BBC iPlayer: The First Three Months—Trials, Tribulations, and Success?

It has now been three months since the BBC iPlayer’s official launch on Christmas day 2007. After a beta period of a little more than six months, the iPlayer was launched with much fanfare and on-air promotion in time for it to build a significant user base attracted by some of the BBC’s most popular programming.

It has been an eventful launch period in which barely a week has gone by without some new iPlayer-related story hitting the headlines.

There were complaints about the player’s lack of Mac compatibility from members of the British Parliament including the accusation that, by using a Windows-only platform, the BBC was effectively offering state aid to Microsoft. In response, the BBC announced that a Mac-compatible version of the iPlayer will be made available sometime in 2008.

In an attempt to further disseminate the iPlayer over new platforms, an announcement was made in February that work had also begun on a version of the iPlayer for Virgin Media to use on its cable service, the largest in the United Kingdom.

In the last few weeks, a mobile version of the iPlayer for the iPhone has also been launched. Unfortunately, the DRM-free H.264 program enabled hackers, by changing the user agent string in their browser, to download these files to any PC and keep them indefinitely. A fix to the player was issued within a few days, but a simple way around the fix was discovered within hours and the incident has done little to improve the perception of the service.

Finally, a major outage in the middle of March, in which backend database servers failed, rendering the system unusable for a day, has also added to the perception in the technical press that the service despite significant delays has been poorly designed and implemented.

Significant Success
However despite the technical faults and controversy on the choice of platform it is important to consider what the BBC iPlayer has achieved in the first three months since its launch.

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