BBC iPlayer – On a road to nowhere…

Road To Nowhere

Photo: Tom Blackwell. Used under Licence

Anthony Rose, Head of Digital Media Technology (or Head, Online Media Group depending on which bio you read) has a post on the BBC Internet blog entitled “BBC iPlayer goes portable” which depresses me. I thought Anthony Rose was going to be one of the new breed of BBC people who would fix some of the issues with the iPlayer – but this post breaks my heart! 😦

The most telling piece is this:

As part of trying to make the download experience as easy as possible, we’re not using P2P for these portable downloads; the files are served as direct HTTP downloads from our servers, which means you don’t need to install any software – just click the Download for Media Players link and save the file.

This is wrong on so many levels:

Firstly – he has just spent the preceding half of the post trying to explain which platforms will play the DRM’ed files, how to check if your media player may be one of them, what to do if it’s not and how downloading a file may not be enough to get it to work first time on your portable device – and yet he says he is – “trying to make the download experience as easy as possible“. Aaaaaaaarrrrrgggghhhhh!!!! Hint no. 1  – don’t use DRM.

Secondly – The fact that the BBC is not “not using P2P for these portable downloads” means that one of the core technologies that defined the original concept of the iMP/iPlayer is now redundant. The fact that the BBC is not using P2P is a sign that as a technology it’s failing. There is no reason not to use it, as the whole previous  discussion in the post is about “sideloading” the DRM’ed content onto a portable media player – so it would still require a Windows PC to get the content in the first place. So now, one of the principle reasons why Windows DRM was used in the first place – because P2P was the technology being used to distribute the content – is gone and therefore, with it, the reason for using Windows DRM – but instead of recognising this opportunity, Anthony bemoans the fact that Apple won’t let the BBC DRM it’s content! Aaaaaaarrrrrgggghhhhh!!!! Hint no. 2  – don’t use DRM.

Thirdly – Because it’s not using P2P then Anthony goes on to say “the files are served as direct HTTP downloads from our servers, which means you don’t need to install any software“. I have no idea why he thinks HTTP is significant here – it’s just a protocol. Whether it’s being FTP’ed, RTSP’ed or NNTP’ed is irrelevant, if you are delivering the whole file to me in one go then I have it all in one place. The significant thing here is the fact that it’s not using a P2P protocol – because this means my upstream back to my ISP isn’t being used. So this looks like a compromise for the ISPs. So now you’re looking after the ISP by dropping P2P and the content owner by DRM’ing the content. Who have you left compromised? The licence fee payer. FAIL! Why? Because this is technologically, in effect, exactly the same as the streaming offering, which is DRM free – but the BBC made a magical agreement with the BBC Trust and PACT that somehow streaming was different from downloading and now the only reason for continuing to use DRM is to keep this charade going! Aaaaaaarrrrrgggghhhhh!!!! Hint no. 3  – don’t use DRM.

Your life would be a lot simpler and you wouldn’t have to try and do these verbal and technological gymnastics if you just admit to the Trust and the rights owners that “streaming” is technologically the same as “downloading” and what you do with the streaming option – GeoIP restriction – hasn’t caused the end of the world – so it may well be worth trying the same with the download option. 

Photo: juicyrai. Used under Licence

Sometimes if you’re on the wrong road, the best thing to do is to stop, turn around and start again in a different direction. You may find it saves you a lot of heartache in the long-run! 🙂

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