back to article Why is the iPlayer a multi million pound disaster?

The story of the BBC's iPlayer is of a multi-million pound failure that took years to complete, and was designed for a world that never arrived. More was spent on the project than many Silicon Valley startups ever burn through, but only now can we begin to piece together how this disaster unfolded. When the iPlayer was …

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  1. Jonathan
    Thumb Up

    I disagree

    I use the iPlayer on my laptop and its great, it just takes a little bit of forward planning. It is not click and watch which is clearly what some people may have been expecting.

    At the end of the day 20 or 30 days is more than enough time to watch what I download on iPlayer. I have watched hundreds of shows in hotel rooms in an evening when working away.

  2. Steve Scott
    Thumb Up

    I find it useful.

    Sure, it's not exactly cutting edge. But when I miss a TV show, I know I can just download it via iPlayer and watch it later.

    In any case, I'm perfectly happy with the BBC spending millions on this, as it's useful to me. Spending millions on Jonathan Ross, on the other hand...

  3. Michael B.

    BBC Archive Trial

    The online access to the BBC archive was a far more interesting and innovative project. You seriously felt their pain when watching the background material on the issue of obtaining the rights to rebroadcast old programming.

    The streaming aspects of the iPlayer seemed to have ended up in the archive trial. Along side this the great use of meta-data made the archive material pretty easy to browse and hopefully is the model for future iPlayers.

  4. Graham Dresch

    Download is the only option

    I can't speak for anybody else, but the only internet TV service I am interested in is platform independent download, preferably free of the idiocy of DRM .

    There is no practical difference between recording a broadcast and keeping the recording, and downloading the same program from the internet and keeping it.

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Downloading GOOD, DRM Media Player BAD

    My preferred choice would be, DIVX or XVID via a P2P cluster with the tracker hosted by the beeb (who could refuse tracker connections outside the UK if they wished, or give access to a version with adverts to non UK viewers). But not pure streaming, there just isn't the bandwidth at peek viewing time to guarantee the video will play.

    The download choice was fine, it was the best choice, but it was the DRM and the choice of Media player that weren't.

    (The Flash knock up is only viable because it's for a limited audience.)

    Adding the DRM immediately meant that you could only play it on a PC, and only a *Windows* PC and then only if you'd agreed to Microsoft EULA terms, which in turn required WGA installed and and and ... it was effectively hijacked by Microsoft.

    It didn't just restrict who the content was delivered to, it restricted how it could be played too. Even an iPod won't play those files.

    BTW, Miro player works perfectly well, is P2P and doesn't have all that baggage associated with it.

  6. Garry Mills

    Apart from...

    The stumbling block with iPlayer is that many independent producers have obviously not allowed it to distribute their programmes, Dragons' Den being one obvious example.

    Apart from that, I quite like it. When it works, which I'd say is about 80% of the time.

  7. Alastair
    Thumb Down

    Is this the same department that...

    removed the BBC news player from Windows Media Centre online content a couple of weeks back? BRING IT BACK YOU NUMPTIES! IT WAS GREAT!

    I didnt know it was in fact beta - nothing about its use betrayed its staus - until you told me so in the same popup where you told me you were killing it off!

    PUT IT BACK.

    Grrr.

  8. Chris
    Thumb Up

    Title

    "In focussing on DRM and Linux interoperability, campaigners have missed the bigger picture."

    Damn straight. But at least we don't have to pay campaigners money to get it so very wrong.

  9. Chris Williams (Written by Reg staff)

    To the downloaders

    Just to reiterate: I'm not saying downloading is rubbish, just that those of us that do it don't represent the vast majority of licence fee payers, and never will. The BBC already turns a blind eye to BitTorrent et al. It doesn't need it's own expensive, crappier version.

    - Chris

  10. Vladimir Plouzhnikov

    It's the author of this article who is missing the point

    "we want to make it clear we're not making a happy-clappy anti-DRM argument against the iPlayer. The BBC has unshakeable obligations to producers who spend vast sums on the expensive telly-making process."

    Well I invite you to think again and to make that argument.

    Noone stopped the BBC from selling the downloads in high-quality, non-DRMed format, thereby honouring their "unshakeable obligations".

    Stream low quality for free, sell high quality downloads - is that so difficult to understand? After all their IQ has extended to selling programs on DVDs through HMV, why not downloads through the 'net?

    Don't tell me "DVDs are protected" because most definitely they are not.

    I would have been happy to be able to download full-D1 6000 kbps MPEG2 versions of rare programmes, which I cannot find in HMV, and pay a couple of quid per title.

    With DRMs and the lousy quality I won't touch iPlayer and its content, ever.

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Stop

    Uknova.com

    max's your downstream, good quality and no DRM.

  12. Chris Williams (Written by Reg staff)

    Re: It's the author of this article who is missing the point

    "Noone stopped the BBC from selling the downloads in high-quality, non-DRMed format, thereby honouring their "unshakeable obligations".

    The obligations we're talking about are legal contracts with independent producers that force it to use the most effective DRM if it wants to distribute via downloads. Like it or not, they say means Microsoft. As other commenters have noted, some production companies think even this isn't strong enough protection, and won't allow their shows on iPlayer. Competition regulations mean the BBC has to use independent producers.

    "Stream low quality for free, sell high quality downloads - is that so difficult to understand? After all their IQ has extended to selling programs on DVDs through HMV, why not downloads through the 'net?"

    The public have already paid for these programmes to be produced and distributed and the BBC Charter would not allow them to be sold back to their owners - us. Physical sales arrangements are negotiated separately and handled by BBC Worldwide, a separate commercial company.

    - Chris

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Gates Horns

    To all the posters saying "Oh no, works lovely..."

    I've got the supposedly golden combo of XP, Media Player & internet exploder and it crashes more often than Richard Hammond.

    I wanted it to work as it said on the tin, it didn't, I went to the torrents, the unofficial archive of the 21st century.

  14. David Dodwell-Bennett

    Fools

    I've hardly used it at all, largely becuase the interface is just so rubbish.

    Given that auntie has given us one of the nets most useful little apps - the radio player, from ewhere I get at least 50% of my media fix - it beggars belief they didn't adopt that same simple uncomplicated approach to the TV interface.

    Too much style (and that's being generous) and too little substance.

  15. Jon Press

    Unshakeable obligations?

    Well, the BBC may have contractual obligations to its co-producers in other countries, but there isn't any *good* reason why the general public who paid for the production should not have an unfettered right to view the material within the UK without further payment. Admittedly, getting paid many times over for the same piece of work has become very fashionable disguised as "monetization", but just because it's fashionable doesn't mean it's right. A simple change in the law could remove BBC productions from the scope of UK copyright law (without affecting overseas rights), solve the distribution problem and provide the basis for a vast new creative industry [as indeed would adopting the same approach to OS mapping...]. There'd be a bunch of whining thesps, but they're not exactly in short supply or likely to sulk too long if they had to do so out of the limelight.

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The 'i's have it

    Why is seemingly every consumer tech innovation, especially wonderful web two dot zero bollocks, now branded "iSomething"? What have I missed in the last x years which has led to this global phenomenon? Are they all hanging off the back of the iPod, was the iMac before that or something else? Is iGoogle copying the branding of the iRiver? Is iPlayer competing with the iPhone and iTunes?

    Have I missed something or is it all a load of iShte?

  17. Andrew Orlowski (Written by Reg staff)

    Obligations

    "but there isn't any *good* reason why the general public who paid for the production should not have an unfettered right to view the material within the UK without further payment."

    You're not a lawyer, I'll bet.

    "A simple change in the law could remove BBC productions from the scope of UK copyright law .... solve the distribution problem and provide the basis for a vast new creative industry"

    Did you come here in a space ship?

  18. Vladimir Plouzhnikov

    @Chris Williams

    Thanks for clarifications of the legal position.

    It is still frustrating that instead of using their negotiating power and influence to try to make the producers see some sense, the BBC resorted to the easy option of spending millions on a useless product (if it can be called that).

    They could designate the Internet sales as a Commercial Service, set up a subsidiary and get an "appropriate Minister's approval" if it is deemed that the sales of downloadable content constitute a "subscription service".

    An opportunity sadly missed.

  19. andy rock
    Stop

    errr...

    "just that those of us that do it don't represent the vast majority of licence fee payers, and never will."

    any statement with 'never' in it is a very bold one to make!

  20. Chris Williams (Written by Reg staff)

    Re: errr...

    "any statement with 'never' in it is a very bold one to make!"

    It's an opinion and I could end up being wrong. But at least me taking the risk won't have cost £4.5m, eh?

  21. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Could be useful...

    I actualy could find the service useful. I love the 40D service which also uses Verisign's Kontiki 'platform'. It works well, and it's on demand or for downloading - great stuff, well implemented.

    I don't care about the DRM - it works fine on my machine which is all well and good. I can see the hate for the P2P delivery if users are on crappy ISP's that limit uploads, but again people do have a choice to use a propper ISP if they want to. Pay peanuts, get a monkey service.

    However the BBC iPlayer is awful. When I play any content the DRM restrictions are obviously so tight that I can't play the content back on my PC. (It's ancient, but 4OD and porn all play fine on it!) So it's useless to me. Plus there is no streaming - which sucks.

    The 4OD service (still based on Kontiki) is great - I really recommend it. However the iPlayer is a bag of crap. I use 4OD for watching peep show, father ted etc. Anything from the beeb is going to have to be BitTorrent...

  22. James Pickett

    Spend

    It seems to me that they only had to wait for someone who knows about software and who would want to be associated with the Beeb's (still) global brand to offer their services for free. The Great Accountant (Birt) has much to answer for.

  23. This post has been deleted by a moderator

  24. Aaron Fothergill

    Disney model

    the Beeb should adopt the Disney pay model. Disney's voice actors supposedly all get the same daily wage and sign over all character rights, no matter how big and famous they are, which (Robin Williams aside) reduces problems afterwards.

    When you do a programme for the BBC, productions companies should have to automatically agree to a standard set of rights and marketing distribution which gives the BBC complete control of what way the programmes are distributed. The BBC logo is on the show so the production company is getting the kudos of being on the BBC and signing over these rights means that sensible options (like selling the shows on iTunes) become practical.

  25. marc
    IT Angle

    Individual Programs have it..

    The likes of Newsnight, Daily Politics and Working Lunch let you watch the last program straight from the web site, no software (except Real Player or Media Player) is required. Why not extend this to all BBC owned stuff (obviously imports like Heroes wouldn't ever be allowed to be streamed) - much better IMO.

  26. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down

    Why it's wrong?

    Led by a twat at the top (Highfield)

    Poor user experience (how many windows open?)

    Ugly design

    Impossible to install and sign up for

    Poor range of content (about 30% of the programmes?)

    Poor quality encoding

    Slow

    DRM (I understand their worries, but I just go elsewhere)

    How about them apples?

  27. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    My use of iPlayer

    I use iPlayer on my PC at work, in conjunction with some cunning Auto It scripts which, as soon as a download finishes, pulls it from the download directory and runs it through FairUse4WM so that I can watch the WMV file through VLC on my (Ubuntu) laptop when I get home. I also have a big, fat "Kill Kontiki processes" button which does exactly what you would imagine.

    It's not perfect - it needs Windows, and IE for that matter - but a little scripting has turned a white elephant into something actually useful.

  28. Simon
    Dead Vulture

    They don't understand the audience

    I think one of the reasons the iPlayer is effectively a failure is the DRM. And not the idea of DRM, but more it's implementation. I'd consider myself IT literate, and I have experience of DRM elsewhere (so probably not your typical iPlayer user, or at least not the target user), but the beeb's model is absolutely baffling. My understanding is that you download a show, which you can keep for X days, when you start to watch it, the period you can keep it for changes to Y.

    For the average Joe on the street who just wants to watch Eastenders, it's a step too far and will completely baffle them.

  29. b166er

    OK but needs streaming

    I use 4oD and iPlayer (on Vista) and if anything, 4oD is more problematic. At least in iPlayer you have the option to suspend kservice.exe after it's finished downloading. There is no such option with 4oD. In otherwords, regular users are forced to constantly upload blocks (against their knowledge or consent) using 4oD but have the option with iPlayer to turn it off. I even found a quick and dirty hack from Google:Tales of an English Coffee Drinker that uses a modified khost.exe to automatically disable kservice.exe when you close the Kontiki control panel. Yeah, it's a big ol' hunk of junk compared to what could be achieved, but it works. ITV streams live very well, so it's doable and we can see 40D content being streamed welll using Kontiki. I fear many of the BBC iPlayers woes are attributable to policy rather than technology. So if you're wondering where all that money went, I suggest you look in the direction of the beancounters rather than the coders.

  30. This post has been deleted by its author

  31. charles platt

    Selling BBC programming

    Seems to me I have about ten old long-playing records of the BBC Goon Show. Seems to me I bought these from a store. The sleeves have "BBC" printed on them.

    Now, if that didn't violate the BBC Charter, why would selling downloads of old video from the vasy BBC archives violate the BBC Charter? Was the Charter rewritten for television?

    As for DRM, there was nothing to stop me from making audiotape copies of those old Goon Show albums.

    As for independent producers who won't allow their sacred works to be distributed without DRM, I'm sure the BBC must have decades of video that is not so encumbered. We could start with that and wait for the holdouts to soften their stance in the future.

    Behind all this I can just sense an ingrained Fear of Digital. But fear won't make it go away.

  32. Cyfaill
    Boffin

    The BBC... who?

    There was time when the BBC was relevant around the world... If it is true that the BBC is now something of a lap dog for Microsoft's plans to dominate video on the internet (fat chance) then they have chosen the route of becoming irrelevant.

    I have used Linux for 10 years (using Debian for five years). The Internet and video work very well indeed with all of the modern Linux distributions. With Firefox and several other web browsers available for Linux, video over the internet is simple now.

    So it is sad that the only website of its type (The BBC is somewhat singular and historic with its background) is without usable functionality with any video ( it certainly should have been a player in the world )... is the BBC.

    Pathetic.

    So I have to ask... is the BBC useful as a news service or a source for important information or even documentaries anymore? Are they qualified to comment on technological content given their absolute failure to see the world is moving away from a Microsoft centric computing environment? Especially on the Internet Microsoft never was dominant, Nor is it so in Supercomputers.

    Conservatively speaking there are 30 plus million Linux users on the desktop now.

    The smart money says that Microsoft will not be the dominate OS in the world, ON THE DESKTOP, by 2014... Is that news to anyone.

    And were will the BBC be?

    In the days of Radio and Television the BBC was relevant.

    But they are lagging now and if they stick with Microsoft... The once mighty BBC will sink with Microsoft into the back pages of future computing technologies yet to come.

    Come to think of it the entire UK is lagging in computer technologies by sticking with a Microsoft centric view... wake up, the world is out there.

    Linux is on the rise :)

    Technologically superior in every respect.

  33. Anonymous Coward
    Stop

    It's not the IPlayer that's the disaster.

    It's the pathetic broadband speed we get in the UK (especialy in rural area's) and the complete and total lack of investment, even now!!!! At least the BBC had some vision.

  34. Vulpes Vulpes

    @Cyfaill

    "Linux is on the rise :)

    Technologically superior in every respect."

    So what? Beanus sniffus.

    History is littered with technologically superior failures. Betamax anyone?

    With you in spirit, but only when there is a lull in the relentlessly disturbing harsh reality field called "life", when I can dare to wear my rose-tinted specs for a while.

  35. Anonymous Coward
    Flame

    @Cyfaill

    err the BBC produce programming, Linux is a OS kernel that runs on a computer. (pat head)

    I think you are a very confused individual, go and have a lie down somewhere in the shade.

  36. Jon Press
    Thumb Down

    Re: Did you come here in a space ship?

    @Orlowksi

    "You're not a lawyer, I'll bet".

    No, And neither are you, I gather. But I'm sure we both know that the UK has international copyright obligations secured by treaties which require the UK to respect copyright established in other jurisdictions and in return require those juridictions to respect UK copyright.

    So, what? That does not require the UK to have any copyright provisions for UK-originated works within the UK or for the term of their copyright within the UK to be the same as agreed internationally. Hence apparent "anomalies" such as the copyright status of Peter Pan within the UK. We're not taking about buy-ins, but BBC-financed productions shown within the UK, so international treaty rights aren't in scope.

    And in any case, the ownership of rights is a matter of contract. The BBC routinely agrees rights agreements with staffers which permit their contributions to be aired ad nauseam without further remuneration. There is no legal impediment to a similar agreement with entertainment providers and I'm sure such agreements could be concluded if it weren't for the powerful union stranglehold over both the "talent" and technical sides of broadcast production.

    There's a very good case to be made for there being at least a very limited rights duration *within the UK* for BBC-originated material . It's a reasonable quid pro quo for the Licence Fee. BBC accounts show that it makes a negligible amount from its commercial sale of rights, so as an organisation it has nothing to lose financially from the loss of a small proportion of an already-small revenue.

    Of course it would cause similar upset to the end of Spanish Practices in Fleet Street - which is why it would almost certainly have to be done by government through amending copyright law and/or by making changes to the BBC Charter - but that doesn't make it illegal, impossible or undesirable.

    I can understand that Planet Journalism may be hostile to the notion of copyright limitation, but back in the real world, surgeons don't get paid for that new hip every time it climbs a staircase and plumbers don't get paid for every flush. It may be convenient to imply that there is some legal justification for this, but there isn't - quite the opposite when it concerns a bunch of people have a legally-sanctioned right to dip their hands in the nation's pockets and to come back and take more whenever it suits them.

    Which, of course, is what DRM is there to support and why the BBC have wasted so much money on it. A complex technical "fix" when it would be in (almost) everybody's best interests simply to change the rules.

  37. Mark

    @Chris

    [The obligations we're talking about are legal contracts with independent producers that force it to use the most effective DRM if it wants to distribute via downloads.]

    Well NO DRM is effective. It's predicated on encryption technology which only works if the hacker and recipient ARE DIFFERENT PEOPLE. DRM has the hacker and recipient as the same person.

    And I'll ask you the question: are the producers of the 60's ToTP being served by their stuff being deleted? How about the beatles' recordings dying off? How well is this paying them?

    After five years, anything the BBC produces should be free to download. If producers of content don't want that, then they can sell it to ITV or not sell it here in the UK (how much is it worth when nobody is buying? You can use your house, car or toaster but IP isn't real property like they are.

    Anything currently there should be either

    a) digitised at the BBC's expense and given "freely" to TV license payers (heck, mail it with the TV license, if you like, have them fill in a form of what they'd like to have)

    b) given back to the producer and the BBC recompensed for storage costs etc (and the producer should keep it available until copyright expires, otherwise that's abandonment and you LOSE your right to real property under abandonment laws)

    If the BBC is keeping it, then the producer isn't interested in making money off it any more. They've been paid (same as recording artists' work is a work for hire in the US and so no ongoing royalties are due) and if they aren't making money NOW with the exclusive right, what have they lost if the BBC gives away the exclusive right? NOTHING.

  38. Anonymous Coward
    Flame

    Crybabies

    You know I take my hat off to Chris and Andrew for responding to the beard stroking, Linux crybabies that have absolutely nothing to contribute to this debate other than a lot of fucking wingeing. Stop being cowards and just admit you use the iPlayer like straw-man in the way you do in any other argument when you can vent your ideological rage against Microsoft. Personally if I had anything to do with The Reg I'd shut down these pages that let you respond publicly to articles as the sort of chumps writing in have nothing intelligent to put forward. You embarrass the whole language of criticism.

  39. Mark Rendle

    @Cyfaill

    "Conservatively speaking there are 30 plus million Linux users on the desktop now."

    You can substantiate that, can you? More than 30 million Linux *users*, rather than 30 million recorded downloads of Linux? I'd take your bet regarding the dominant desktop operating system in just over six years, too.

    Furthermore, iPlayer is specifically limited to UK residents. I doubt Linux is the primary desktop operating system for more than a handful of them, and I'm sure they're all quite happily downloading their visual entertainment from secret bittorrent trackers that can only be accessed by the raw IP address anyway.

    Reg: Can we have angel/devil icons for that stupid penguin, please?

  40. Mark

    @Charles Platt

    This isn't (necessarily) a digital fear, it is a fear of the accountants. To them, if someone makes money, you've lost that money, whether you would or wanted to make it is irrelevant.

    This is why fansubs are taken down: the anime isn't being sold by the distributor, but if someone is making a copy available, EACH and EVERY download is a "lost sale" (though how it can be when it isn't being sold by ANYONE is, as I've said, irrelevant).

    That's why lyric sites are taken down. For the accountants, anything to do with their product must be done only by them. Failing to do so is to lose a sale. Again, that they aren't selling isn't relevant.

    They don't know anything about their product so they don't know where sales can come from, so they don't investigate (RIAA killing downloads rather than using them is an example). They see every use that could *possibly* be a revenue stream as something they have the sole right to do (compnies sueing Spiderman for the visibility of their billboards in the movie is an example, and the idiocy continued in their attempt to sue the movie for digitally removing their billboards from that movie rather than pay:"It's a derivative work!!!").

    The accountant doesn't understand the business. They understand money. They have lawyer friends who understand laws. They are getting in charge of everything now. And since all the understand is the money, they only care about the money.

  41. Dave

    Too many platforms

    When are we going to see a collaborative application to merge iPlayer, 4OD and others? One application (with all its faults) is bad enough!

    Dave.

  42. Vulpes Vulpes

    Nice Space Ship, Jon, can I have a go?

    You mention the unions, acknowledging their pivotal involvment, the extent of change required, and the almost certain need for Government intervention and a change of law.

    But all we need is a "simple" change in the law.

    Presumably your space ship uses the Infinite Improbability Drive?

  43. Anonymous Coward
    Unhappy

    @Cyfaill

    Unfortunatly not entirely accurate.... 4OD also demands the Microsoft/XP or Vista monoploly, time this was investigated officially as an anticompetitive abuse of position.

  44. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down

    Rubbish article.

    Hold on, I'm sorry, but this article is rubbish.

    * For a "multi-million pound failure", iPlayer signups are running well ahead of the BBC's projections, even before the full launch that's advertised happens… Man, I hate it when my projects fail like that.

    * So, the BBC "inexplicably binned" streaming in 2005 and then "cobbled together" streaming in 2007. Err… no. How likely does that sound. The iPlayer has always, always, always had streaming on it. That sticking "iPlayer" and "streaming" into Google doesn't bring up anything written in 2006 isn't exactly proof that it was somehow abandoned.

    * The article doesn't mention *at all* the public value test that Ofcom did. Which accounts for well over a year of the iPlayer's development time, and a significant part of the cost, and a large part of the restrictions on what the BBC can and can't do.

    * There's this bizzare insistence that streaming is so much more desirable than downloads that isn't backed up by any sort of logic or evidence. People use YouTube a lot? Not nearly as much as they peer to peer download, and the argument that "people who download want to keep the content forever" is frivolous and simply wrong. And lets look at Joost and YouTube shall we? They're nigh useless on many people's machines, given the speed and reliablity of broadband in this country. And if everyone did start using a mass streaming solution like you propose in watchable quality, oversold contention ratios would mean the UK's entire online structure would slow to an unwatchable crawl anyway. Not to mention being able to put downloads on portable media players, or access content offline, which is still rather important to most people in this country. BT Vision is a financial catastrophe.

    * No addressing that, since the BBC can't wrap the streams in advertising, the BBC are financially disincentivised to provide high quality streaming - the more people stream programmes, the more it costs in bandwidth, the more money is taken away from programme making.

    * Streaming is more interoperable on mobile platforms? Is it hell.

    * No mention of BBC Worldwide's plan to sell programming that's downloaded . Kangaroo is actually a pretty compelling proposition - download programmes to catch up from the BBC for seven days, and if you like it or want it after that point, pay BBC Worldwide and the DRM comes off. In addition, Kangaroo, which is going to be built on the iPlayer by the looks of things, looks like it will feature most of the content from all the UK's major broadcasters - that's an extremely compelling selling point, and is likely to push the service into the stratosphere.

    * If the time limited download concept is so rubbish, why have both Channel 4 and NBC copied it?

    * You seriously attempt to suggest that the BBC should have sat on it's arse for four years about how to distribute this content, at the same time as saying the market even now is "immature". On that basis, why wouldn't they wait another four years? And before you know it, we're all dead before there's a service at all.

    * A completely throw away coment at the end that the whole download client should be abandoned, contadicting any sort of common sense or logic.

    Sorry, poorly researched rubbish. Not that some of the comments above are any better.

  45. Allan Rutland

    Waste of time

    I am not one of the loons out there who run around screaming about the evils of DRM, or the lack of compatibility. I actually feel they made the correct decision on not supporting insignificant market shares for the majority in the first place. But the overall model which they followed does seem all wrong now we're used to things such as YouTube etc. It's still a much more prefered medium for viewing BBC content than anything the BBC actually provides.

    But, my big gripe with the project, was the lack of streaming off the site, and also lack of choice on it. Probably the lack of content is the bigger issue. If it's supposed to have 50 years of old TV we can wonder through, where is it? 400 staff and what the heck did they do? obviously not digitalising content.

    And come on, what could be more useful for the beeb to get users watching it that doing things people want to watch. How about watching an England sporting disaster live at work, via your browser with only having to whack in you license fee number? No client, no faff. Thats how it all should of been.

  46. Chris Williams (Written by Reg staff)

    Re: Rubbish article.

    "For a "multi-million pound failure", iPlayer signups are running well ahead of the BBC's projections".

    Sign ups yes. Usage? Well, the Beeb isn't saying.

    "So, the BBC "inexplicably binned" streaming in 2005 and then "cobbled together" streaming in 2007.Err… no."

    Err... yes. Try this backstage podcast: http://blip.tv/file/483043

    "The article doesn't mention *at all* the public value test that Ofcom did."

    That's because Ofcom didn't do the public value test, the BBC Trust did. Ofcom carried out a market impact assessment. http://www.bbc.co.uk/pressoffice/pressreleases/stories/2006/08_august/31/test.shtml

    "BT Vision is a financial catastrophe."

    Says who? Do you have access to BT's internal accounts?

    "If the time limited download concept is so rubbish, why have both Channel 4 and NBC copied it?"

    God knows.

    "And if everyone did start using a mass streaming solution like you propose in watchable quality, oversold contention ratios would mean the UK's entire online structure would slow to an unwatchable crawl anyway."

    "BBC are financially disincentivised to provide high quality streaming"

    So why is the Beeb doing it?

    "People use YouTube a lot? Not nearly as much as they peer to peer download."

    Just not true. ISP data shows YouTube accounts for about 13 per cent of web traffic now, on the basis of low bitrate Flash video. That's a lot more actual viewing than the vast music, film and software BitTorrent streams that account for about 40 per cent of total traffic.

    "Saying the market even now is "immature". On that basis, why wouldn't they wait another four years?"

    Because they made a bad decision, which was kind of my point.

    "Sorry, poorly researched rubbish."

    You said it.

  47. Mark

    @Mark Rendle

    Well, given there's no activation and a single download can be copied onto hundreds of machines (well, unlimited, really), 30million downloads actually used MUST mean more than 30 million installations of Linux and also is highly unlikely to be less than a fraction more than 30million users of Linux.

    So even if 30 million doesn't actually get used, it's likely to be a lot more than 30million installed machines with linux and quite likely to be around 30 million users of linux.

    Unless you have hard facts and figures that you were asking of Cyfaill

    Oh, and AC, who's the crybaby? You're the Daily Mail reader that complains about all this money being spent on things you don't use, aren't you. Well, Linux users can't use windows-only products.

  48. Fred B

    keeping an open mind

    Where can I find a beta of the streaming Flash iPlayer for Linux?

  49. Grant Kemp
    Unhappy

    Disagree

    It works really nicely, and they handled the p2p kontiki issue far better than channel 4 or sky. At least when you switch it off, it stays off.

    The article above sounds like a mac fan boy ranting/crying.

    Please stop printing tripe on the reg, the quality of the material is really going downhill. I really liked it when it produced insightful and witty content.

    "Your one source said this and another source said this" is really an infantile way to write a supposedly serious article. Please do your research instead of quoting your mates down the pub.

  50. Chris Williams (Written by Reg staff)

    Re: Disagree

    I can confirm that I hate all computers equally. The piece makes the point that interoperability arguments are an (albeit entertaining) diversion when it comes to iPlayer.

    Anonymous sourcing is an essential part of journalism. If you don't like it you can read the BBC's press releases.

  51. Max Load

    Me too.

    I'd rather read articles which didn't draw comparisons with "a special needs six-year-old who still wears nappies".

    Me too.

  52. Sig FPE
    Alert

    Rights and residuals

    People seem to forget that people get paid for repeats, under contracts predicated on the assumption that TV would forever be as it was in its mechanism. That is the killer. Moreover, the BBC is already moderately disliked for its onerous contract terms by the independent sector, and (last time I looked) they only ask for two network showing rights. Now, they've been changing these contracts to deal with internet-distributed material, but there will very likely still be issues for the producers' alliance PACT and Equity to agree on, and it's not impossible we might end up with the sort of action that the US is having problems with at the moment.

    However, if the entire TV distribution system becomes "we make programmes; you download more of ours, we get paid more of your license fee" across at least the BBC and perhaps with some cultural wriggles ITV/4/5 then you get to redefine your residuals formulae based on the calculated audience figures used to dole out the money.

    So: TV Licensing become the keepers of the license fee, audited by BARB/RAJAR, BBC and the other networks highly specialised banks (which they already are, just less obviously so) that independent producers can go to if they want, or both the BBC from in-house sources and the independents can flog programmes/streams directly if they can raise the capital from other sources.

    Whither, then, the need for vicious politics? Apart from Stop Microsoft, of course.

  53. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    (general comment) Streaming is a joke

    Let's see, back in the 90s if you were to try and stream a video feed you were presented with a very tiny window at a very poor bitrate which would stutter away until you closed the containing application in frustration.

    Fast forward to the present, generally I find that the experience has not much improved even (get ready flamers) when visiting the likes of YouTube. And this is with a 2-4MBit cable connection (and no I can't afford to purchase 00's MBits just to watch a past episode of My Family *shudder*).

    The streamed video today is poor quality and of course stutters whilst 'buffering' into eternity. Not much has changed I would claim. At least for the foreseeable future I don't see how streaming high quality video can be made viable without introducing some massive initial buffering, which takes away from the very desirable 'click and play' feature. Lets face it, if 'click and play' streaming genuinely worked at high quality, we'd all be as happy as Larry (whoever he is).

  54. Tim J

    No DRM

    I think the BBC's whole archive should be opened up to anyone who wants it and available in any format for anyone to download and keep forever. The licence fee should be abolished and replaced with a Pay Pal honesty box. Meanwhile anyone who loves making good television will happily do it for free, just like people who loves facts have written Wikipedia. In fact as well as watching programmes at home, people can help to contribute towards making those programmes by helping with editing and script writing via a DIY-BBC-TV portal.

    The digital world makes ownership of creative creations collective. We're all just as much authors of the Sistine Chapel ceiling as Michealangelo is.

  55. Philip Birch
    Happy

    The faster way

    I was using the iPlayer until I got Virgin and it's catch up tv service. It gives instant playback of most BBC and others. No downloading and no PC to have to sit in front. It's worked so well I stopped using my beloved PVR.

  56. Anonymous Coward
    Boffin

    It isn't that simple

    It would have been lovely to have a high-bandwidth, streaming service of the BBC's full content archive free-of-charge but it simply wasn't realistic.

    1) Believe it or not, the BBC does actually have to honour the contracts that it signs with content producers. It would be nice if those contracts could be altered in the future to cover free downloads for ever and ever, but that would not affect the archive and would (is) involve(ing) years of legal wrangling. DRM is part of the current legal framework, and no amount of magical thinking is going to make it go away until the lawyers have had their say.

    2) Single source streams do not make financial sense, the BBC has to pay for every RealPlayer stream that it sends from its website. It is far more expensive than broadcasting and will never have the same audience size. Multicasting would be great , but many ISPs do not support it for financial reasons.

    3) A light-weight Flash video player would have been a more elegant technical solution, but it runs into the same problems as discussed in #1.

    No-one would argue that the current iPlayer incarnation is the ideal *technical* solution, it has been forced down certain non-optimal paths because of the legal and economical constraints on the BBC. This is no secret within the BBC, and perhaps in the future things will be different, but this is the real world, with all the unpleasant inefficiencies which make it such a delightful place to argue about.

  57. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Why would i use iplayer

    When i can use my pvr, it doesn't care how, where or when I watch it, and if i forget to set it neither does bit torrent.

    It even works with linux.

  58. Dale Morgan

    I love iplayer

    Its a fantastic little tool, it shouldn't of cost as much as it did to develop but to deny how usefull it is would be bordering on insanity.

    No longer do I have to worry about uni, work and my social life interfering with my BBC schedule, I can be wasted and passed out in a gutter at 9pm on a sunday and then working on tuesday but sitll get to watch the latest long way down episode without any problems.

  59. N1AK

    @ Crybabies AC

    If they'd get rid of AC flames with no worthwhile input at the same time I'd be all in favour.

    Peoples complaints about DRM and the time based self-destruct, are admittedly getting old. The iPlayer is intended to offer the ability to watch programs at a convienant time, not to add things to your personal collection and it can achieve that with both DRM and time limits.

    How ever as a public body I believe they should where possible try not to limit peoples choices. You don't need to have a Sony TV to watch BBC1 or a Panasonic Stereo to hear Radio 2, and I doubt people would be best impressed if they did.

    Telling people they have to have Windows XP to use iPlayer is no different, and it's only because the BBC has done such a poor job of the planning process that this is even an issue.

  60. Vladimir Plouzhnikov

    Re: It isn't that simple

    "DRM is part of the current legal framework,"

    I disagree. AFAIK there are no laws anywhere in the world yet that mandate DRMs on anything. It's a matter of contractual agreement between the parties. Both parties are free to insist on either DRM or no DRM and it's down to who has the strongest negotiating position.

    So if BBC wanted they could at least try to get the material DRM-free. But they didn't.

  61. Anthony Rose
    Happy

    iPlayer team response

    The iPlayer that you're seeing now is just the tip of the iceberg. We've built a flexible digital media publishing system that powers the iPlayer - right now this is just the first-pass way of accessing that content. By Christmas we'll have streaming iPlayer content on PC, Mac and Linux, with ability to share and embed our new Flash player. Then, over the coming months you'll see more cross-device, cross-platform playback, personalization, and much more. But the proof of the pudding is in the eating, so let's see what the audience make of the service at Christmas and beyond.

    - Anthony Rose

    - Head of Digital Media Technology, BBC

  62. Charles King

    wrong on several counts

    I've been using iPlayer for several months and there are several factual errors in this report.

    1) Downloads are close to full PAL resolution. TopGear, for instance, is presented at 672x544 with a bitrate of 1.2Mbps, resulting in a file that is just as watchable as a freeview MPEG2 stream. The BBC's offerings certainly have higher quality than the artifact-prone fare from Channel 4's 4od.

    2) Downloads are typically extremely fast, I can easily saturate my 6mbps connection using iPlayer.

    3) I monitor my connectivity and have not fond the Kontiki service to use any upload bandwidth at all once my download has finished. In the latest version of the software there is an option to turn this off completely.

    iPlayer is actually very good, and certainly provides a superior experience to streaming solutions. The project may have been mismanaged at times, but the current offering is very good and provides solid value for the licence-payer.

  63. Steve Welsh
    Unhappy

    Ah, Yes, But

    "The BBC has unshakeable obligations to producers who spend vast sums on the expensive telly-making process."

    Err...

    Am I being naive here, or did the patient license-paying public of the UK NOT *actually* already pay for that??????

  64. This post has been deleted by its author

  65. Anonymous Coward
    Unhappy

    @BKB and others

    "Do we really need the comparisons with unfortunate children? "

    No we f'ing don't.

    It seems to have become popular on the Reg recently - and it's shit.

  66. Tobias Bjørndal

    Who owns the material

    "The BBC has unshakeable obligations to producers who spend vast sums on the expensive telly-making process."

    This statement is flawed and incorrect, the BBC is a public funded company so the public owns the material. Here in Norway the public broadcaster has for years put both their TV and radio programs online for streaming that works with both Linux, Windows, Macs and other platforms. All without DRM.

  67. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    iPlayer

    I have never had any problems with iPlayer, works fine for me and has allowed me to watch many programmes that I would not have seen otherwise because no digital here until 2011 and other programmes that I missed. I don't see why its launch should have been launched so that users of minority operating systems could also have access, it seems logical to support the most common operating system first. I also suspect that the cost is being talked up by the press as it seems to get bigger with every news report that I read.

  68. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    BBC management and technology

    Bad mixture. In fact, BBC management and, er, the BBC are a bad mixture too. Take the white elephant in Glasgow - the new, all-singing, all-dancing digital nirvana for BBC Scotland, Pacific Quay. The planning was flawed, the new technology either doesn't work or works fitfully, and staff numbers, which should necessarily be higher to adopt new working practices, are being reduced in repeated rounds of Thompson's cuts.

    The problems with DRM are entirely a result of BBC management changing the BBC's contracts with independent producers. Without those changes, DRM would have been unnecessary, as it is for older BBC archives.

  69. b166er
    Thumb Up

    From the horses mouth

    Very pleasing to hear from you Anthony, if you are indeed who you say you are?!

    It would be great to know that people who are working on the project take an interest in what's being said and are prepared to join the debate, especially here on theregister.

    Can I ask, when you say you've built a 'flexible digital media publishing system', does this mean that you are using Kontiki temporarily and have your own solution in the pipeline, or that you are using Kontiki as an integral part of your above solution?

    The main reason for this question is to determine whether Kontiki can be platform agnostic and whether DRM is going to make it's way onto Mac/Linux. If you're not pulling my leg, I look forward to the Doctor Who Christmas special on my Ubuntu desktop, directly from the Beeb :)

    @(general comment) Change ISP now mate (or call tech support), iPlayer/40D/ITV work fine across my Tiscali connection and god knows they're far from fantastic.

  70. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down

    Remarkable

    All this grousing about "Linux Crybabies", can you please explain why you feel it necessary? I suppose the Windows users among you feel vindicated and care little about anyone else or their freedom to choose a computing platform for themselves.

    Linux is not the issue here, the lack of support for any platform besides the dominant monopolistic desktop operating system is, though. The BBC have plowed millions into a cobbled together system built on someone else's DRM which they have little or no control over(if they had to choose DRM from someone what was wrong with talking to Sun or even Azureus?), why does this not surprise me, they can't produce programming anymore(the main reason for our problems, everything's done by outside production companies), why should we expect them to be capable of employing programmers in house for a few million to produce something useful. They're throwing money in stupid directions, it's the only thing they seem to be good at thesedays, aren't they leaving the doughnut shortly to move into the director general's garage?

    There's no need for a company who already claim massive amounts of public money in the form of a license fee, which they claim is never enough, to place an additional 200GBP(or similar, the price of a windows XP license) on the use of their service. This issue doesn't only affect Linux users, similarly afflicted are those people who have decided to "think different" and have paid a premium for the decision. It's not just us freeloading commie bastards, those poor buggers who buy computer hardware from John Lewis are going to suffer too... Well, ok, maybe they're the least relevant group here.

  71. Nic
    Thumb Down

    Why the offensive "special needs" comment?

    No need and offensive to plenty of people. Grow up.

  72. Scott

    Oh Come on!

    "And in the real mass market, most licence-fee payers won't be enamoured to learn that the iPlayer's Kontiki P2P system is distributing programming on the BBC's behalf - via their bandwidth. For the average consumer it's been made tricky to turn off, too."

    As tricky as un-ticking a box in the prefrences menu... True enough its not always been like that, but its not like it was added in yesterday. Maybe the author just has a really low opinion of the average consumers intelligence.

    "Anyone prepared to wait for a download of their favourite programme to finish before they can watch it, expects it to last longer than 30 days"

    Says who? The simple fact that people do currently use the iPlayer means that there *are* people who are prepared to wait for it to download programmes that expire in 30 days.

    Besides, why would you want to store it for more than 30 days? Thats what DVDs are for - I'd say the iPlayer is more meant to replace taping off the TV so you dont miss stuff when you are out. And I dont know anyone who'd tape something then wait a month to watch it.

    RE: Ah, Yes, But

    "Am I being naive here, or did the patient license-paying public of the UK NOT *actually* already pay for that??????"

    No, they paid for the rights for it to be shown on TV. Do you think you should be able to pick up a DVD of any BBC programme for free as well?

  73. Martin Usher

    It really is about the DRM

    I used to listen to (and watch) BBC media but I don't bother any more because their systems are incompatible with mine. The problem is that they've just assumed that everything is running on a desktop or laptop PC that's running a current version of Windows. Since the quality of contemporary programming seems to be in a tailspin there's less and less reason to bother -- there are thousands of other outlets out there so why bother?

    DRM infection is important because it really is the tip of a very large iceberg. Maybe the Reg readers could explain to me why a modern (HD) DVD player likes to have a broadband connection. The official reason in the colored brochure is to access "Web enabled content". The real reason is buried in the fine print in the manual (and there's a lot of it.....). (Incidentally, some modern TVs also seem to have Ethernet ports....) The answer is media control, the Wintel monopoly on entertainment media and the way it has to be introduced gradually to avoid spooking too many people.....but its coming.....

    Incidentally, Mr. BBC, most broadcast material is worthless shortly after its been broadcast. Media companies assume everything has value because that's what they do -- but literally tons of stuff as "no commercial value". So protecting it is a waste of time and degrades the value of the archive.

  74. fred base
    Unhappy

    @Steve Welsh

    Yes you are being naive!

    When the BBC is eventually sold off, who do you think will get shafted - the people who have funded the BBC for decades or the rights holders?

    At that point the lawyers step in and state "the BBC doesn't actually have a contract with the taxpayer..."

  75. Jeremy

    You know what...

    I like the iPlayer. There. I said it.

    Maybe someone's already made this point but TBH, I can't be arsed reading eighty-odd comments to see.

    I don't use it all the time but it sure is handy when I miss something to be able to go and download it (usually fairly quickly) at a reasonable quality and with none of the crap that infects the torrent networks, Limewire, et al

    As for the whole DRM issue, when it comes to music files, movies and so on, I can't stand DRM. Hate it. Because songs and films are something I'm gonna want to keep for a while, play frequently and on a variety of different devices. I want to be able to play my music when and where I want.

    But the iPlayer is a different case. It delivers TV programmes. You watch them *once* and then delete them. Frankly the only people who should be bothered that there's a restriction to stop you copying the file around willy-nilly are (a) people who haven't thought about how they're actually going to be using the video they've downloaded or (b) people who want to copy it to dozens of DVDs and nip out to the car boot sale.

    In an ideal world DRM wouldn't be necessary. But this isn't an ideal world and the Beeb need to protect their property as much as I need to keep a working lock on my front door to protect mine.

    Now if you don't mind I'm off to watch an episode of Torchwood that just finished downloading...

  76. David Wilkinson

    Is DRM Free downloads even an option here?

    Do they even have the legal rights necessary to offer DRM free downloads?

    My guess that the contracts involved necessitate time limited downloads which means DRM.

    If thats true then the anti-DRM debate needs to either stop or be taken up a notch so that its aimed at the existing copyright laws rather then the BBC.

  77. John Murgatroyd

    Where is it ?

    Been using it for a while now. You may select delete, but it still seems to be stored on the hd. Added to that, the P2P still uploads even when no is selected. Finding the files on the drive is hard work. It doesn't get-on with the firewall, which seems to hate it a lot....uninstall is threatening.

  78. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I'm with > Vladimir Plouzhnikov

    Seems to me a good argument has been made.

    I mean low (ish) quality is not hard to archive, just look at all the other video streaming company's kicking around.

    As for paying for DL fine, no bother. I prefer my films and programs in digital form rather than DVD's and other space taking easily damaged things.

    Also, I am not entirely clear where the author of this article was coming from never mind going to.

    -Anono

  79. Zeno Davatz
    Thumb Down

    A Monopoly doing monopolistic stupid stuff.

    Well I am so totally not surprised that the BBC wasted loads of public Money for some idiotic egoistic project (when there are Open Source one out there to join) - They would have better spent that Money on relaxing holidays for their employees and their cleaning staff.

  80. Robert Long
    Boffin

    Vlad the Idiot

    "I disagree. AFAIK there are no laws anywhere in the world yet that mandate DRMs on anything."

    Apart from all that contract law that says the Beeb has to honour its contractual commitments with the producers to use DRM.

    Try to keep up.

  81. Anonymous Coward
    Dead Vulture

    Feasting

    Nice to see so many Vultures here! but AO your not welcome, if you want to make comments you can email the author.

    As fo iPlayer, is it bigger than the millenium dome yet? Quite honestly its pap, I tried for a few months and then went back to torrents. they insist on a one size fits all approach which just does not work with the curent state of UK net access, only when everyone has fibre to the home will this one-size-fits-all approach work. as for content I feel thier pain but THEY should be proving to their suppliers that DRM does not work, 10 minute demo of fairuse? they should also not buy TV content from producers who insist on DRM, there are plenty of programs out there. It should be distribution channels controling the market not the produers (see supermarkets and farmers!) so in my eyes the BBC is in the wrong.

    Oh and 30 days is not long enough, but that is irrelivant you can only download for 6 days and my holidays are longer than that perhaps Im lucky? but my video still works! I know the video will get the programs i want, iPlayer does not always air the programs you want to see! leading to frustration and disapointment, and a well deserved slagging.

  82. Mark

    @robert long

    All that DRM requirement that they put in the contract in the 70's, before DRM was thought of? Now THAT'S thinking ahead!!!

    You macaroon.

  83. Vulpes Vulpes

    @ the last Anon yellow-belly's remarks

    "THEY should be proving to their suppliers that DRM does not work, 10 minute demo of fairuse"

    So the petrol head lobby could demonstrate that speed limits should be abandoned by taking Mr Plod and a few magistrates on a quick circuit of the M25 at 100mph? Don't be daft.

    "It should be distribution channels controling the market not the produers (see supermarkets and farmers!)"

    FFS, that's why the dairy farmers are struggling, if not going to the wall, and we all get the same tat and crap sold to us everywhere across the country at controlled prices by Tesc O'Morrisburys. It's why they can sell onions flown in from Papua New Guinea rather than from the farm up the road. Oh, and there are two "L"s in controlling.

    "you can only download for 6 days and my holidays are longer than that"

    Nope. You can only INITIATE a download for 7 days (while the programme is still in the set presented via the web interface).

    And don't tell me that there are only six days worth presented via the main menu page; I know, but there ARE seven days worth in there - use the A-Z, or the catagory view or even the bloody search facility you lazy sod!

    Once started, if you decide to pause the download, you can make it take a lot longer than 7 days; it'll resume and run to completion as long as the content is still on the servers (near to 30 days to allow for automatic JIT re-licencing for any iPlayer users who might need to renew a licence).

    Do some research before making glib statements!

    And by the way, did you know that Anthony Rose is the spit for Geddy Lee, singer & bassist with Rush? Not a lot of people know that.

  84. Mark

    @vulpes

    Well, the plod DO take their new spiffy car "for a test drive" at 100+mph. They don't seem to kill anyone and neither do they get jailed for it.

    Sounds like the police have already proven the case.

    Even though that is a crap analogy.

    DRM cannot work. It is predicated on encryption technology which involves at least three people, the two people communicating and one attacker. DRM involves only two: the two people communicating.

    Cannot. Work.

  85. Vulpes Vulpes

    @Mark

    ...and your point is?

    Hint: Did I say it worked?

  86. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    OldVulpine?

    Oi Mr Fox, is that you?

    Bollox, farmers are doing fine. BBC holds the folding. point stands.

    They only present six days, so they deserve a slagging, oh and btw if you know the filename you can even get it after 7 days, but the interface presents six days, and my holidays are longer than that, usually 10+, so point stands. Anyway you cant download on the seventh day its the sabath.

    two l's in trolling too.

  87. FrankR

    DRM??

    If DRM is so important how come I can stick beeb shows straight onto my laptop HD using my freeview stick??

    The menu lets you preplan your recordings. And of course you could use a PVR - a freeview box with a HD in it - without going near a computer.

    Yes it needs an aerial but it's the easiest way of getting digital TV onto a HD.

    Yes you cant download later but the no-DRM still applies.Even if DRM actually worked.

    Also whats the point of streaming?All it does is degrade the content, you can still record it. Easier just to supply a degraded version for normal download.

    Sounds like a case of management not listening to their engineers...surely not!

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