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BBC iPlayer on TV in your living room: update

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Gideon Summerfield Gideon Summerfield | 15:15 UK time, Tuesday, 5 April 2011

A clutch of BBC iPlayer on TV developments marked last week out as a real milestone in our efforts to get the BBC's on demand service onto more of the big screens in the country's living rooms.

Our latest figures show there has already been a 10-fold increase in consumption of BBC iPlayer content on connected TVs, set top boxes and BluRay players since June last year, so we are certain these efforts are well placed.

• Customers of Virgin Media digital cable and BT Vision are now able to get access to the full BBC iPlayer experience on TV

• BBC iPlayer is being rolled out onto more and more connected TVs and Bluray Disc Players thanks to growing support for HTML and Flash. This includes new devices from Panasonic, Sony, LG, Toshiba and Syabas.

• We are even able to offer a version of BBC iPlayer for new Freeview HD devices that don't support HTML or Flash

First off, last week saw Virgin Media formally launch its new TiVo-powered set-top box. And the great news is it has Flash built in and supports our Flash-based BBC iPlayer. If you get your hands on one of these you can find BBC iPlayer in the Apps and Games area or by pressing the Red Button on a BBC channel.

BBC iPlayer as it looked previously on Virgin Media

Above: BBC iPlayer as it looked previously on Virgin Media

BBC iPlayer as it now looks on Virgin Media TiVo

Above: BBC iPlayer as it looks now on Virgin Media

For those familiar with the BBC iPlayer experience on existing Virgin cable boxes, this is an evolution designed to make the most the most of a 'connected' experience.

With a new user interface that makes it easy to find programmes, and an increase in the amount of programmes available, (up from around 600 to 900 hours on average, bringing it in line with BBC iPlayer on other Connected TV devices), catch-up radio, plus popular features such as subtitles and Most Popular listings.

Whilst one of the first, Virgin's Tivo-powered box is not alone in supporting our standard Flash app. Another device we've recently certified is the Popcorn Hour media player from Syabas and we expect to certify more soon.

I'm also very happy to confirm that the roll-out of BBC iPlayer on BT Vision is ramping up in earnest now that BT has started to upgrade the software on those boxes. By the end of next week, 100,000 homes should be able to access BBC iPlayer and by the end of June it should be available to pretty much everyone in the UK with a BT Vision box. If you have one, check out channel 990 to see if it's arrived in your area yet.

BBC iPlayer on BT Vision channell 990

BBC iPlayer as it looks on BT Vision channel 990

The BBC is encouraged that device manufacturers continue to adopt HTML, allowing us to more easily build rich IPTV apps, especially where standards for video control - such as HTML5 - are supported. This year, Panasonic and Sony have joined the likes of Samsung, LG, and Toshiba in launching connected TVs in the UK that support HTML.

And I'm glad to say that we have been able to certify the standard HTML version of BBC iPlayer for TV on these in recent days.

Last week we also made an important release for Freeview HD. We can now offer BBC iPlayer to new connected TVs and set-top box receivers that conform to the latest Freeview HD specification, known as Dbook 6.2.1. This standard version of our application relies on MHEG-5, the same technology that powers BBC iPlayer on millions of Freesat HD boxes, and the technology long used to deliver Red Button services on Freeview and Freesat.

The first product to be certified for this version, accessed via the Red Button from a BBC channel, is a new Freeview+ HD PVR from Sony (see below).

App of BBC iPlayer MHEG

As you can see we are working hard to deliver BBC iPlayer on a variety of devices that you connect to your living room TV.

And in future we hope to use the same technology to bring you even more enriched IPTV services from the BBC.

So keep an eye on our Where to Get BBC iPlayer page, which we will be updating soon to list every single model certified for BBC iPlayer.

Gideon Summerfield is Product Manager, TV iPlayer


  • Comment number 1.

    I have Virgin Media and have to say that the new version of the iPlayer is a HUGE leap forward from the old one. Nicely done!

  • Comment number 2.

    Any plans to port the iPad iPlayer app to the Apple TV (V2), and / or enable Airplay on the iPad version?

  • Comment number 3.

    The new Virgin Media interface looks really good!

    The old one did its job, but it was essentially just a series of lists and menus, so the improvements and changes on the new UI will be welcomed!


  • Comment number 4.

    I love having iPlayer on my Sony Bravia TV, and the quality of the streamed video is very good. However, the performance of the iPlayer interface itself is pretty bad. Navigating to a program via search or channel browsing is really slow. Once you get there, quality is amazing as I said, but navigation is sometimes painful.

    Is there anything that can be done about this? Is it the TV's fault of can the iPlayer interface be tuned somehow?

  • Comment number 5.

    any news on the PS3 bugs and search issues?

  • Comment number 6.

    "We are working hard to deliver BBC iPlayer on a variety of devices" - but this is the problem. You are having to do work for each new specific device, which is plainly ridiculous. Imagine if for broadcast TV, the BBC had to individually approve every make of TV set? It would be ridiculous. Yet you have *allowed*, even have *chosen* to put yourselves in this position with respect to iPlayer "sets". Worse, there is *no* technical reason why you must do this. And how will this scale in the long-run?

    You could, if you wished and had some executive testicular fortitude, open up access to the HTML iPlayer to *all* devices. However, instead you quite *deliberately* have added extra technical checks which try to disable access for unapproved devices (not too successfully), and then you give us this spin about how hard you're working to allow a privileged few set makers access. Not saying a word about all the other devices which *could* access iPlayer no problem, if only you didn't go out of your way to deny them it.

    And yes, I'm annoyed you have refused to approve my request for access. Anti-competitive.

    See also: https://pjakma.wordpress.com/2010/06/03/bbcs-most-favoured-devices/ (and Android devices *still* don't have access, and most don't have access to Flash either).

  • Comment number 7.

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

  • Comment number 8.

    It's a shame that no kind of arrangement could be reached with Microsoft with regards to getting the iPlayer onto the Xbox 360. I understand the reason why in that Microsoft wants to only offer it to Gold members which would effectively put the iPlayer behind a pay wall. It's silly though, Microsoft should make it available to all members then they get a new feature to boast about and the BBC get the iPlayer on the most popular console!

  • Comment number 9.

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

  • Comment number 10.

    Joe K - you are off topic which is why I have removed your comment. I will however raise it with the appropriate team. Please use the complaints process set out here.

    Paul Jakma - the BBC's policy on syndication of iPlayer is set out here and has been approved by the BBC Trust. If you object to it please write to the Trust.

    It's not true incidentally that Android devices cannot get iPlayer - some Android 2.2 devices can, see this blog post.


  • Comment number 11.

    Has the BBC Trust really already approved that syndication policy? Thought it was just provisional... or has the BBC already determined what it wants and the Trust is just a formality?

    I thought they were supposed to be a regulator not a rubber-stamping committee. Maybe someone can clarify.

  • Comment number 12.

    Nick, I meant Android can not access the HTML interface, though they are technically capable if not for the BBCs' deliberate block. The Android Flash application is still available only to a small subset of devices, and even then it has worse performance.

    I know about the Trusts' consultation, and I gave them my opinion already. The provisional decision doesn't look too bad, we'll see what their final decision is. Regardless, I think my comment provides useful background to the content of this blog entry to other readers, even if it isn't entirely approving of the BBCs' actions.

  • Comment number 13.

    Indeed Paul which is why I didn't refer your comment.

    Apologies if the Trust hasn't approved this yet. Slip of the brain.

  • Comment number 14.

    Last time I looked BTVision charged for use of BBC iPlayer. Has this changed? I hope so.

  • Comment number 15.

    Technology changes all the time - this sounds obvious, but it's worth pointing out: I remember when I watched a video for the first time ever on a computer. It was a VCD, featuring a music video of a pop artist. I was amazed!

    Then came faster computers and different video standards and demands - you always needed at least two pieces of media playing software to watch/listen to all the things you wanted. And then along came DVDs and then Youtube and then, towards the end of 2007, the iPlayer and other catch-up TV services.

    The trouble is, there are still plenty of video standards and formats and the BBC (as many of us are aware) still refuses to make its iPlayer software open source. If you look into any of the free media centre-type open source software available, it is clear that people are interested in software development as a hobby. This software used to be compatible with the iPlayer. It seems odd that the BBC is not interested in so easily expanding the reach of its iPlayer software by trusting these people.

    If an open source version were to be released, the public could develop it and a 'finalised' version could then be approved by the BBC. It would still be possible for the BBC to maintain its base of business clients such as Sony, but open source development would mean that the user experience would be very much directly defined by the users themselves and the iPlayer could be modified to work with any device which supports the relevant software. The last time I checked, I was sure the BBC was a public service broadcaster?

  • Comment number 16.

    Supporting Airplay would be a huge help for our household, and it should be pretty easy to do. Currently, I can play the audio from my iPhone or iPad on my Apple TV; but I'm eagerly awaiting the ability to watch iPlayer on our TV.

  • Comment number 17.

    I love BBC iPlayer but the interactive TV version needs alot of improvement. BBC needs to improve upon the current user experience. This https://www.homini.me/g42h9f whitepaper would be a good starting point for the UX/UI team working on iPlayer.

  • Comment number 18.

    Another request to have Apple Airplay support added to the iPad App / iPlayer web-apps please - this would open up iPlayer to even more living rooms around the UK.

  • Comment number 19.

    thelosthorizon - The new BBC iPlayer application is free to all users of BT Vision, with no subscription necessary.

    (Technical Product Manager for BBC iPlayer on BT Vision)

  • Comment number 20.

    Like a few other people above I would also like to ask for Apple Airplay support added to the iPad App, or to put iPlayer directly on the Apple TV

  • Comment number 21.

    I fully agree with Paul Jakma's comments. If the BBC put time and effort into developing a single coherent standard for iPlayer delivery, instead of trying to micro-mange development and access themselves on a device-by-device basis, then costs would plummet.

    I am well aware that the problem relates to the ridiculous attitude of the rights holders of the programmes. Why are they so rabidly trying to control access to the low quality iPlayer streams, which are, quite frankly, useless for any other purpose, when the original programme has already been broadcast in full HD, easily rippable, glory?

    Regarding the way that the BBC actively block access to iPlayer by denying access on a device by device basis, and sending lawyers in against the developers of decent 3rd party applications: The BBC claim that this is to preserve quality.

    About a year ago, the BBC sent in the lawyers against the excellent BeebPlayer Android app. I had to switch to the (inferior, imho), MyPlayer app. The BBC sent in the lawyers against that. I'm now using the SkyFire browser to watch iPlayer on my ARMv6 based Android phone. It works, but is considerably worse than either MyPlayer or BeebPlayer, but is better than nothing, which is the alternative as the "official" iPlayer app won't run on my phone (looking at the comments on the Android Market, it doesn't work terribly well on those devices that can use it).

    So BBC. How is forcing me from one decent iPlayer client to successively poorer ones ( and probably none at all when more licence money is spent killing off SkyFire ) "preserving quality"? Eh?

  • Comment number 22.

    Paul and Eponymous are right, as usual. This BBC policy is thoroughly wrong-headed - it wastes resources, and offers a bad service to viewers, all for a benefit which is entirely illusory. I just hope people at the BBC are suitably embarrassed about this, even if they can't say so in public.

  • Comment number 23.


    Need I say more. Do it now BBC.

  • Comment number 24.

    I can only agree with eponymous. As an android handset owner that does not support flash, I have no access to Iplayer. The unofficial Myplayer used to work fine and did nothing illegal at all, it just provided access to the already available streams.
    So why have the BBC wasted my license fee on lawyers to shut down a working iplayer client? and why do they continue to decline syndication requests like the one above?

  • Comment number 25.

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

  • Comment number 26.

    Hi Gideon

    Bit of a technical question. Re: The all flash environment now used by Virgin Media's Tivo service, can you confirm the bit rate of Standard def and High def streams compared with the standard web version?

    I've been spoilt by my providers' high quality MPEG2 streams of iplayer content.

  • Comment number 27.

    Can somebody explain to me why, after the fiasco that was the Freesat iPlayer rollout, support for this sort of thing wasn't required by the Freeview HD spec from the very beginning?


  • Comment number 28.

    Another vote for AirPlay, or even better, AppleTV2!


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