BBC Plans To Open iPlayer Technology To Other Broadcasters

International broadcasters will be able to use the technology behind catch-up TV service BBC iPlayer to launch their own on-demand web plays under proposals put forward by the UK broadcaster.

Open iPlayer is the formal launch of the project formerly and internally labelled as Marquee. It is part of a wider BBC initiative to form partnerships and to open up its investment in on-demand and convergent technologies to third parties in a bid to deliver a more standardised distribution of online video.

"The internet makes infinite choice available which is clearly good for the consumer since it increases competition and hopefully drives costs down and quality up, but the situation right now is that everyone believes that aggregating video for online and mobile distribution is the next big thing," BBC director of future media and technology Erik Huggers explained in announcing the concept. "Yet without a standard the market will be impeded and confused."

The BBC currently has to create 23 different versions of iPlayer because devices from TV platforms to consoles and mobile devices all use different codes, different DRM systems, and different file formats.

"The additional cost of formating is starting to become problematic and something the industry should rise to the occasion and solve," Huggers declared. "How can it be that as broadcasters we are in a position where the tuner decides how we broadcast the show?"

OpeniPlayer is subject to approval from the BBC Trust. "It is not a concept of aggregation, but federation," he explains. "Rather than aim for moving all content onto one single site under a single search box and domain, this is about making sure each and every broadcaster around the world has the ability to run its own on-demand capability and to ensure that traffic between broadcasters can occur seamlessly."The mechanics of the arrangement whereby broadcasters might licence the SDK or even work with BBC developers has yet to be ironed out.

"iPlayer is not something you can stick on a DVD, install and run," he said. "It’s an end-to-end system that brings a lot of different systems together. The concept of opening up our investment and technology infrastructure, knowledge of metadata, back end systems, user experience, and design is front and centre for us in helping other broadcasters achieve their goal in continuing to have a direct relationship with users rather than being disintermediated by third party aggregators."

According to Huggers, OpeniPlayer was a response to requests from broadcasters following the BBC's open partnerships strategy, announced in 2008.

"We’ve had plenty of discussions with broadcasters domestically and internationally, and the reaction has been overwhelmingly positive."

Huggers also extended an invitation for third parties to get involved in Canvas, the broadband-to-TV platform under development at the BBC. Canvas is awaiting regulatory approval, but Huggers hopes it will debut before the end of 2010.

"From an iPlayer perspective, then iPlayer is just another service to run on Canvas. We will have a Canvas SDK ready for third parties such as Hulu to write applications and gain carriage on the platform. We believe Canvas is a game changer, not just to BBC licence fee payers but for the whole ecosystem."

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