The BBC’s iPlayer is nothing short of a digital revelation — providing viewers in the United Kingdom with online access to an ever-changing (and free) selection of the BBC’s internationally-revered quality programming.
For an increasing number of us Brit’s, BBC.co.uk/iPlayer is the site we surreptitiously visit on our lunch-breaks at work and the destination for catching up on missed TV in the evenings. Yet upon its initial beta launch back in 2007, the iPlayer was a national disappointment; exclusively for Windows and with more bugs in it than an entomologist’s cupboard.
While iPlayer downloading may have been refined somewhat — Windows users can grab DRM-ridden episodes for play in Windows Media Player – it’s still not an option for Mac users. However, Erik Huggers is the man set to change all that. He’s the BBC’s verbosely-titled Director of Future Media and Technology and a veteran of Microsoft, having spent nine years with the Apple-competitor.
Speaking to Guardian.co.uk earlier today, Huggers talked about the different platforms used to access the iPlayer, “The situations we’re seeing are interesting – mum and dad are watching linear TV in the living room but kids are watching it in a different way … on the iPhone, iPod touch or laptop.”
The statistics for non-Windows platforms are indeed promising. Wii and Linux users account for 1% of the viewership, iPhone and iPod touch owners make-up for 3% and, notably, one in 10 viewers are Mac users. The intention is that by the end of 2008, the iPlayer will feature a native download manager for viewing episodes on the Mac.
Of course, the episode files are sure to have some kind of DRM embedded within them — the BBC has an awful lot of red-tape to go through and that can make for clunky solutions to simple problems. It’s also not clear as to whether the download manager application will have an embedded video player, or if there will be some kind of Quicktime/iTunes support.
Now here’s the really exciting thing for non-UK readers of TAB: Huggers also talked about opening the iPlayer up to international viewers, ”… today we are artificially blocking international access to the iPlayer. That’s a problem, in my mind, and a big challenge for the industry.”
Although Huggers hasn’t outlined a time-line for opening the international flood-gates as yet, the suggestion is that at some point in the future you’ll be able to grab your fix of Doctor Who, Little Britain, Spooks and all the other fine programs by the Beeb, regardless of your global location.
Stay tuned for more iPlayer news in the future, we’ll be keeping an eye on the BBC as they develop the service.