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Summary:

It’s been a great week for the BBC’s iPlayer project: The Beeb has just announced that the iPlayer is now attracting 550,000 daily views on average. The iPlayer is also now officially available on the Wii, making it the first streaming service by a major broadcaster […]

It’s been a great week for the BBC’s iPlayer project: The Beeb has just announced that the iPlayer is now attracting 550,000 daily views on average. The iPlayer is also now officially available on the Wii, making it the first streaming service by a major broadcaster on any of the three consoles.

BBC Future Media and Technology Group Controller Eric Huggers explained that the broadcaster ended up choosing the Wii instead of the PS3 or XBox 360 because Sony and Microsoft had too many demands about the iPlayer implementation. “They want control of the look, the feel and the experience; they want it done within their shop, and their shop only,” he told the BBC’s own dot.life blog.

Playstation users apparently couldn’t care less about these conflicts. One of them just developed an unofficial iPlayer implementation for the PS3. His PS3iPlayer.com hack was made possible by the fact that the BBC has quietly abandoned streaming media DRM.

The iPlayer generated 17.2 million stream and download requests in March, up from about 11 million in January. Successful shows like Dr. Who easily get 150,000 requests in a single day, and there is still room for growth: The BBC clocked a million stream and download requests on April 1 alone.

The broadcaster doesn’t reveal the percentage of streams versus downloads, but it’s a safe bet to assume that the streams by far outnumber the downloads. The BBC experimented with a download-only version of the iPlayer for months with limited success, but the service really took off once it introduced a web-based Flash player. One of the secrets behind this success is that the BBC isn’t crippling its Flash streams with DRM.

Adobe’s latest Flash version 9 is supporting encrypted media streams in order to lock out third party players and stream capturing applications. iPlayer users however have reported that the BBC is using Flash version 8 for their web streams since December. The broadcaster also started to reencode and optimize all of its video for Flash 7 in order to make the Wii version work since the Wii’s Flash Lite player doesn’t support Flash 9 yet. In fact, there is even a completely DRM- and Flash-free MP4 version of every show available for the iPlayer’s iPhone version.

Hackers have used these custom versions to port the iPlayer to other devices. PS3iPlayer.com is based on the Wii streams plus some basic CSS and Javascript hacking. “It only took a day to produce,” according to the site. Others have figured out how to access the iPhone MP4 videos via Linux and VLC , which means that it’s only a matter of time before these videos will pop up on Apple TV boxes, third-party cell phones and other devices.

All of this doesn’t mean that the BBC is completely opening up the flood gates. The iPlayer still isn’t available to viewers outside of the UK, and the official download manager still uses Windows Media DRM. But the broadcaster has gotten its priorities straight and decided to forgo absolute control for maximum exposure. The numbers certainly show that this strategy is working. Video startups and TV networks alike should take notice.

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  1. John Dowdell Sunday, April 13, 2008

    “Adobe’s latest Flash version 9 is supporting encrypted media streams in order to lock out third party players and stream capturing applications.”

    It’s more like creators can now create encrypted streams if they want… the goal is to offer a variety of contracts between consumer and creator, so that big-budget video can get a return. Adobe Flash Player 9 also renders H.264 video too. There’s a range of choices.

    “iPlayer users however have reported that the BBC is using Flash version 8 for their web streams since December. The broadcaster also started to reencode and optimize all of its video for Flash 7 in order to make the Wii version work since the Wii’s Flash Lite player doesn’t support Flash 9 yet.”

    Lengthy info on BBC production workflows here… it’s amazing!
    http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/bbcinternet/2008/03/bbc_iplayer_on_iphone_behind_t.html

    (Adobe Flash Player 9 includes three different video decoders: Sorenson, On2, and most recently H.264. The mobile engine, Flash Lite, is smaller and passes off video rendering to the device’s own hardware-based video decoder. We’re getting there…. ;-)

    Re “Secrets of Success”: I’m not sure that current “marketshare” would be a measure of success, so much as long-term sustainability of continuing video production would be. We need a variety of types of contracts between video’s creators and consumers, so that each can reach their best choices.

    jd/adobe

  2. “The BBC experimented with a download-only version of the iPlayer for months with limited success.”

    Yes, folks don’t want to download stuff. They want to stream it in real time. Now, why can’t anyone deliver movies like this?

  3. nickreynoldsatwork Monday, April 14, 2008

    I’m Nick Reynolds editor of the BBC Internet Blog.

    In January streams on the BBC iPlayer were outnumbering downloads by eight to one. See this blog post from Ashley Highfield:

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/bbcinternet/2008/01/iplayer_launch_first_indicatio.html

  4. Secret of the iPlayer’s Success: No DRM…

    It’s been a great week for the BBC’s iPlayer project: The Beeb has just announced that the iPlayer is now attracting 550,000 daily views on average. The iPlayer is also now officially available on the Wii, making it the first streaming service by a maj…

  5. Janko Roettgers Tuesday, April 15, 2008

    Nick, thanks for the clarification!

  6. James Gardiner Tuesday, April 15, 2008

    I common theme of my blog (Click on my name above) is is the road map to the future of Video on the net. In short, the use and implementation of proprietary processes and set top boxes is going nowhere fast.

    I have also referenced the BBC as an example of an organisation who actually “GETS IT”. Their latest developments are starting to show why and make everything else look like a child who is not getting his way. (Read the BBC blog entry below for examples)

    See “Wii becomes home of online video” on the BBC blog. http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/technology/2008/04/wii.html

    The BBC have realised that supporting standards that allow video to be displayed on all devices, especially Set Top Box (STB) type devices like the Wii, is what will drive the move to online video in a big way.

    This is where the BBC is doing a big favour to the rest of the world. Currently we have a lot of consumer devices that could bring video from the web to our TV very simply. If they only decided to follow a standard. Unfortunately this is not what they want as each player is trying to capture the market in a kind a walled garden in which they own the viewer. (Ie the view will either purchase content of them , or watch free content with advertising inserted by them.. Either way, they intent to clip the ticket.)

    To bypass this, BBC has basically implemented the many different “CUSTOM STANDARDS” or more precisely, the exact requirements of many STBs and wireless devices. In effect the tail is wagging the dog.

    In effect, what this is likely to do is to demonstrate that we do not need the proprietory AppleTV’s, PS3, Xbox, MediaCentre etc type devices to make working models for the distribution of media. This will demonstrate that in most, if not all cases, direct producer to consumer models can work. And if you consider this takes out an expensive middle man, it is a win-win for the consumer.

    If a standard was developed, it is likely that it would be adopted as was the typical “Analog TV Tuner” that has been in every TV sold such that we could plug it in, plug in the aerial, switch on and watch. It follows that in the future of the internet society we will have the same functionality for moden day TV’s. In this case, instead of an ariel, its an connection the the internet.

    The BBC’s massive growth in viewers demonstrates this unavoidable future and is hopefully de-constructing the FUD (Fear, uncertainty and doubt) marketing of the Apple, Sony and Microsoft of this world.

    BBC you are my hero.

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    [...] On the other hand the BBC’s quietly dropping of DRM is allowing a flowering of options for users of there content and will likely see an explosive growth of there outreach. “It’s been a great week for the BBC’s iPlayer project: The Beeb has just announced that the iPlayer is now attracting 550,000 daily views on average. The iPlayer is also now officially available on the Wii, making it the first streaming service by a major broadcaster on any of the three consoles.” Read More HERE [...]

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