Ashley Highfield on DRM and the BBC iPlayer – Redux.

Found via a link Jem Stone posted on this Guardian blog.

Keynote speech given at IEA Future Of Broadcasting Conference.

“Our BBC iPlayer service, launching on 27 July, offering the last seven days of the BBC’s TV programmes on–demand over the internet, has already helped all the players in the UK on–demand space. We established the rights frameworks with the relevant rights bodies such as PACT. We established the technology framework that enabled us to use a peer–to–peer service that kept our distribution costs down whilst keeping our rights holders happy, a framework that has been copied by both Sky and Channel 4. And by working closely with the internet service providers like Carphone Warehouse and Virgin Media, we believe the BBC iPlayer will drive new broadband take–up, and demand for higher connection speeds. Market impact? Yes – a positive one!

BBC iPlayer is a service for everyone in the UK. The BBC earns over £500m from the international exploitation of its content, every penny of which goes back into making better programmes for the British public. We therefore needed to ensure, through the use of digital rights management, DRM, that our programmes could be viewed, in high quality, in the UK, for free, but not get instantly distributed around the world and undermine our international licensing and syndication deals.

DRM is not popular, but having it means the difference between being able to afford to make Blue Planet or not. Protecting our content is not optional anyway. A third of our content is made by independent producers who insist we protect our content as their future depends on exploiting that content themselves outside our rights window.”

6 responses

  1. That still won’t satisfy the DRM-naysayers who just refuse to listen to the BBC’s side of the debate and believe that because something can theoretically be copied for free, it *ought* to be copied for free

  2. As I still work for the BBC, for the moment, I’m going to pass on commenting, other than to say I think statements like this and the BBC Backstage podcast on DRM should be disseminated to a wider audience.

  3. DRM isn’t the issue. Locking out parts of the audience is one issue. Preventing a marketplace and technological innovation is, in the medium term, a bigger issue.

    Where would we be now if when the BBC had started out, there was only the One True Radio receiver, or the One True television set, and potential competitors had been excluded from receiving BBC programs? No marketplace, no incentives to improvements like high fidelity, stereo, colour, hdtv, etc. That’s exactly what iplayer is doing.

  4. It’s not really an intention of the BBC – as far as I can tell (and to be honest it would be incredibly stupid!) – to intentionally alienate their audience.

    DRM is really symptomatic of their choice of delivery model – peer-to-peer using Kontiki – rather than a technological desire to be tied to one platform.

    The cause is the loss of control of the content. By breaking it up and using a superdistribution model you are required (by the rights holders) to try and ensure that all the distributed platforms are secure.

    Which is insane – because in parallel with that the BBC is also broadcasting it’s digital signal in the clear to every open platform within it’s satellite/terrestrial reach.

    Along with that, you then have sites like YouTube and DailyMotion which are taking the free/ad-funded hammer to the traditional broadcasters model and smashing it – but more importantly – they are giving people what they want! Which in any marketing/capitalism 101 course is not a bad starting place.

    I don’t think the BBC is stupid. They have shown immense goodwill to the rights holders to try and meet their requirements – but the sands keep shifting beneath both their feet.

    The biggest worry for the BBC should be people not complaining. It’s a sign of how much people still expect of the BBC that they are demanding their voices to be heard. When people stop caring, then the BBC is on it’s way to extinction.

  5. “The cause is the loss of control of the content. By breaking it up and using a superdistribution model you are required (by the rights holders) to try and ensure that all the distributed platforms are secure.”

    What rights holders would that be? Speaking as a published author myself, I have had to deal with the question. My publisher suggested online publication of “derivative shortcuts” with DRM. My considered response to them, and to any other prospective publisher, is that I could accept DRM if an only if I could be confident that it would not present problems to my legitimate readers. As it happens, the format is indeed published and widely-supported, so that’s OK. I blogged about it at

    My point is, rights holders are not a homogenous group. We have different opinions. The BBC has aligned itself with the dinosaurs. An alternative would have been to reject DRM, and then exclude contents from the online medium where the rights holders have a problem with it. If we accept DRM, then the sensible course would have been to use a restricted but nevertheless published format.

  6. Preaching to the converted!

    I would love to see the BBC be innovative and imaginative in how it deals with rights in this brave new world – to go out and proactively make new business models for UK plc.

    I am forced to recognise though that (to use a dreadful phrase) we are where we are now with rights and it is an important piece of the jigsaw that people may not be aware of.

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