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BBC iPlayer Standard Products on TV Platforms

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Rahul Chakkara Rahul Chakkara | 18:23 UK time, Monday, 2 November 2009

BBC iPlayer has been a success on television. Since we went live with BBC iPlayer on Virgin Media in June 2008, there have been more than 200 million programmes viewed. This accounts for more than a quarter of all iPlayer viewing today.

My colleague Kerstin Mogull has recently clarified how we plan to make BBC iPlayer available to audiences on other platforms and devices.

The BBC intends to develop and make available standard iPlayer products.

The standard products on TV platforms are:

1. MHEG-IC (MHEG-5 Interaction Channel).

MHEG-5 is a standard that has been used for developing and presenting interactive television in the UK for nearly a decade. Recently, the Digital Television Group supported by BBC R&D, has extended the standard to use the interaction channel for handling Internet video. This standard has been adopted by Freesat and incorporated into the DBook 6.1 used in Freeview HD devices. We have been developing BBC iPlayer using this standard. I expect to start a Beta deployment by the end of November using capable Freesat devices.

2. HTML.

Creating a product that would work with minimal alterations in devices using HTML browsers has been a challenge. While most devices claim to use HTML4 -compliant browsers, we often find proprietary tags, plug-ins etc. Although there is increasing support of HTML5 work and its standardisation of audio and video interfaces, most devices have their own proprietary media players and interfaces. To maximise the availability of the BBC iPlayer to connected television and television devices, we have chosen to take the route of accepted standards mixing it with pragmatic use of APIs where necessary.

The HTML application will be written in HTML4.01/Javascript 1.5/CSS2.1. This means devices that run standard HTML4 compliant browsers should be able to run the BBC iPlayer user interface. We will define a media playback API that will allow 3rd parties to play the iPlayer media assets. The API uses the ongoing work in the W3C HTML working group, for playing video and audio. Third parties can now use the APIs to interface to their media players. If support is provided for the HTML5 audio and video elements, we expect these APIs to work directly.

Caption: iPlayer on TV image from dantaylor on flickr

I am expecting a Beta release of this product in November. The Beta period will be used to validate and improve the above approach.

In addition to this, BBC iPlayer can be accessed by pointing to our Big Screen implementation at www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/bigscreen. This can be used without changes.

3. Flash.

We are seeing Internet technologies that deliver richness in presentation, such as Flash, being adapted for embedded devices. This has gone hand in hand with an increase in processing power in television devices. Flash is getting traction within the television industry. To exploit the presentation possibilities, we are planning to make a standard product available in Adobe Flash Lite 3.1. I expect the Beta to be ready in April 2010.

Our success with BBC iPlayer on Virgin Media, has shown that there is an appetite among our audience for BBC iPlayer on the television. I'm very excited to be working with other partners to bring that success to our audience on other platforms and devices.

This is a fast changing and evolving industry. Many of our assumptions will be challenged with time. We will keep coming back to the products and update them where appropriate.

If you believe your product can carry any of the standard products, please contact us at syndication@bbc.co.uk.

Rahul Chakkara is Controller, TV Platforms, BBC FM&T


  • Comment number 1.

    Will we see a native iPlayer iPhone app?

  • Comment number 2.

    Now we have Windows 7, is there any chance of getting the iPlayer back in Media Center? Sky Anytime is there already

  • Comment number 3.

    Why is the BBC making a version for Flash Lite 3.1 when Flash 10.1, not the cut down version, is the new standard for mobile devices?

  • Comment number 4.

    Love the Big Screen version of iPlayer!

    By the way, there's no capital B in the URL for Big Screen - ie, https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/bigscreen/

  • Comment number 5.

    Sounds all very cool and everything, but I agree with the first comment - an iPhone app would be great. The current web app is cool, but it'd much better to have an offline application so we could watch shows offline.

  • Comment number 6.

    #3. At 7:29pm on 02 Nov 2009, Darren Waters wrote:

    "Why is the BBC making a version for Flash Lite 3.1 when Flash 10.1, not the cut down version, is the new standard for mobile devices?"

    Because Flash 10.1 is new perhaps, and thus not all mobile devices in use will support the format, are you saying that content for Flash Lite 3.1 won't play on Flash 10.1?

  • Comment number 7.

    alaninbelfast - thanks. now corrected.

  • Comment number 8.

    "I expect to start a Beta deployment by the end of November using capable Freesat devices."

    Will this be an open beta? I.e. will anyone with the right Freesat box connected in the right way be able to use iplayer or will it only be restricted to BBC staff until launch?

  • Comment number 9.

    The problem with broadcasting over the wires is twofold as I see it. First to get acceptable quality quite a bit of data needs transmitting and second for what ever reason the BBC wants the data to be time expire.

    The first problem means that in fact the quality tens to tend towards rubbish - far worse then the MPEG2 used on Freeview at present. (MPEG2 is part of the same set of codecs used on DVD's) Now there are more efficient codecs such as MPEG4 - the downside of these is that both encoding and decoding need more computer power. (The wavelet and fractal codecs need even more computing power.) My gut feeling is that on-line 'broadcasting' should use MPEG4 and from my point of view I would like to see an open codec used rather than a proprietary one. This is for both moral and practical reasons. I do not think it is a good idea to commit to a single proprietary private codec however apparently initially attractive the deal.

    I also do not understand why the programmes should time expire. Eventually downloaders will need the space and delete stuff they no longer want providing it can be downloaded again if they should ever want it. Although I do concede that all downloaded files need to carry hidden(?) and non removable certificates of origin (aka spoilers).

    So in summary: only use open standards - no proprietary tie ins - no expiry dates - and non removable (hidden) certificates of origin (aka spoilers with the broadcaster's visible name at start and end) - and MPEG4 (H264) that is my recipe. I think it is a practical and commercial mistake to go proprietary.

  • Comment number 10.


    Thanks for the information...

    =Dennis Junior=

  • Comment number 11.

    I think it is a practical and commercial mistake to go proprietary.

    Commercial mistake??? You do seem to be glossing over the fact that without timed expiry the BBC would inccur several billion pounds in extra rights licencing costs, so the licence fee would have to multiply...


  • Comment number 12.

    There are lots more devices than five hundred quid iPhones out there so I welcome micro Flash. Distributing video down wires is old hat for me starting when the BBC streamed with Qicktime. For that era on 625 the quality was acceptable. Since then its has not improved.
    But then the bandwith available on a wire connection was adequete. That is no longer so as contention and throttling tighten the screw in the hours of affluence So will we all watch at 03.00 which I get my 6M? And high usage will have the ISP's sending out letters demanding data charges for exceeding 'fair' use'. How many hours of enhanced iPlayer viewer before I get mine?
    Virgin fibre passes my door but i am on the third floor so they are not interested so like the vast majority I am on BT Wholesale + ISP
    The BBC will argue that they are driving the development.... rather like a flee driving an elephant.

  • Comment number 13.

    #9 At 11:06pm on 02 Nov 2009, John_from_Hendon wrote:

    ...My gut feeling is that on-line 'broadcasting' should use MPEG4 and from my point of view I would like to see an open codec used rather than a proprietary one.

    I assume they'll be using MPEG-4/H.264 as on the online iPlayer, wrapped in Flash to increase compatibility. Most new STBs will ship with the ability to decode MPEG-4 through a dedicated chip, as will new Freesat HD TVs. The reason MPEG-2 is used on Virgin Media is due to lack of MPEG-4 support in non-HD boxes, and because in effect the bandwidth is 'free', ie. bandwidth used for your TV service is separate from the bandwidth used and charged for, for internet access.

  • Comment number 14.

    For the HTML-based option, will you use a media stream format mandated by the HTML 5 video tag spec (i.e. Ogg Theora), or add an additional requirement for another format such as h.264, which many embedded system platforms can now decode in hardware even at HD resolution?

  • Comment number 15.

    #11. The_Phazer disagreed with:

    "I think it is a practical and commercial mistake to go proprietary."

    Timed expiry has little to do with being proprietary or open source.

    Timed expiry has everything to do with winding up the users and making life difficult for them. Juts because that a broadcaster has purchased material in ways that are limiting to it does not mean that it should continue to do so to the detriment of the user's experience.

    The law needs to be made clear and anyone viewing or receiving material that has been paid for by the British broadcasters should be required to pay an annual fee. And for that fee UK users should have free use of the available programming as they have paid for it, no matter how they choose to receive it, off air or by wire. To discriminate between the delivery media is wrong and irrational.

  • Comment number 16.

    Hi Rahul,

    iPlayer isn't working on the Wii at the moment.

    Is the Adobe Flash Lite 3.1 Beta "to be ready in April 2010" what we need to wait for it to work again?

  • Comment number 17.

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

  • Comment number 18.

    Any chance of a Yahoo connected tv widget??

  • Comment number 19.

    I see that the Digital Television Group is making the iPlayer compatable with Freeview HD boxes. Is this service going to be rolled out on the existing Freeview platform or will we have to wait about 3-5 years until Freeview HD is rolled out?

  • Comment number 20.

    Hi Rahul

    As the mother of 2 young children, the only way I can catch up with the programmes I want to watch is in the middle of the day or the middle of the night via my Virgin TV connection.

    I am really pleased you will be testing a beta version of the BBC iPlayer on FreeSat later this month. It will open up more audiences to this great service.

    Thank you.

  • Comment number 21.

    This all sounds like good stuff, but we really do need more details on these betas; chiefly, how those of us with capable kit are going to be able to get involved.

  • Comment number 22.

    Given the pretty small list of FreeSat boxes, any ideas which ones are deemed to be "capable"?

  • Comment number 23.

    I own a Panasonic TH50PZ81 Freesat TV which has been networked since installation in late 2008, awaiting the enabling of the Ethernet interface. I am eager to start using the iPlayer functionality, especially in the HD format, so would be very interested in being part of the closed user beta trials.

    Is there any way that one can register to be part of the beta test team?

  • Comment number 24.

    I'd also be interested in an iPlayer widget for Yahoo Connected TV. Would be good to have it on Samsung's Internet@TV service.

  • Comment number 25.

    I want to buy a new TV and already watch iPlayer loads on the iPod touch. I'd really like to see an Internet@TV widget for iPlayer please as then I know which TV I'd buy.

  • Comment number 26.

    During the week I live in the UK, but at weekends live overseas in a country with no English language TV. Two years ago the satellite operator stopped supplying BBC World.

    I understand that iPlayer is paid for from the licence fee, (hence why it's not rolled out overseas to non-payers), but as a UK TV licence fee payer myself, is there, or is there likely to be a way I can get to use this overseas i.e. over the wii

  • Comment number 27.

    I've found the answer to my own questions here:

    no time soon by the look of it !

  • Comment number 28.

    Why is the Iplayer not available abroad such as other European countries?

    Many of us who miss a programme on BBC would like to replay it only to find the message "sorry Iplayer is not available in your region!!"

  • Comment number 29.

    I have just seen a comment which says that you do not make Iplayer available abroad because it is paid from license fees in UK by viewers.

    But the BBC programs are avaiable to people abroad who do not pay any license fees to UK-BBC either!! So why the dichotomy?

  • Comment number 30.

    When an overseas broadcaster shows BBC programming, including just carrying the basic BBC channels, they pay the BBC for the privilege, so even if there isn't money coming from each of their viewers individually, it's coming from somewhere.

  • Comment number 31.

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

  • Comment number 32.

    This comment has been referred for further consideration. Explain.

  • Comment number 33.

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

  • Comment number 34.

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

  • Comment number 35.

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

  • Comment number 36.

    Will open-source plugins be allowed to make use of your media API? As in stuff released under GNU licences? Cos if it is.. I'll be very much looking forward to being able to play BBC material on my N900 again - even if the software is written by the Maemo community.

    Also - will XBMC et al be allowed to make use of this API?


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