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Summary:

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 […]

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.

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  1. Word on the street is that Adobe Air will be the platform agnostic solution. I’m not sure if Air supports DRM or not, but it seems like an OK solution to a big problem.

  2. I just use this

    http://linuxcentre.net/getiplayer/installation/

    higher quality mp4s instead of crappy flash video

  3. “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”

    Funny thing is the iPhone and iPod Touch compatible MP4 files contain almost no real DRM at all, just a simple XOR scheme and a some minor obfuscation to the actual location of the files on their servers. You can use the following ruby script to download DRM free files straight from the BBC:

    http://po-ru.com/

  4. Jack, that XOR business was a red herring. When a client doesn’t imitate an iPhone closely enough (by not grabbing a bug image), the file served is partially XORed. The solution was just to improve the emulation.

    By the way, here’s a direct link: http://po-ru.com/projects/iplayer-downloader/

  5. I’d recommend the perl script over the ruby one, the ruby one is over complicated now since they made it something you have to install and have a gui for.
    Perl script just stick it in a directory, made it executable and its all selfcontained, no throwing trash around all over your OS

  6. BBC iPlayer coming to Mac…and maybe to other countries – Apple Gazette Monday, November 10, 2008

    [...] more interesting part of the TAB report I was reading about this, is that there is talk in the BBC about opening the iPlayer up [...]

  7. “iPhone and iPod touch owners make-up for 3%”

    I wonder how much of this is due to the download scripts.

  8. @dn: The latest Flash video is MP4 (or rather h264) – how can that be crappier than, erm, MP4.

  9. I don’t want to be smug or anything but I told you so…

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