BBC’s iPlayer to go beyond Microsoft XP?

Published on 31 January 2007 in , , , ,

As a GNU/Linux user myself, the thought of the BBC’s iPlayer being Windows XP only, wasn’t one I particularly relished. So I was particularly interested in the reports that the BBC Trust have told the BBC management that iPlayer must take a more platform agnostic approach.

Reading Broadcast and Media Guardian, I took this as essentially following on from Ofcom’s statements on the matter and essentially meaning “Get in touch with Apple and get them to change their DRM model so include time expiry.”

Nah. It’s actually far more interesting when you read the actual press release from the BBC Trust…

As proposed, the TV catch-up service on the internet relies on Microsoft technology for the digital rights management (DRM) framework. The Trust will require the BBC Executive to adopt a platform-agnostic approach within a reasonable timeframe. This requires the BBC to develop an alternative DRM framework to enable users of other technology, for example, Apple and Linux, to access the on-demand services.

BBC Trust reaches Provisional Conclusions on BBC on-demand proposals

Now lets for starters admire the fact that Linux was even mentioned as a platform (I can’t help but feel that someone’s done some good lobbying as part of the consultation process) and that alternative computer platforms doth not just mean Macs. And then there’s the bit about developing the framework in the first place…

How it does that, remains to be seen. There’s the option of trying to persuade Microsoft to extend it’s DRM to other platforms, the option of trying to get Apple to change it’s DRM model, or even the option of the BBC creating an entirely new “Open-DRM” standard in conjunction with others in the industry. The latter would be one I’d really like to see – what better way to lead the charge against Apple and Microsoft controlling the DRM market (and the restrictions that that necessarily imposes) than one of the biggest global broadcasters offering an option that’s completely different.

Either way, the BBC Trust have set down a challenge that could change the face of DRM by trying to ensure that Windows XP and Vista doesn’t have the monopoly on such content, as it does now. Right now, only Microsoft’s DRM model can do what the BBC (and other UK broadcasters) need it to do right now, and that model doesn’t currently support what the BBC Trust have asked for.

Now I’m no fan of DRM, however in situations like TV programmes where there are many vested interests, multiple rights holders, and often independent production companies who want to exploit what they’ve produced, it seems a necessary evil.

The BBC is ultimately a renter of much of what it broadcasts, and when you rent there has to be a period when the rental agreement comes to an end.

It might be that in the future, that the restrictions are less and you just get a limited window for downloading, but can view whenever you want in the future (the PC equivalent of a VCR I guess). However just as taping programmes of the TV was originally illegal in the early days

of the VCR, we have to start somewhere, and the BBC Trust have (whether they knew it or not) decided to try and stop the re-creation of the VHS vs Betamax argument.

Whatever does happen, this will no doubt stimulate more debate in the Linux community over the roll of DRM. There’s been a big debate about DRM’s roll in the operating system and many have been vocal about Linux needing DRM in order for it to survive as a home PC platform. And it won’t end now. On the other hand, if the iPlayer team do manage to crack the non-Windows nut, now that might really shake things up.

Now it has to be said, nothing is set in stone just yet – these are the preliminary conclusions by the BBC Trust and there’s another month of consultation to go on, which anyone can contribute to. That includes BBC management, interest groups, the commercial sector and most importantly, the licence fee payers themselves. I’ll be waiting with interest to see what the BBC’s iPlayer team have to say on this matter, but in the meantime, the BBC Trust are after your views on their preliminary findings, and you can contribute via the BBC Trust website.

Needless to say, the above are entirely the views of myself and not the views of any other party! Like my employer that is…


  • steve says:

    If you wish to make your views known to the BBC here is a link to their iplayer feedback page. I recommend that as many people that are keen on Linux support for the iplayer make their case directly with the bbc using this link.

  • dave says:

    “There’s the option of trying to persuade Microsoft to extend it’s DRM to other platforms, the option of trying to get Apple to change it’s DRM model”
    Good luck with that, I think there’s a better chance of Ghandi attending a Klan rally in the year 2025 than that happening.

  • John says:

    I’m relatively new to Linux but I’ve fallen passionately in love with it. I think ‘Linux lobbying’ is important. I wrote to the Beeb, and then after thinking about it for a while, I wrote to my MP, and he wrote to the Beeb too. As Linux users, we can only expect to be ignored UNLESS we let people know that we exist (and exist in growing numbers)

  • Andy says:

    As a committed linux user I was very disappointed to find that I could not view iPlayer video clips on my computer. In fact while I used to access the Beeb news site pretty much exclusively for my international and UK news, I now find myself looking further afield more and more to other sites where Flash seems to be the usual medium.

  • Andrew Bowden says:

    iPlayer on the web does now do streamed flash video which works grandly on my Ubuntu setup. The BBC News website is also due to relaunch (next week I think!) and will include embedded flash video (they’re already doing some embedded video).
    Although I have to ask the question – am I the only one who just wants to read the news?!

  • Dan says:

    You can now also download shows in iPlayer in Firefox (at least on XP). That seemed to slip out with little fanface, but is a great improvement.
    I’ve yet to see any Flash videos on BBC News though — has that been held back? I’m still getting the same streamed WMP videos I did before.

  • Andrew Bowden says:

    Download slipped out a while ago, and yes, without little fanfare.
    There are some Flash videos here and there on the News site – mainly in the Technology section. There’s an article about the rollout on the BBC Internet Blog.