people who will engage the audience. Events usually draw at least 100 attendees, and the largest Ignite to date has had 800 attendees.

There are 5 in England and Wales

Ignite is a self-organising event like BarCamp and TEDx, like those two its really grown across the world and there are events as far as New Zealand now. Its maybe not too late to setup an ignite in your own area and find speakers.

Tim O'reilly has a lot of interesting things to say about what he has learned from letting Ignite which is a O'reilly brand/event go into the wild wild world in the radar blog entry titled
Ignite, Syndicated Events, and Social Media Marketing

BBC R&D Website relaunch

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Ian Forrester Ian Forrester | 12:45 UK time, Wednesday, 10 February 2010


Finally we can link to the new R&D website without covering our eyes with fear of the early 90's web design effort.

We've taken every effort to thoroughly check all the new pages, but with over 1200 pages we know that it's possible that some errors may have slipped through the net. We'd be very grateful for all that you can bring to our attention, and we'll fix them as quickly as possible. If you've any comments on the new site, any questions about the navigation or content, or general feedback on it,

One of the parts which should not be missed is the interviews with Matthew Postgate (Head of BBC R&D) which did feature on the R&D blog earlier in the year about the role of R&D in broadcasting and beyond.

  1. Matthew Postgate Interview, Part 1
  2. Matthew Postgate Interview, Part 2
    Duration: 08:48
  3. Matthew Postgate Interview, Part 3

    Duration: 08:31

BBC iPlayer for Apple TV

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Ian Forrester Ian Forrester | 13:57 UK time, Tuesday, 9 February 2010


Jonathan Tweed has been up to something over the last few weeks and has decided to share it with the rest of the community just recently.

This is an Apple TV plugin that allows you to watch and listen to all BBC iPlayer content - TV, network, national and local radio - all from the comfort of your sofa. Just like on iPlayer, you can quickly access the highlights and most popular programmes for tv, radio or particular service, as well dig deeper using the schedules, categories, A-Z listings and search.

Unfortunately the plugin had to be removed at the request of the BBC. Jonathan explains the whole thing on his own blog.

The BBC raised concerns around deep linking to iPlayer content and the use of the iPlayer trademark. The plugin was also playing content rights cleared for PC, but not set top box, usage. By making that content available on set top boxes, the plugin potentially exposed the BBC to issues with rights holders.

I understand the reasons I've been given and so have complied with this request.

I know many of you will be upset that its been taken down but copyright owners are very sensitive to this type of thing. Our aim is to always work with both sides.

R&DTV , episode 3 (long version) now available

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Ian Forrester Ian Forrester | 09:24 UK time, Wednesday, 3 February 2010


After a long pause, we're happy to launch the long version of episode 3 of the R&D TV pilot.

Building on the TEDxManchester conference footage, we have a small interview with Stephen Fry from the bundle of videos released under creative commons as part of the BBC's Digital Revolution project. A interview with Michael Sparks of BBC R&D on the open source project Kamaelia and finally a short look back at BBC Ceefax as most of us in the UK experience Analogue TV switch off.

Just in case you have missed the previous episodes,
R&DTV is a pilot show, designed to be shareable, remix-able and
redistribution. It was built for the internet era and all
the assets which make up the show are released under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial license.
The show its self, features interesting tech stories inside and outside
the BBC. We're also looking at how we distribute content in various
encoding methods and formats.

You can enjoy R&DTV:

1. A brief 5 minute video, containing all the very best bits

2. A longer 30 minute video, containing deeper conversations

3. The Asset Bundle, containing everything we used and didn't use to make the video edits

There are also different formats on the bundle server and under the account.

We've deliberately taken a 'different' approach to creating the
content, one which doesn't include working in a studio or with
elaborate production methods to show that you can do create interviews
inexpensively and with off the shelf kit. There's a emphases on this
being something you can do or improve upon.

R&DTV is BBC Backstage experimental project, which was edited together using Kdenlive video editor on a dual core laptop. Exec Producers for this episode are Ian Forrester and overseen by Dr Adrian Woolard.

We would like to specially thank everyone who contributed to this episode: Michael Sparks, Maria Gabriella for permission to reuse the joy of ceefax, Julian Tait of for editing the TEDxManchester footage with Shirley Hunt-Benson as Director, the BBC digital revolution team (Dan Gluckman and Dan Biddle) for permission to use the Stephen Fry footage and picking up the R&DTV concept, Ciaran Anscomb for tech support, M Productions' for Atmosphere the creative commons licensed music from Jamendo and Dr Adrian Woolard for having nerves of steel.

Don't forget we'd love to see anything you've created with the assets and please do give us your feedback, both here on the blog or email rdtv [at]

Lessons learned from the Open Data front lines

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Ian Forrester Ian Forrester | 15:02 UK time, Tuesday, 2 February 2010


Nat Torkington has a fantastic blog post on Oreilly Radar right now about his experiences with two open data projects, Open New Zealand and

Most of experiences are consistent with what we have learned at Backstage.

  1. You can build it but they won't come
    All successful open source projects build communities of supportive engaged developers who identify with the project and keep it productive and useful.
  2. it costs money to make existing data open. That sounds like an excuse, and it's often used as one, but underneath is a very real problem: existing procedures and datasets aren't created, managed, or distributed in an open fashion. This means that the data's probably incomplete, the document's not great, the systems it lives on are built for internal use only, and there's no formal process around managing and distributing updates.
  3. identify the high-value datasets, where great public policy comment, intra-government optimisation, citizen information, or commercial value can be unlocked. Even if you don't buy into the cost argument, there's definitely an order problem: which datasets should we open first? It should be the ones that will give society the greatest benefit soonest. But without a community of users to poll, a well-known place for would-be data consumers to come to and demand access to the data they need, the policy-making parts of governments are largely blind to what data they have and what people want.
  4. If this is open data, where's my damn transparency?...the UK's MySociety defined what success is to them: they're all about building useful apps for citizens, and open data is a means not an end to them.

Although most of Nat is talking about is to do with Government data, there are certainly a lot of parallels which can apply to Backstage and the BBC's public data.

  1. We're put up data in the past and few people have used it. The thought was that it was too complex but actually that wasn't the case, it was the lack of knowledge that it even existed. People still ask if they can get programme information from backstage, although we've been talking about /programmes for years.
  2. The cost issue is also key, backstage isn't too bad, we are very aware that this is public money and only sponsor things which related directly to what were doing or trying to get to. Our biggest cost is our virtual machine servers ( which are used to provide data sets and prototypes from across the BBC.
  3. We do sit on a lot of high value datasets but unlike governments a lot of them are either shared or not ours to give away. We do however try and convince the owner of the data to make available in a open data format for people to remix.
  4. If you look back to when Backstage was setup, it was a response to the Graf report to why the BBC wasn't open and transparent enough. So for us open data is also a means and not the end of the road

Its reassuring to know we're sharing the same experiences as others in the industry and hope to share more of what we've learned over these 5 years in the future. Nat's last paragraph sums up nicely

So, after nearly a year in the Open Data trenches, I have some advice for those starting or involved in open data projects. First, figure out what you want the world to look like and why. It might be a lack of corruption, it might be a better society for citizens, it might be economic gain. Whatever your goal, you'll be better able to decide what to work on and learn from your experiences if you know what you're trying to accomplish.
Second, build your project around users. In my time working with the politicians and civil servants, I've realised that success breeds success: the best way to convince them to open data is to show an open data project that's useful to real people. Not a catalogue or similar tool aimed at insiders, but something that's making citizens, voters, constituents happy. Then they'll get it.

What should the BBC do with @BBC, already discussed

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Ian Forrester Ian Forrester | 17:56 UK time, Monday, 1 February 2010


Every once in a while a story you cover comes back up. I guess its the nature of the blogosphere.

After this blog post titled The @BBC Twitter Conundrum the BBC Internet Blog also picked it up as new news.

The issue at hand is that the BBC has dozens, if not hundreds, of Twitter profiles for its many different departments, programmes and publications - from @bbchealth to @r4today to @BBCHistoryMag and goodness only knows what else. But there is no catch-all 'voice of the BBC' profile bringing the myriad aspects of the corporation together.

Clearly the @BBC profile - which already boasts over 19,000 followers and has been listed 864 times despite never having said a thing - would be the natural home for an over-arching BBC profile, but how on earth to meaningfully squeeze so much output into a single Twitter stream?

There must be other large companies out there in a similar situation, so I thought I'd share our over-dinner musings and my suggested solutions in the hope that they may be of use, or at least provoke some further debate on the subject.

Yes what should the BBC do with its 19,000+ strong Twitter account? Provoke some debate is one thing but it would be good to see what thoughts and ideas have already come up beforehand?

Well to make it easier for people to find, this debate was had last year at BeebCamp2. We blogged the whole thing here. There's even a nice long video of the whole discussion happening hosted by Jem and Arron. There's also a trail of comments off the back of that video from people suggesting ideas for what we should do with the twitter account. Some are more useful than others, the best one is maybe this one....

This discussion is really interesting. It's a shame that the sound quality is a bit off at times, but nevertheless there's some really good points made. It must be difficult for a major corporation like the BBC to decide how best to approach services like Twitter, YouTube etc, because there are totally different ways to convey messages. Like in the video, you mention should you come across like a Twitter user, BBC correspondent and so-on.

Seeking better ideas and comments, we put the question out on ideas store, our open ideas platform.

The Top rated solution was actually Solution #1: The BBC should do nothing with it, the least popular was Solution #2: Create a aggregated view of the best BBC @replies. You can still sign up and vote for the one you prefer, or even suggest one yourself.

Prototype: BBC What's On Now

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Ian Forrester Ian Forrester | 16:49 UK time, Monday, 1 February 2010


BBC 1 webcam

The BBC What's On Now project was an idea of Tim Coysh. He's a regular Radio 1 listener and found it frustrating when he would miss the name of the tunes playing.

Radio 1 is the place where all the new songs are played, and it is very important to know the song title if you want to go on to buy the song.
I decided to go to a website which told you the song name - and was astonished when I could not find any sites which did such a thing. Being a novice website programmer, I decided to look into designing a website which would tell you What's On Radio One. You can see more about how it works on the 'How Does It Work' page.

After designing a prototype site, I found that the site was very dull and boring, it just gave you the song name and artist. I decided to look into more options, like putting a webcam in and retrieving the lyrics for the song. I decided to do this, plus adding the option of changing the radio station - because not everyone prefers Radio 1 - and eventually I created the site you are seeing in front of you.

Its not only Radio 1 either, its also Radio 2, 1Xtra and Radio 6 music. We look forward to seeing what other data source Tim can pull into the mix. Nice work Tim

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