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BBC iPlayer: free TV downloads on demand - public beta launches 27 July

Saturday, June 30, 2007
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UPDATE: on how to sign up for the public iPlayer trials, and for screenshots and a video of iPlayer in action, see
this post.

I've updated my post on BBC iPlayer, the Beeb's planned new service for "7-day" catchup TV over the internet or cable - which when launched will mean the BBC will finally be catching up with other broadcasters on the convergence / video on demand (VOD) front.

There will be an open beta launch of iPlayer internet TV on 27 July, with a full public launch in autumn 2007, so be poised to sign up then if you're keen. I'm currently taking part in a limited technical tests trial (formerly known as BBC TV Test). I participated in the BBC iMP (integrated media player or MyBBCPlayer) trials before that and posted on iMP key issues, tips and tricks, and initial views on iMP.

Here's the BBC promo video (note that the embed code and full story are from the BBC News website i.e., and I recite, This content is from the BBC News Website (this page), as I wouldn't want to fall foul of the BBC again - I trust that was enough of a full functional link and attribution, but I can well imagine that in many cases it wouldn't be easy to figure out which BBC News content us mere bloggers are supposed to link to or what attribution to use; why don't the BBC add that link to the embed code and then people wouldn't have to puzzle / worry about it?). There's a few screenshots of iPlayer in action towards the end of the video, just don't blink too often:

(You can add the video to your own blog if you want to, here's the code, but if you don't want to
get into trouble with the BBC you'd best include this link very clearly near it. UPDATE: BBC code and Blogger don't seem to get on. Preview is fine but after publishing the code gets mangled, at least on my system (inserting a %27 before and after the src URL), and visitors get a blob on IE or a (fruitless) request to get a plugin on Fox. I had to edit HTML for the post and re-paste the code to get it working.)

Streaming, series stacking and the integration of BBC Radio Player, which presumably means non-DRM podcasts (all covered in my original post), won't be available initially but will only be added later. One good thing however is that at launch iPlayer is intended to be fully accessible to visually impaired and hearing impaired people and those with restricted motor functions.

Third party syndication will be via YouTube later this year (promo clips only with links back to the BBC site), and on cable via Virgin Media (full programmes within the 7 catchup period but no local storage, I believe), with possible syndication via other sites like MySpace, with whom the BBC are currently in talks. According to the BBC press release
"Later this year, [BBC iPlayer] will become widely accessible across bbc.co.uk, as well as via links from YouTube and a number of other potential distribution partners (subject to the BBC Trust's new syndication policy and management's guidelines [draft here]).

Users will be able to watch promotional clips of programmes, and link back to BBC iPlayer on bbc.co.uk, enabling them to download the full programme.

The BBC is in discussion with a wide range of potential distribution partners, including MSN, telegraph.co.uk, AOL, Tiscali, Yahoo!, MySpace, Blinkx and Bebo. "

Catch-up TV is also to be available on Freeview sometime, though it's not clear to me whether this means Freeview on digital terrestrial TV, or on cable.

It seems "a version for Apple Macs could be available in autumn, with versions for Window's Vista and mobile devices to follow."

Complaints about DRM for iPlayer continue to be reported e.g. by the Open Source Consortium. I bet a lot more people generally made a noise about the point. It's interesting that in the BBC's 2-minute promo video for iPlayer, Ashley Highfield spent as much as the last 30 seconds, yes that's a full quarter of the promotional video's total duration, justifying DRM for iPlayer: "The OSC have already made their case to the Trust and the Ofcom, who said there is no case to answer. I'm more than happy to engage with the OSC in meaningful debate but as the OSC themselves said, in an ideal world the BBC wouldn't have DRM (digital rights management) on its programmes. We don't live in an ideal world. We simply wouldn't be able to offer the iPlayer unless our rights holder were happy that we were protecting their content." I fully appreciate the BBC has to come to a compromise with rights holders, but "there is no case to answer" etc seems a bit on the defensive side to me...

Remember, it'll take a while to download and cost you bandwidth, even though it uses P2P (peer to peer filesharing). BBC director of future media & technology Ashley Highfield said "over a 2MB broadband connection half an hour of programming would take approximately half an hour to download." You can't book a download in advance as you could for the iMP trials (which I took part in).

It seems the commercial iPlayer for global audiences, described in my previous post, could launch in 2008.

On the technical side, it seems that others involved in the development, as well of course as the BBC Future Media & Technology team, include Red Bee Media, and Verisign working through Siemens, and Autonomy for the search and browse facility.

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