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What happened to iplayer streaming?

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

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: https://lkcl.net/rtmp/RTMPE.txt 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 backstage.bbc.co.uk.

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?


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