Monthly Archives: October, 2007

BBC iPlayer, DRM, cross platform support and Peer-to-Peer – Part I

 BBC Backstage interview with Ashley Highfield:

The BBC Backstage mailing list:

More press around the topic:,39024667,39168980,00.htm?r=9,1000000121,39290458,00.htm?r=2

Cory Doctorow’s BoingBoing post on the matter:

A previous BBC Backstage podcast on DRM:

A previous Ashley Highfield interview:

My previous comments on DRM, the iPlayer, cross platform support and Peer-to-Peer:

Bob – DRM isn’t about people getting paid.

It’s about control. Control of your playout platform and control of the playback format.

The BBC needs to get it head around this very basic concept – because whoever designs your DRM mechanism therefore decides on what platform you are on and how you can present the media to it.

This is the fundamental problem with the BBC locking it licence fee payers into a closed system.

BUT what the BBC doesn’t recognise is that it isn’t a problem for the licence fee payer but for the BBC itself. You are basically handing over control of a part of the broadcast chain to an outside interest, who may be more concerned with the technological enforcement effort rather than the media experience (i.e. SKY took their on-demand service off the Internet when fairuse4wm cracked Microsoft’s DRM).

It also requires that WHEN the DRM mechanism gets cracked that your must push an updated client to the platform to continue the lock-in. At which point you better pray that your update doesn’t screw around with the platform and break it completely. Not always a guarantee! At which point it becomes a concern for the licence fee payer – but for all the wrong reasons.

A DRM solution is possible, but only one that starts with the rights of the individual being respected and protected.

Any DRM solution I am aware of has protecting the content at it’s core – and assumes that all those who come in contact with it are, by default, thieves. Not a very BBC message to be sending to those who pay our wages.

Cory – I would guess the BBC people involved in the podcast are more interested in starting a debate on the DRM issue than defending it and kudos to them for getting it off to a lively start.

Posted by: Michael Walsh | February 13, 2007 at 11:43 PM

All the broadcasters (SKY, Channel4, BBC, etc.) have made the same mistake (or tried to do it on the cheap – choose your phrase) and drunk the kool-aid on P2P.

DRM is merely reflective of the rightsholders fear of the underlying technology.

– By using a peer-to-peer system the broadcasters have lost control of their content.
– The rightsholders recognise that this superdistribution model is fundamentally different from the broadcast model, in terms of scarce resources, content reproduction and control.
– DRM is seen as the panacea.

Spectrum is a scarce resource. There is a limited number of channels broadcasting a broad church of content. With peer-to-peer, as long as one person is willing to host the content then you can have, in effect, a dedicated channel to Doctor_Who.S03E11.MP4, The_Blue_Planet.S01E05.MP4, etc.

With the broadcast model, the broadcaster pumps out the content and moves on. What the person watching does with the content is not part of the pact the broadcasters have with the rightsholders. In a non-Internet world, reproduction on a global scale required a large capital investment. This meant a limited number of broadcasters with whom the rightsholders negotiated. This is no longer the case. Content reproduction and distribution just got “pwned” by the masses. Copyright law is not capable, at the moment, of dealing with the DRM-free P2P model. Rightsholders have no means of dealing with this new model and so seek to impose a technological control solution on top of the new distribution architecture.

So DRM is seen as a means of restricting content reproduction and imposing control on the distribution – in effect creating an artificial scarce resource.

The mistake the broadcasters have made is in believing in the underlying P2P technology without fully getting buy-in from the rightsholders (and a change copyright law – a task best left to the “pirates” who won’t get sued out of extinction). DRM and cross-platform issues are merely manifestations of the underlying issues.

There are other technological solutions to replace P2P. I believe this will happen. We will then look back on this period as a glorious failure by the broadcasters in trying one technology, which was ultimately supplanted by a better technological solution (cf Baird’s 240 line broadcasts versus Marconi’s 405 line system).

Posted by: Michael Walsh , July 15, 2007

P2P systems aren’t going away – but neither are the legal problems associated with them. In the end, the technological compromises to meet the legal obligations (which the BBC must comply with) simply make them the wrong platform, in my opinion, on which to distribute your content.

Posted by: Michael Walsh , July 15, 2007
Having said all the above, Ian Betteridge comes along and makes the case that the BBC has been regulated out of the innovation market – so there may well be a better technological solution – it just may not be coming from the BBC.

Posted by: Michael Walsh , July 15, 2007

Part II