April 2010 Archives


In the UK we have the unique situation of a compulsory license fee for every household in order to fund our public service broadcaster, the BBC.

How on earth then have we arrived at a situation where the BBC is using our money to lock down the way we access the very content we have paid for via its online iPlayer platform? For those who are unfamiliar with the BBC's policy, through the use of content protection it is purposely making it impossible to consume BBC online content legally through third party applications and products.


It argues this to guarantee quality delivery, the very argument Apple uses to shut-out a host of third party iPhone applications that happen to compete with Apple's own applications: "Since launch in 2007, BBC iPlayer has always used content protection in order to provide UK audiences with the most compelling content," it said in a statement.

Maybe it has, but the approach it is taking with iPlayer is unprecedented in the Corporation's history. To illustrate by analogy, Linn this month launches Radio DS in beta, making internet radio as easy to use as FM / AM, granting all Linn DS owners one-touch-of-a-button access to their favourite internet radio stations at the highest quality, including BBC stations; who would sensibly argue that content protection of internet radio stations, preventing innovation, high quality and simplification, would be somehow serving the British public?

Linn Radio.gif

Similarly, I can't see Samsung, LG or Sony cooperating if the BBC manufactured the Freeview digital television modules themselves and attempted to force those manufacturers to buy only from the BBC. Yet it seems that given half a chance, the BBC, via the iPlayer, can't wait to choose on behalf of the British public the washing machine as well as the washing powder, paid for with our own money!

This is a dangerous development. The BBC is, wholly inappropriately, taking a similar approach to shareholder-funded Apple. Prefer to use Windows Media Player? Too bad. Prefer to use the XBox? You can't. You must use the iPlayer, and only the iPlayer.

Even if the BBC were not licensee-fee funded, it is buying into a world-view where every corporation takes it upon itself to lock-down the customer experience and lock-out third parties. Taken to its logical conclusion, open standards are dead, interoperability is dead, freedom for third-party innovation is dead and consumer choice collapses to corporate sole-providers?--?the self-professed authorities.

And what is the customer experience the BBC has chosen on our behalf?; the Home Computer?--?hardly the ideal way to experience television, or one of their anointed iPlayer providers?--?Sky, Virgin, or one of the mobile devices they've managed to release an application for.


Think of the amount of engineering resource the BBC is consuming in order to chase these various rabbits, as it attempts to make iPlayer a global standard. Who asked them for such a thing? It makes it impossible for anyone other than the BBC to decide how we, the licensee-fee payers, wish to access the BBC's online content. Short-sighted, authoritarian and unacceptable.

If instead the corporation simply publishes an open interface to its funded content, the interested third parties will allocate the engineering resource - surely this would be a scaleable model in line with the BBC's public service remit leading to innovation, high quality and consumer choice?