Upcoming Industry Conferences
Streaming Media West [19-20 November 2019]
Live Streaming Summit [19 November 2019]
Past Conferences
Streaming Media East 2019 [7-8 May 2019]
Live Streaming Summit [7-8 May 2019]
Content Delivery Summit [6 May 2019]
Streaming Forum [26 February 2019]

BBC Set To (Finally) Launch iPlayer
With a downloadable client, electronic programme guide, and peer-to-peer delivery, BBC’s new online video initiative could be a harbinger of things to come in the attempt by traditional broadcasters to get viewers to watch television programmes online.
Tues., 17 July, by Jake Ward
On 27th July, the BBC will launch its controversial and oft-delayed BBC iPlayer after four years of development and a budget of over £3mln.

The BBC iPlayer will initially allow UK residents to download almost all BBC TV content, broadcast over the last seven days, free of charge. Content will be available to view for 30 days, after which it will be rendered unusable by the built-in Windows Media DRM. The service will initially be a peer-to-peer on-demand download service using VeriSign’s Kontiki platform and only available to PC users in the UK. Linux and Mac versions will follow “sometime” after launch, according to the BBC

The network also promises that functionality will be added to BBC iPlayer on a regular basis. For example, when BBC iPlayer receives its full launch in autumn 2007, live streamed content from all BBC channels will be added. However, more significantly for the streaming media community at large, an international pay-per-view version managed by the BBC’s commercial arm, BBC Worldwide, is expected to launch in 2008.

The BBC is not the first broadcaster in the UK to launch an on-demand service; in fact, all of its terrestrial rivals already have some on-demand services in place. However, BBC iPlayer is a much more complete solution than any other platform currently in the marketplace offering both on demand and live stream video and audio content, as well as an EPG (Electronic Programme Guide). It will also have far more content available than its rivals (over 400 hours of programming available at launch) and the muscle of the BBC brand behind it.

The question that is on the lips of a lot of streaming media professionals is whether the launch of the BBC iPlayer service will have any impact on the more general streaming media industry both in the UK and the rest of the world.

For the streaming media industry in general, the launch should be a huge step forward in introducing the viewing of television programming on a PC to a much broader audience. BBC iPlayer will be tightly integrated into the “BBC experience” with it being cross-promoted on programme trailers andonline, as well as being built into cable TV services. The idea is that BBC iPlayer will become as common a sight to consumers in the UK as weblinks are in all main stream programming.

BBC Worldwide chief executive John Smith, speaking at the 2007 Financial Times Digital Media and Broadcasting Conference in March, said that he hoped BBC iPlayer would be "like Freeview in creating a new digital platform for broadcasters, giving them a chance to control their own destiny, but like BSkyB in its opportunities for monetisation. We would be delighted if other major UK broadcasters wanted to join us and make it a pan-UK service."

The Freeview comparisons are ones that the BBC will be keen to emphasise. When the BBC took over from the disastrous ITV digital to run the terrestrial digital TV platform in the UK, it managed to create a success story that few could have imagined. In three and a half years the BBC took Freeview from new kid on the block to the most popular digital TV platform in the UK. It is currently installed in over 11.7 million homes.

The BBC however is not simply interested in distributing its own content over iPlayer but sees it as a content platform in a similar vein to iTunes but run by an organisation which understands the relative worth of different types of content. John Smith has previously spoken about the problems the broadcast industry may face if a company like Apple controlled distribution. “Imagine some third party controlling the positions and pricing of all our content on the web,” he said, “so we might get, say, 50 per cent of £1.99 whether it's Planet Earth that cost millions to produce or daytime cookery that cost a few thousands.”

Smith has suggested that content contributors on BBC iPlayer would be able to set their own pricing levels for content. So as a potential new platform for existing programme based content the opportunities look very interesting and it will be intriguing how far and wide the BBC is ready to spread the net for new content.

The BBC already has deals in place with the likes of YouTube and Yahoo and intends to use these websites (as well as its own) to push users to the BBC iPlayer platform. The peer-to-peer distribution model will allow a capping of distribution costs for the BBC so could this be a turning point where User Generated Content can find a home from which it can be monetised. The capped distribution costs and flexible pricing mean that even ‘niche’ content may be able to find a paying audience.

There is also a general upside to this for businesses producing streaming media content in both the corporate and internal spaces. BBC iPlayer should help familarise the average consumer with this platform and convince them it is something that they can easily use. Increased accessibility driven by consumer understanding can lead to an explosion in the way media is consumed. For example, consider the explosion in corporate podcasting that directly followed on from the growth of MP3 player ownership and general podcasting. What consumers can do at home they eventually expect to be able to do with their partners and at work.

All in all, interesting times lay ahead, with the BBC already promising new features to be added to BBC iPlayer in the coming year including the incorporation of its Listen Again radio player and programming stacking enabling views to receive whole series of content in the same way record a series works on PVR.