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BBC Adds Flash To Beleaguered iPlayer
In addition to answering criticisms that the iPlayer was Windows-only, the BBC service adds streaming video and H.264, bringing it into line with European broadcast standards.
Mon., Oct 15, by Tim Siglin

The BBC announced today that it will address some of the concerns that have been raised about its iPlayer technology by integrating Flash Player technology into the iPlayer.

"Adobe and the BBC are deepening their relationship," said Mark Randall, chief strategist for dynamic media at Adobe. "Besides moving their digital desktop workflow to Adobe products, BBC is choosing to use Flash Player technology for the streaming portion of their iPlayer service."

The BBC--which keeps a rolling 400 hours of video footage available for UK residents that need to catch up on their telly viewing, allowing these viewers to download and retain shows and news clips for up to 30 days--has been under fire for releasing the system with a Windows-only player. The inclusion of Flash video, which can play on Linux, Macintosh and Windows devices and has–by some estimates–almost 90% adoption for its newest player, allows the UK-only iPlayer service to quickly become cross platform.

The BBC Trust, an independent board that succeeded the old Board of Governors in January 2007, had asked that the BBC develop a version of iPlayer that runs on different operating systems within "a reasonable time frame".

Since the BBC already uses Adobe’s Premiere and After Effects programs, the move to export content into Flash Player will probably generate an additional bit of workflow and time savings, as the files can be exported directly from Premiere or After Effects, and can also be generated by the Adobe Media Encoder or the Adobe Flash Video Converter, a more utilitarian solution with an interface designed to maintain as much desktop real estate as possible. Either tool gives a user the ability to create FLV or SWF video files for playback.

Another benefit to the BBC, although not specifically addressed in the announcement, is the impending integration of H.264 and AAC–popular video and audio codecs, respectively–into the upcoming Moviestar release of Flash Player. As noted during several sessions at last week’s Streaming Media Europe show in London, H.264 is a standard that many European broadcasters are settling on.

With the ability to output H.264 files from Premiere and After Effects–albeit with the need to remap file structure information still a necessity for H.264 files output by these two programs if Flash Media Server is to be used for streaming the content–the BBC’s workflow may benefit from the additional streamlining. In a call with Randall, just prior to public release of the announcement, it was noted that the BBC will initially use a Content Delivery Network to deliver the H.264 content, then assess whether to use the Flash Media Server 3 in-house for the streaming of these files; if they choose to go in-house, it is a safe bet that Flash Media Server 3 will be the BBC’s primary streaming server platform.

An additional benefit to the BBC, again not mentioned in the press release, could be the impending Adobe Media Player; AMP is designed to allow streaming, progressive downloadin,g and offline playback, and skinning/branding of the player to carry the BBC’s iPlayer message forward. While the BBC currently has another player in use for the downloaded video playback, it is Windows-only, and Adobe’s recent announcement of FlexBuilder for Linux’s availability in a beta form as well as the availability of Adobe Integrated Runtime (AIR) programs available on Windows, Linux, and Macintosh, makes today’s announcement seem like a fairly likely precursor to the use of AMP by the BBC once AMP is released in early 2008.

According to the press release, the marketing blitz by the BBC will take place during the holiday season, presumably after the Moviestar version of the Flash Player is released. Also, the BBC’s iPlayer is only available to UK audiences and cannot be accessed outside the country.