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BBC iPlayer goes portable

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Anthony Rose Anthony Rose | 14:45 UK time, Wednesday, 8 October 2008

As part of our ongoing mission to make BBC iPlayer available on more devices, I'm pleased to announce that BBC iPlayer TV programmes can now be downloaded to portable media players that are able to support Windows Media-protected content.

Of course, BBC radio downloads and podcasts have been portable to different devices for sometime - just point your device to bbc.co.uk/podcasts and you'll get a version for iPod/iPhone, for Sony PSP and for some Nokia phones. But this is the first time that you can play BBC iPlayer TV programmes on a range of portable media devices.

Supported devices

So far, we've tested BBC iPlayer on:
• Sony Walkman E and S series
• Archos 605 WIFI and Internet Media Tablet
• Philips GoGear 52xx series
• Samsung YP-P2 and YP-Q1
• Nokia N96
See full list of devices on which iPlayer is available.

The new Walkman is tiny - which could be useful if you watch programmes on public transport, while the larger GoGear has a big, bright display.

These devices do not have internet connectivity, so we're talking about a download rather than a streaming experience. What both these devices have in common is that they support Windows Media Protected playback - that is, they support Windows DRM for portable devices, which allows us to make our programmes available for download on them.

These devices are not the only devices that support Windows Media Protected playback - others do as well, but we've tested BBC iPlayer on these devices and are happy with the user experience.

As an aside, working out whether a device supports Windows Media Protected playback may require some research on the part of the consumer. There's a bewildering number of similar-looking devices with different capabilities available in shops, and it can be hard to tell which formats are supported by any given portable media player. The packaging usually has some vague wording like "Plays your music and video downloads, including MP3 and WMV", but often doesn't specify whether the device supports Windows DRM, which is required for playing back BBC iPlayer programmes.

If you're buying a portable media player and would like a model that allows you to play BBC iPlayer programmes on it, we have made a web page, Where To Get BBC iPlayer, where you can get a list of the model numbers of tested BBC iPlayer-compatible devices. Those on this list have been tested by the BBC iPlayer team. BBC iPlayer may work on devices which are not on the list - if the device packaging mentions "PlaysForSure", that's a good sign. We'll update the list as we test more devices.

If you're a device manufacturer and you don't see your device listed, please contact us - we'll then test your device and if compatible, add it to the list.

Downloading programmes to your portable media player

Downloading BBC iPlayer programmes to your portable media player is easy: simply go to bbc.co.uk/iplayer on your PC, find your programme, and select the Download for Media Players option.


Save the downloaded programme to your desktop (or any other suitable location), plug your media player into your PC, and drag the programme to your media player. Easy.

This process is known as "sideloading" - you download the content to your computer, then sideload it to a device plugged into a USB port.

We've worked hard to make the process as easy as possible - there's no software to install; you just download the file and copy it to your media player. It should be no more difficult than copying photos from your digital camera to your computer. You can also use Windows Media Player to automatically sync downloaded files to your media player for you.

Currently, sideloading is available for Window Media DRM-compatible devices only, which also means that you'll need to do the download from a Windows PC. For our Mac and Linux users, don't despair: we have another release coming up very soon, aimed at improving your BBC iPlayer options - stay tuned for updates...

Technical details

For those interested in the technical details, we now encode all BBC iPlayer programmes in an additional file format (320x180 pixels 500Kbps video, 128Kbps 48KHz sampling audio, WMV file format) suitable for this class of portable media players.

To do this, we added an extra transcode format into our workflow, able to transcode all 400 hours per week of available BBC iPlayer programmes in this additional format.

We also made some enhancements to our DRM process to support sideloading to portable devices, including pre-delivering the license where possible (where it's not possible to pre-deliver the license at the point that you download the programme, you'll be prompted to play the file - you only need to play the first few seconds - at the time you try to copy it to your portable media player).

Getting protected media to work on portable media players has always been a challenge. Until recently, Apple was the only company that provided a seamless store-to-device user experience. Fortunately, the market is changing, and there are now some devices from other manufacturers that, with suitable workflow at the download and licensing end, can come close to matching that experience.

As part of trying to make the download experience as easy as possible, we're not using P2P for these portable downloads; the files are served as direct HTTP downloads from our servers, which means you don't need to install any software - just click the Download for Media Players link and save the file.

Downloads for Nokia N96

Separate to the above "sideloading" proposition, which is available today, our Mobile team is in the final stages of development of a download proposition for Nokia N96 devices that will also allow you to download programmes "over the air" to your Nokia N96 - i.e., to download directly from the BBC iPlayer site to your phone, without needing to download to your PC first.

These Nokia devices support Open Mobile Alliance (OMA) DRM - so, to make BBC iPlayer content available on those devices, we've built an OMA DRM service. Accordingly, we've now added OMA to the list of rights protection technologies supported by the BBC iPlayer, which should allow us to, in due course and where technically feasible, make BBC iPlayer programmes available on a whole new class of mobile phones and other devices that support the OMA content protection standard.

Editors' note: this post originally contained a paragraph about the BBC iPlayer and the Nokia N95. This paragraph has been removed and is replaced by this blog post from Matthew Postgate which gives more detail.

What about iPhone / iPod?

The astute reader would have noticed our making BBC iPlayer programmes available on Sony, Philips, Nokia and other devices... but what about Apple?

What's common to all the devices listed above is that they support "open" rights protection technologies, where "open" means that any content owner or distributor, such as the BBC, is able to readily license the DRM technologies used by those devices and is able to create content that can be played back on those devices.

Unfortunately, Apple keeps its DRM technology close to its chest and has so far not licensed that technology to third parties. This means that as of today, it's not technically possible for us to make rights-protected BBC iPlayer programmes available for download from the bbc.co.uk/iplayer website in a format compatible with Apple devices. That's a major missing piece for us and a disappointment for Apple device owners, so please know that this has our full attention.

How do we choose which devices to make BBC iPlayer available on?

Finally, there's occasional speculation that the choice of devices we support is based on device manufacturers paying us, or a "special relationship" (whatever that means) with certain vendors. Please be assured that this is not the case.

Our device selection is done without fear or favour, based on a standard BBC "Reach, Quality, Impact, Value" (RQIV) assessment policy, where:
• "Reach" means that it will increase the reach of BBC programming (i.e., people who would not otherwise watch or listen to our programmes may now do so)
• "Quality" means it's a great user experience
• "Impact" means people who already interact with the BBC will consume more of our programming
• and "Value" means that this new proposition is value for our license fee payers.

In terms of iPlayer, the decision usually comes down to the popularity of the device and how practical (and costly) it would be to implement and support iPlayer for it.

Read all our posts about the BBC iPlayerIt's worth remembering that: certain aspects of our content delivery are presently non-negotiable (for example, rights protection such as DRM is required), some devices cannot technologically support BBC iPlayer (and some that do are not geared for it and the quality would be poor) and, last but not least:

bringing BBC iPlayer to a device may require the active involvement of third parties such as the device manufacturer and our content delivery partners.

If you have a device that is not supported, and are wondering why that is the case, these considerations usually contain the answer.

This is a good opportunity to thank all the device manufacturers and technology partners we have worked with so far. The BBC iPlayer team looks forward to working with them, as well as other device manufacturers and future technology partners, to make BBC iPlayer even more widely available, and continue to improve the BBC iPlayer experience.

Anthony Rose is Head of Online Media Group, BBC Future Media & Technology.


  • Comment number 1.

    You can add Creative Zen to the "so far we've tested on..." list - I just downloaded Have I Got News for You. Threw up a warning when I tried dragging it to my Zen, but it plays back fine.

  • Comment number 2.

    Works on Archos 504.

  • Comment number 3.

    Well, it's a good start. I'd like iPhone versions of course, I can already download them via the various hacks out there, but a nice link to do it would be preferable!

  • Comment number 4.

    No for My Samsung i900 Poor ME and My Windows Mobile Device! :-(

  • Comment number 5.

    ``For our Mac and Linux users, don't despair: we have another release coming up very soon''

    Well we've been waiting ten months so far for some form of iPlayer that actually works within open standards, so I suppose a few more weeks is endurable...

  • Comment number 6.

    Any news on an international iPlayer?

  • Comment number 7.

    What about providing these downloads via the iTunes Store at no charge? I can download TV programmes and films to own, and I can rent films; why not "rent" BBC iPlayer content with a £0.00 price tag?

  • Comment number 8.

    How about making iPlayer content available via iTunes store *free of charge for 7 days?

    (Charge for it *after* the time limit has expired if you must!)

    That would provide iPlayer content on Mac computers and Apple TV, as well as video capable iPods, on the same terms as for Windows computers and all the other devices...

  • Comment number 9.

    The Apple issue is explained in the blog post.

    "Unfortunately, Apple keeps its DRM technology close to its chest and has so far not licensed that technology to third parties."

  • Comment number 10.

    Why would people assume that Apple would agree to distribute things via the iTunes store for nothing?

    It costs them money for bandwidth if nothing else. They won't.

    This is why they already do distribute it after the seven days when it costs money.

    And since they won't licence out Fairplay, that's it - Apple control iTunes with an iron fist.

  • Comment number 11.

    upyourego: the suggestion is that BBC content would be distributed through the iTunes Store; that wouldn't require Apple to release the DRM technology to the BBC.

    The_Phazer: very good point; my brain obviously isn't working well today!

  • Comment number 12.

    This is great news! I love iPlayer - I love how there is no login, no adverts (obviously) - just a gateway to immediate, high quality content.

    Getting this content across more devices is great news, but as an Apple geek (iPhone and Mac), I am a little disappointed with DRM issue - which is out of the BBCs control - sort yourself out Apple!

    It would be cool to see iPlayer available on my Xbox 360 too (if only to get more content on Xbox Live!). Does the BBCs commitment to Windows DRM make this an "easier" feat?

  • Comment number 13.

    First up, I love iplayer for Web and iPhone, I believe it to be the best streaming video platform in the world.

    Secondly, regarding downloads for the iPhone and iPod Touch...

    Correct me if I'm wrong, but surely it would be possible to write an iPlayer app for the iPhone?

    Due to the nature of Apples 3rd party application file handling, all videos downloaded to the iPhone via the app would be hidden to all other 3rd party apps and connected computers. Though not strictly DRM, surely this would be as good as any DRM?

    Any news on 3G streaming for the iPhone?

  • Comment number 14.

    Sony PSP - Any chance? Firmware's upgradable, WiFi inbuilt, great screen...

    ...please? :)

  • Comment number 15.

    Its great being able to download to the PC and then display the video using the Archos 605 WiFi but is there any chance of being able to download directly to the Archos 605 WiFi?

    The current webpage doesn't work ont he Archos but if I use the same URL the PC uses to download the video file direct to the Archos the browser tries to display the file rather than save it. Being able to do this would then enable me to use just the Archos and my TV to access iPlayer rather than involving the PC.

    Once again thanks for this great new feature.

  • Comment number 16.

    Hi Everyone

    One question that I have is that as a TV license payer why is it that I do not have the right to download a DRM free version of the video to my Macbook? Surely I have already paid for the programme to be made and for the right to view it, the only difference seems to be that I would be able to view it when I want, and when away from an internet connection?

    Many thanks

  • Comment number 17.

    Archos 5, Archos 605 have internet connectivity, they support WMV and any other codec at full bitrates up to 720x576.

    By contacting Archos engineers, you could make a BBC iPlayer section on their content portal, which basically could be a HTML version that lists all the shows, and on the Archos, all your shows could stream in realtime using direct links to your media files in any codec hat you have them available in.

    Why not have just plain basic HTML with plain basic links to DVD quality Mpeg4 or H264 or WMV, you could require people log-in and pay to cover bandwidth costs if you want. This type of page would work not only on Archos, it would work on the PS3, on the Wii, on basically any other device that would comply with web standards and video standards.

  • Comment number 18.

    "One question that I have is that as a TV license payer why is it that I do not have the right to download a DRM free version of the video to my Macbook? Surely I have already paid for the programme to be made and for the right to view it, the only difference seems to be that I would be able to view it when I want, and when away from an internet connection?"

    No, you don't. The BBC don't buy the rights for you to keep permanent copies from people and third parties who contribute to the programmes (very few of whom are BBC employees). They only licence limited rights for you to see it a certain number of times (which is why BBC Worldwide charge you for DVDs, because they have to pay these people again). Writers, actors, the music companies, format owners, independent production companies etc etc etc all still own the copyright in programmes the BBC makes, and be greatful they do because the alternative is that the licence fee would be many multiples of it's current amount for the same level of programming.

    One would note that legally you are not allowed to tape something off the television and keep it indefinately for multiple viewings in the UK, despite common misconceptions to the contrary.

    Hence the BBC needs to get a deal with rights holders for how long the content can stay up for the money they're offering, and need either streaming (so it can come down and the streams need to be reasonably hard to capture) or DRM to enforce that.


  • Comment number 19.

    As DRM is a given - it's life, deal with it - no DRM would also mean very little content on the iPlayer as most rights holders would very quickly withdraw their permission to allow it to appear if it wasn't DRMd and time limited.

    The better solution would be to mount a campaign - everybody - to convince apple to licence their DRM solution to the BBC.

    That was all files could be compatable with Windows and MAC, in a much better format than WMV and be able to be moved to the iPod - especially now Apple supports time limited DRM.

    Not sure about Linux though - can you even have any kind of effective DRM on an open source platform?

  • Comment number 20.

    If Apple won't licence its DRM to other larger companies, then the BBC has no chance of securing them.

    Anyway, Apple cite security concerns or something regarding 3rd party licencing of FairPlay.

    Whatever that means.

  • Comment number 21.

    The_Phazer (18)

    Thanks for clearing that up

  • Comment number 22.

    DRM is pointless. Ask the music industry.

    Anyone who says streaming is different to downloading is unaware of how easy it is for those who wish to capture the stream can do so.

    Anyone who says DRM prevents piracy is unaware of how broken every DRM implementation (including FairPlay) is for those who wish to circumvent it.

    So DRM is only a burden on the law-abiding licence fee payer.

    The DRM developer gets to decide which platform you can, or can't, put your content on.

    DRM is an effort to impose a physical good, geographically limited right agreement on a digital good in a global distribution system.

    Should a public service broadcaster seek to treat it's constituency in this way?

    The paradigm has shifted but the rights agreements have not. Again - if you use DRM to enforce your rights agreements you are merely burdening the legal licence fee payer. So maybe more effort needs to be spent revisiting the rights agreements and just keep the delivery focus simply on developing a technologically agnostic, multi-layered approach to the content.

    Surely having let the music industry suffer all the painful lessons (of what happens when your digital content meets a global digital distribution system) should be reason enough to at least try a Plan B?

  • Comment number 23.

    But the DRM is imposed on the BBC by the rights holders and for the vast majority of content on the iPlayer the BBC is NOT the only rights holder.

    So the only solution to DRM at the moment is to NOT have an iPlayer - only put local news, weather and the odd natural history programme on there instead.

    Ideally there would be another solution - maybe stamping every file downloading with the persons IP address so if it makes its way onto a torrent or other P2P service it can be traced back to the person that uploaded it?

  • Comment number 24.

    i recently posted this comment in a related bbc blog:

    Is there some form of financial deal between Nokia and the BBC to restrict iPlayer to Nokias most expensive phones?

    iPlayer works on the cheapest laptop/PC and on the iPod Touch which costs £170. However the software for Nokia is restricted to Nokias most expensive handsets. If you search the web it becomes clear that the iPlayer application can work on any N series phone . But Nokia/the BBC have deliberately coded it to exclude all but Nokias very expensive phones such as the N96.

    I have an N82 which is less than half the price of the N96 - and it will run hacked versions of iPlayer (so I'm informed)

    Why won't the BBC release this as an N Series application and unlock it. Has Nokia been able to demand these restrictions to force customers to buy their expensive phones.

    I received this reply which led me here:

    andibeeb - there's no fiendish plan - Anthony Rose has some detail about how decisions are made about which devices to put the iPlayer on here.

    Nick Reynolds (editor, BBC Internet blog)

    I understand the point being made, however iPlayer v 1.00 could be made to play on other N series phone by simply inserting the relevant phone name into the applications code.

    If it was that easy to do (and that easy to subsequently block) then the issue must be more than compatability.

  • Comment number 25.

    There is no point restricting iPlayer downloads with any form of DRM, no point stamping files with downloaders IP addresses, and little merit to the idea that content providers won't tolerate DRM free distribution.

    It might have slipped people's minds, but the BBC is still a television broadcaster, and Freeview is a completely anonymous, DRM free distribution channel that serves higher quality versions of the same content as the iPlayer. The versions of BBC programs that appear on torrent sites are not taken from the iPlayer, they're taken from air. There is no point locking the iPlayer's stable door - this horse has bolted.

    Indeed, it's not even accurate to say that the content providers require DRM for online distribution, since the iPhone version of the iPlayer doesn't use any; it's just open standard formats delivered over HTTP.

    DRM in general, and iPlayer DRM in particular, doesn't work; it protects nothing. All it does is inconvenience ordinary users like AT3005 who quite reasonably just wants to watch content he's perfectly allowed to watch, on a device of his choice.

  • Comment number 26.


    I've got a N96, V.impressive so far. However when I try and copy an iplayer file (for mobile devices) to it to watch I am told their is a 'copyright violation' and I am unable to do so.

    Any ideas anyone?


  • Comment number 27.

    This works with the Pinnacle Showcenter 200 media player, using Microsoft Media Connect on the PC, so I would expect that it will work with Windows Media Player 11.
    Strangely using the same setup with the normal full resolution wmv files will fail. The licence file is copied over, however the Showcenter will play the sound but not the picture. There must be some slight differences in the encoding, other than the resolution difference.

  • Comment number 28.

    Hi Andy,

    Have you seen the FAQ on transfers? You may need to play the file on your computer before sending it to your phone



  • Comment number 29.

    andibeeb - Matthew Postage has posted an update on iPlayer and the N95 here.

    Nick Reynolds (editor, BBC Internet blog)

  • Comment number 30.

    So is Apple is not interested in a deal where the BBC pays the bandwidth costs( which the bbc would be paying if they hosted it themselves) and apple host the shows in itunes for free using a version of their rental system so the TV shows expire after a certain amount of time?

    This would get the content on Mac/PC's ipod/iphones/appletv etc. This would seem to be the best solution for both apple and the BBC?

    So is it more of a case that Apple isn't interested in this or the BBC don't want apple to host the shows? or a bit of both?

    Apple have made it clear that they won't open up their DRM for fears of it being hacked and the BBC only supporting plays for sure while nice has a limited portable market.

    I think you both need your heads knocking together!

  • Comment number 31.

    Hi Jonathan,

    RE: Have you seen the FAQ on transfers? You may need to play the file on your computer before sending it to your phone


    I didn't need to play it on my PC, but I did need to use Windows Media player to sinc the content on my phone and PC - it copied over fine then. Except that iplayer on my phone ignores it.. it does play fine as one of any other video file, but there does not seem to be any sort of contection with iplayer at the moment.

    Thanks for your help.

  • Comment number 32.


    Just a little addendum to my earlier post - while I have succeed transferring video files downloaded from iplayer to my N96 - the audio is out of sync. I have tried stopping and starting the file, but to no avail. More advice please.


  • Comment number 33.

    Dear Mr. Rose,
    please can you explain why the BBC has crippled the iPlayer site to not play radio programs on the iPhone internationally, when it does work fine on a laptop ?

    The BBC have explained countless times the difficulty of international video access,and OK I just about buy that, but you have always allowed access to radio (with a few exceptions) from a computer.

    Is your IT department just anti-iPhone ?

    Also this other story about not being able to license Apples DRM is pretty lame. The BBC already makes some TV series available for rent on the iTunes store. Why not simply increase the catalogue there ?

    Still hoping for a BBC that pays serious attention to the world outside windows...

  • Comment number 34.

    So why is this not availble on Windows Mobile devices which have Windows Media Player available natively?

  • Comment number 35.

    I have sideloaded a mobile file to a MDA Vario 2 and HTC Touch both running WinMo 6, and it worked! Played ok with windows media player. Not with coreplayer mobile.

    Worth mentioning: On the devices it needed a data connection to download the digital rights. In addition, the 600+ bitrate of the file made it be more jerky on the touch than on the vario 2.

    Is there a reason why it is not more put forward? There is a very diverse crowd of WinMo users that would be happy to watch this on their devices.

  • Comment number 36.

    I bought an Archos 5 because iPlayer is supposedly compatible with it. I have now tried to download a program in media player format from the three different PCs. On every single one I get the same message - an 'individualisation error' means I can't download a thing.
    WM player has been updated with everything I can think of. The DRM looks fine. The programs play in the browser.
    Baffled... and frankly a bit annoyed. Why does it have to be so hard when you say above that it's so easy?

  • Comment number 37.

    bodsham - have you tried iPlayer help or the iPlayer message board?

    Nick Reynolds (editor, BBC Internet blog)

  • Comment number 38.

    Are there any plans for radio programmes to be downloaded onto portbale players? I have only seen the option to down load tv programmes? Not all BBC radio programmes are available as podcasts.

  • Comment number 39.

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