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BBC iPlayer to take on iTunes?

Hot on the heals of me bitchin’ about the Beeb (that’s a familiar term for the BBC, by the way) more news emerges on the BBC’s intentions of releasing an iTunes competitor.

“The commercial arm of the BBC said its iPlayer will give British Web surfers a seven-day online opportunity to view BBC shows they may have missed,…”

Despite the intriguing nature of the service, there are hurdles that the BBC must overcome, first. Chief of which is an oversight committee:

“The iPlayer is being reviewed by the BBC Trust, which regulates new BBC services. Late spring would be the earliest the panel said it would give its approval, which may impose conditions to blunt any impact it may have on other businesses, such as DVD rentals.”

Which is reassuring to see the BBC aren’t allowed to forge on with their own ideas at the expense of commercial interests in the market.

For those not familiar with the idea of state-owned media, the BBC are funded by the British tax payer, and the BBC get access to a huge budget.

However, the BBC have to provide detailed estimates of each & every penny to be spent. Additionally, they cannot be seen to be competing with initiatives by their commercial competitors. The reasoning is, the BBC have access to the license fee, the commercial guys don’t. So the game would be a little imbalanced.

I like iPlayer

Rumour was that Apple and the BBC were in talks to get BBC content into iTunes. I’ve again failed to track this story down, but I have to wonder if any such agreement is to see the light of day. However, the iPlayer might not preclude Apple and the BBC forging a deal, but I’ll leave you to draw your own conclusions.

The purpose of the iPlayer is dead simple: let the British public gain access to BBC content for free while charging those outside of Britain for the privilege. But that’s not the whole story:

“John Smith, BBC Worldwide’s chief executive, said he wants to use the iPlayer software to stream other broadcasters’ content, comparing its potential to Freeview and British Sky Broadcasting’s digital satellite platform.”

Whether any of that will get past the BBC Trust is a different matter, but in my mind at least, it’s an added-value proposition:

“BBC Trustee Diane Coyle told Broadcast: ‘The BBC Trust has a duty to ensure the public receives value in return for paying the licence fee. Our view is that the BBC’s new on-demand services are likely to deliver significant public value, and should be allowed to proceed, but subject to certain conditions in order to reduce the potential negative market impact…’”

This goes someway beyond the previous YouTube tie-up, and the two offerings are very, very different. For example, YouTube would be the draw, the advert in moving pictures, the lure to pull people into to subscribing to the iPlayer.

What isn’t mentioned is how people outside Britain would pay for the content. So whether the iPlayer would be a la carte like the iTunes Store, or as a monthly subscription, no news yet. What is known is that the BBC have much more experience with pay-monthly plans than pay-as-you-go. So take from that what you will.

BBC talk open with eyes wide shut

You’ll find, written in dry matter-of-fact terms on the Wikipedia entry the principle short-coming of the iPlayer:

“During the 2005/6 iMP trial, the DRM system used was based on Microsoft’s Windows Media DRM, which led to concerns about cross-platform availability, as this technology is only available for Windows. The BBC emphasises that it ‘has a commitment to platform neutrality and a remit to makes its content as widely available as possible’, and that while the initial trial used a Microsoft-based technology, they are constantly looking for new technologies which would enable them to relax the restriction.”

I have my own views of using Microsoft technology. While there’s always those who will argue that to do so is to enforce consistency and some degree of simplicity. To do so is also to reduce the mean time to failure, and close the door to everyone else.

So let’s hope the trial does yield a more open video format, one not tethered to Microsoft’s software.

Video on-line: an embarrassment of options

Over time, it’s unlikely that Apple’s iTunes will be the only music & video shop in town. There’s ample opportunity for niche video offerings to fill the gaps that the likes of Apple, Microsoft and the BBC can’t quite fill. And similarly, the BBC iPlayer may have a job on building mind share as a prelude to market share.

Making news recently, a lot has been made of Joost, which has surely garnered a whole heap of interest around the blogosphere. However, they have no content, and no notable deals to speak of.

So from a standing start, the BBC pitched against the likes of Joost could potentially be a little one-sided, given the resources available to the BBC, not least the voluminous library of video that the BBC have in store.

But what does all of this mean?

On the downside, it’s content that may well be spread out across differing formats with the possibility of them being tethered to various DRM schemes, which is even worse. On the plus side, for the viewer, options means more content available to them from a variety of sources.

And like the man sez, we like options…

Recommended reading

By Wayne Smallman

Wayne is the man behind the Blah, Blah! Technology website, and the creator of the Under Cloud, a digital research assistant for journalists and academics.

4 replies on “BBC iPlayer to take on iTunes?”

Whilst I agree the BBC shouldn’t be locked in to one technical platform, it makes sense to go down the Windows route first.

Don’t forget, thanks to the regulatory framework you mentioned above, in order to launch a brand new service like the iPlayer, the BBC is now obliged to build a trial version BEFORE it gets permission to launch.

In order to trial it using Windows covers the most trial demographics.

The last time I checked, 95.1% of users to the BBC website were using Windows. Macs & *nix made up less than 5 per cent. Why build three versions of a service at the start, when two versions cover less than 5 per cent of your audience, and after you’ve spent all the money you still might not get approval to launch?

Hi Martin and thanks for your comments! Always appreciated.

“The last time I checked, 95.1% of users to the BBC website were using Windows. Macs & *nix made up less than 5 per cent. Why build three versions of a service at the start, when two versions cover less than 5 per cent of your audience, and after you’ve spent all the money you still might not get approval to launch?”

That’s making the assumption that everyone on Windows actually uses Windows Media technology.

Some even remove this stuff. So prefer other stuff. Some don’t even use any of this stuff at all.

Plus, by looking forward, and being forward-thinking, the BBC should be aware that browsers count for more than operating systems these days…

For the BBC–and the rest of the world–try the Radeo Internet Player. PC and Apple; IE, Firefox, and Safari browsers; Windows Media, Real, and Quicktime players. It is available now–free and easy.

For the BBC offerings easily from one place–including their Radio Player, News Player, Sport Player, Weather Player, Podcasts, and World Service (including foreign languages) and TV Clips, Film Network, and Collective–click the Search tab and open The BBC at the bottom of the list. This—perhaps most importantly the personalization–is much more than the BBC intends with their iPlayer.

For a demo of advanced version, including Playlists and set only with BBC streams, Login: MyBBC (with no password required).

And, a companion mobile version is in beta.

The Radeo Internet Player
More than 10,000 Stations, 20,000 Shows, and 800,000 Episodes–
Broadcasts, Webcasts, and Podcasts–Audio and Video.
Wherever You Are, Wherever They Are, and Whatever They Are.
Easy to Play Your Favorites, Find More, and Share Them.
http://www.radeo.net

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