Category Archives: iPlayer

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! 🙂

Spinal Tap were pussies! My iPlayer goes to 16!!!!!

In a hat tip to Spinal Tap

This Is Spinal Tap

the BBC’s iPlayer volume goes to 11:

iPlayer volume 11

Why 11? This is a fan’s view or if you wish to hear it from the genius that is Nigel Tufnel:

This was the presumed limit of human engineering power.

UNTIL NOW!

My iPlayer  goes to 16!!!!!

iPlayer embedded volume 16

Full screen? You bet:

iPlayer volume 16 full screen

This is 5 louder!

PS – For those who like the technical details – browser:

browser details

Flash version:

flash version

Is this the future of the BBC?

Stephen Fry gave a lecture recently entitled “The Future Of Public Service Broadcasting – Some Thoughts” and it is available on a special BBC website  – The BBC And The Future Of Public Service Broadcasting.

The fact that the BBC put it on the Internet might make you think that they would like this to be read, seen and listened to  by a large, global audience.

So, you can read the transcript:

Stephen Fry and The Future Of The BBC Transcript

Watch the video:

Stephen Fry and The Future Of The BBC Video

Listen to the aud… – ooooooops!!!!!!!!! No audio:

Stephen Fry and The Future Of The BBC Audio

It’s blocked to non-UK Internet users.

The BBC iPlayer is the name for the on-demand service and also the software used for the media player.

The service uses GeoIP software to block users outside the UK from accessing the iPlayer on-demand content. They are also integrating the iPlayer software as the embedded  media player across the site.

So, they have a service which blocks IP addresses to on-demand content, software which acts as a front-end to this service and is also the embedded media player for the website.

Result – cross-infection.

So which of these is the future of the BBC – both audio and video should be blocked? Audio shouldn’t be blocked? Audio, video and transcript should be blocked?

Or, to make things a bit more surreal, could it be the case that the video shouldn’t be blocked but it should be re-dubbed with, say, Gerry Adams reading the transcript?

And if you’re wondering if this is a one off – the previous lecture by David Attenborough is exactly the same:
David Attenborough and The Future Of The BBC Audio

Also, why the BBC Parliament feed isn’t expiring after 7 day iPlayer window is a mystery to me. Has something changed since Tom Loosemore pointed this (rights-free) issue out previously?

As for the Stephen Fry lecture itself and what he had to say – more on that to follow.

BBC iPlayer, DRM, cross platform support and Peer-to-Peer Part II.

The BBC is getting an ass-kicking in the technological playground that is the Internet at the moment. This is mainly because it’s playing by the rules whilst others are playing fast and loose (Last.fm, YouTube to name just two) with the legal niceties.

My own personal opinion is that the BBC made a decision to go with peer-to-peer technology as a means to distribute their content online and as a result of this they ended up having to implement a proprietary DRM solution (and thus took away the ability to be cross-platform) to try and satisfy some of the competing stakeholders, which naturally ended up disenfranchising other stakeholders. Somebody had to make the unenviable call as to who would lose out (possibly just in the short-term with a view to meeting their requirements in the long term) – but there was always going to be a loser.

Now, if it were up to me I would have gone with centralised distribution of high quality audio/video via multicast, low bitrate DRM-free downloads (i.e. the poor man’s BBC) and a “streaming” Flash 30 day catch-up service. Why? – because soon the problem won’t be getting to see content online but being able to find the quality from the tidal wave of content that is coming. With plummeting storage costs and soaring broadband speeds the amount of content that can be stored and moved around the Internet will only increase exponentially.

This would have caused a problem with rights holders but I would have worked with them to bring them into the Promised Land – as they will thank the BBC in the long run when they realise that getting your stuff found online is going to be their biggest headache – when Google/News Corp/Microsoft/Yahoo become the gatekeepers. The BBC have little text links beside their news stories (some might dare to call them ads) to take you to the appropriate website of an individual or organisation named in the article. Having a 30 day catch-up service that had a URL to take you to the rights holders’ commercial offering or a low bitrate download which had embedded html links or a watermark which “linked” you to the rights holders high bitrate offering would be a massive service to the rights holders and simply an expansion on an existing practice.

Now they may have not gone for this but I would have tried something else and then something else and then something else – because I fundamentally believe it would have actually been in the best interests of the rights holders (even though they may not have recognised it immediately) in the long run.

Rights should be protected. Starting with the consumer’s. If the BBC had started from this premise then it would have won more advocates – as it is it has continued down the dead-end of using DRM to protect the content – which is doomed to failure, as the very notion of DRM protecting any content evaporated with FairUse4WM being updated before the iPlayer soft launch and allowing all the files to be cracked – resulting in press releases stating that all DRM is going to get cracked – thus making the whole process invalid and pointless. The thing to remember though is that the guys designing the iPlayer system would have implemented DRM for the rights holders, whose wishes are in direct conflict with the licence fee payer’s rights whose wishes are in economic conflict with the wishes of the industry players, etc – so it was always going to be in conflict with one interested parties wishes.

Rights should be protected. Starting with those of the licence fee payer, those of the content creator, those of the copyright holder, etc. They may need to stop calling it Digital Rights Management though – as I’m sure most people now interpret this as some kind of “Microsoft knows best” and “We will only let you watch/listen/print/etc what we want you to watch/listen/print/etc”. So instead it may be worth rebranding it as Digital Rights Protection and start from the point of wishing to protect peoples rights – those of the licence fee payer, those of the content creator, those of the copyright holder, etc. and not worry about how you protect the content for the moment – to be fair it hasn’t been a huge success up to now (unless you’re selling a DRM solution, but even then those days are numbers as evidenced by SONY rootkits and Amazon/Virgin Digital/Google Video all pulling their DRM offerings) and when in a hole the best thing to do, to begin with, is stop digging!

Anybody who thinks they’ve got the answer – they don’t! They just have a way of satisfying their needs/requirements/desires – but this means that someone else will suffer –  as at the end of the day the BBC is comprised of a group of competing wishes and desires and operating in a competitive marketplace where it has the added impediment of government oversight et al.

There are very, very smart people working at the BBC. They are fully aware of all of the ins and outs of the arguments. Sometimes someone makes a decision and it’s the wrong one in the long term, but in the short term it is absolutely the right one – as it deals with the immediately biggest hurdle, which if it isn’t surmounted then all the subsequent little hurdles matter not a jot. The important thing to remember is the BBC does not operate in a vacuum, not only does it’s actions have repercussions on the industry but also because it’s looking to play in the online environment, then stuff can come out of left field and completely scupper it’s best laid plans. It’s a giant in the historical broadcasting era but it’s just another player, for the moment, in the online world.

The iPlayer Reality Distortion Field is obviously nature’s way of balancing out the Steve Jobs RDF! Just as Steve Jobs continues to make silk purses out of sows’ ears, so the iPlayer continues to be King Midas in reverse. Eric Huggers, ex Microsoft, had nothing to do with DRM on either iPlayer or iMP – and since he joined the BBC announces that it will be “streaming” content via Adobe flash – yet he is held up as an example of the Microsoft disease in the BBC.

Anybody who says this has never worked in the BBC. There is a corporate desire to use the pervasive platform versus the creative desire to use the most versatile and inspiring versus the engineers desire to use the most robust and most technically solid versus the news/vision/audio and music/nations and regions/etc divisions desire to use their application– this is the same in any creative organisation I would imagine – but if you haven’t worked there then you would just assume that what is rolling out the door is some “BBC” master plan but it isn’t – what you get most of the time is a compromise.

Points off the top of my head:

1. Good people on iPlayer working against competing goals – rights owners versus licence fee payers versus industry players versus government restrictions versus industry watchdog versus governors/trustees versus changing marketplace

2. Agreement with PACT for 30 days – the Trust says 16???? WTF?

3. The Beethoven downloads were done without consulting and MIA by OFCOM specifically legislates against classical music downloading – a real-world example OFCOM had to work with or an opportunity to set an example as a warning to others? Either way this is an example of the law of unintended consequences.

4. The iPlayer service is the on-demand service BUT there is also an iPlayer application. The iPlayer service is the important thing – which establishes the BBC’s right to deliver content over IP. The iPlayer application (the thing with the DRM) is the uncle we shall not speak of.

5. The Trust coming along and saying that they recognise that 80% of people submitting an opinion didn’t want DRM but they were going to ignore this??? WTF?

Yes the BBC should do good – as the current funding model allows it to operate in a way that should free it from the day-to-day hubbub of corporate politics – but the changing media landscape means that some attempts at adapting will be wrong, not through any malice or nefarious plan, but simply with so many competing interests to satisfy taking a punt on one possible solution is guaranteed to piss somebody off but at least it is worth it if the market is going in the same direction. All that’s happened with the iPlayer at the moment is that someone made a call but the market has gone in a different direction, the BBC will now need to re-align to the new playing field.

 

As long as people care then the BBC is in rude health. I know this can seem like a huge annoyance when you have to listen to people spouting their vested interest with no regard for others interests, but the fact that people still think their voice counts means they are still investing in the BBC. When people stop caring is when you’re screwed.

Part I

(Update – this is a reposting of an original entry.)

BBC iPlayer in a flash!

James Cridland has an excellent post espousing the wonderful new flash format of the BBC’s iPlayer.

Can’t see it myself (the execution – not the concept) as I’m in Ireland and the IP range is blocked.

If this works half as good as some of the experimental stuff then I would recommend sticking a Mac Mini under you TV with VLC (ask me why VLC if you really need to know) and connect wirelessly – it will change how you think of “broadcasting”!

Now, how long before someone checks to see if it works with a PS3, or a Wii with Opera installed, or alternatively finding out what weird and wonderful things some of those nice people in Kingswood have made it work on.

BBC iPlayer, DRM, cross platform support and Peer-to-Peer Part II.

The BBC is getting an ass-kicking in the technological playground that is the Internet at the moment. This is mainly because it’s playing by the rules whilst others are playing fast and loose (Last.fm, YouTube to name just two) with the legal niceties.

My own personal opinion is that the BBC made a decision to go with peer-to-peer technology as a means to distribute their content online and as a result of this they ended up having to implement a proprietary DRM solution (and thus took away the ability to be cross-platform) to try and satisfy some of the competing stakeholders, which naturally ended up disenfranchising other stakeholders. Somebody had to make the unenviable call as to who would lose out (possibly just in the short-term with a view to meeting their requirements in the long term) – but there was always going to be a loser.

Now, if it were up to me I would have gone with centralised distribution of high quality audio/video via multicast, low bitrate DRM-free downloads (i.e. the poor man’s BBC) and a “streaming” Flash 30 day catch-up service. Why? – because soon the problem won’t be getting to see content online but being able to find the quality from the tidal wave of content that is coming. With plummeting storage costs and soaring broadband speeds the amount of content that can be stored and moved around the Internet will only increase exponentially.

This would have caused a problem with rights holders but I would have worked with them to bring them into the Promised Land – as they will thank the BBC in the long run when they realise that getting your stuff found online is going to be their biggest headache – when Google/News Corp/Microsoft/Yahoo become the gatekeepers. The BBC have little text links beside their news stories (some might dare to call them ads) to take you to the appropriate website of an individual or organisation named in the article. Having a 30 day catch-up service that had a URL to take you to the rights holders’ commercial offering or a low bitrate download which had embedded html links or a watermark which “linked” you to the rights holders high bitrate offering would be a massive service to the rights holders and simply an expansion on an existing practice.

Now they may have not gone for this but I would have tried something else and then something else and then something else – because I fundamentally believe it would have actually been in the best interests of the rights holders (even though they may not have recognised it immediately) in the long run.

Rights should be protected. Starting with the consumer’s. If the BBC had started from this premise then it would have won more advocates – as it is it has continued down the dead-end of using DRM to protect the content – which is doomed to failure, as the very notion of DRM protecting any content evaporated with FairUse4WM being updated before the iPlayer soft launch and allowing all the files to be cracked – resulting in press releases stating that all DRM is going to get cracked – thus making the whole process invalid and pointless. The thing to remember though is that the guys designing the iPlayer system would have implemented DRM for the rights holders, whose wishes are in direct conflict with the licence fee payer’s rights whose wishes are in economic conflict with the wishes of the industry players, etc – so it was always going to be in conflict with one interested parties wishes.

Rights should be protected. Starting with those of the licence fee payer, those of the content creator, those of the copyright holder, etc. They may need to stop calling it Digital Rights Management though – as I’m sure most people now interpret this as some kind of “Microsoft knows best” and “We will only let you watch/listen/print/etc what we want you to watch/listen/print/etc”. So instead it may be worth rebranding it as Digital Rights Protection and start from the point of wishing to protect peoples rights – those of the licence fee payer, those of the content creator, those of the copyright holder, etc. and not worry about how you protect the content for the moment – to be fair it hasn’t been a huge success up to now (unless you’re selling a DRM solution, but even then those days are numbers as evidenced by SONY rootkits and Amazon/Virgin Digital/Google Video all pulling their DRM offerings) and when in a hole the best thing to do, to begin with, is stop digging!

Anybody who thinks they’ve got the answer – they don’t! They just have a way of satisfying their needs/requirements/desires – but this means that someone else will suffer –  as at the end of the day the BBC is comprised of a group of competing wishes and desires and operating in a competitive marketplace where it has the added impediment of government oversight et al.

There are very, very smart people working at the BBC. They are fully aware of all of the ins and outs of the arguments. Sometimes someone makes a decision and it’s the wrong one in the long term, but in the short term it is absolutely the right one – as it deals with the immediately biggest hurdle, which if it isn’t surmounted then all the subsequent little hurdles matter not a jot. The important thing to remember is the BBC does not operate in a vacuum, not only does it’s actions have repercussions on the industry but also because it’s looking to play in the online environment, then stuff can come out of left field and completely scupper it’s best laid plans. It’s a giant in the historical broadcasting era but it’s just another player, for the moment, in the online world.

The iPlayer Reality Distortion Field is obviously nature’s way of balancing out the Steve Jobs RDF! Just as Steve Jobs continues to make silk purses out of sows’ ears, so the iPlayer continues to be King Midas in reverse. Eric Huggers, ex Microsoft, had nothing to do with DRM on either iPlayer or iMP – and since he joined the BBC announces that it will be “streaming” content via Adobe flash – yet he is held up as an example of the Microsoft disease in the BBC.

Anybody who says this has never worked in the BBC. There is a corporate desire to use the pervasive platform versus the creative desire to use the most versatile and inspiring versus the engineers desire to use the most robust and most technically solid versus the news/vision/audio and music/nations and regions/etc divisions desire to use their application– this is the same in any creative organisation I would imagine – but if you haven’t worked there then you would just assume that what is rolling out the door is some “BBC” master plan but it isn’t – what you get most of the time is a compromise.

Points off the top of my head:

1. Good people on iPlayer working against competing goals – rights owners versus licence fee payers versus industry players versus government restrictions versus industry watchdog versus governors/trustees versus changing marketplace

2. Agreement with PACT for 30 days – the Trust says 16???? WTF?

3. The Beethoven downloads were done without consulting and MIA by OFCOM specifically legislates against classical music downloading – a real-world example OFCOM had to work with or an opportunity to set an example as a warning to others? Either way this is an example of the law of unintended consequences.

4. The iPlayer service is the on-demand service BUT there is also an iPlayer application. The iPlayer service is the important thing – which establishes the BBC’s right to deliver content over IP. The iPlayer application (the thing with the DRM) is the uncle we shall not speak of.

5. The Trust coming along and saying that they recognise that 80% of people submitting an opinion didn’t want DRM but they were going to ignore this??? WTF?

Yes the BBC should do good – as the current funding model allows it to operate in a way that should free it from the day-to-day hubbub of corporate politics – but the changing media landscape means that some attempts at adapting will be wrong, not through any malice or nefarious plan, but simply with so many competing interests to satisfy taking a punt on one possible solution is guaranteed to piss somebody off but at least it is worth it if the market is going in the same direction. All that’s happened with the iPlayer at the moment is that someone made a call but the market has gone in a different direction, the BBC will now need to re-align to the new playing field.

 

As long as people care then the BBC is in rude health. I know this can seem like a huge annoyance when you have to listen to people spouting their vested interest with no regard for others interests, but the fact that people still think their voice counts means they are still investing in the BBC. When people stop caring is when you’re screwed.

Part I

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.”

Ashley Highfield on DRM and the BBC iPlayer.

BBC Technology News webpage with embedded video interview of Ashley Highfield, Director Future Media and Technology, BBC.

Stand-alone version of the video interview of Ashley Highfield, Director Future Media and Technology, BBC.

Quote:

The Open Source Consortia (sic) have already made their case to the Trust and to Ofcom, who have said there is no case to answer. I’m more than happy to engage with the OSC in meaningful debate but as they themselves said, in an ideal world the BBC wouldn’t have DRM, Digital Rights Management, on it’s programmes.

We don’t live in an ideal world. We simply wouldn’t be able to offer the iPlayer unless our rights holders were happy that we were protecting their content.”

Jupiter Research – iPlayer vs iTunes?

Mark Mulligan, of Jupiter Research, discusses the new BBC iPlayer and it’s ramifications.

Quote:

” However, where this offering gets really interesting is its commercial aspirations, which are all the more pressing in the context of the reduced funding levels determined by the license fee settlement with the UK government. The BBC plans to cover many of the costs with ad-supported content and paid downloads, which of course takes it head to head with iTunes et al. Just how seriously the competitive alignment will be remains to be seen. But not even considering the download aspect, the iPlayer will once again see the BBC setting a standard which the commercial sector will both complain is a distortion of the market through public sector funding, yet also strive to emulate.”