BBC’s iPlayer to go beyond Microsoft XP?
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.
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…