BBC Says ‘No Thanks’ to Smart TV Fragmentation

The BBC Trust has determined that the national broadcaster won’t build custom applications for device manufacturers looking to add its iPlayer to their smart TV platforms. While in the short term the decision could mean fewer consumer electronics platforms that carry the BBC’s online catchup service, in the long term the broadcaster’s reluctance could force some CE manufacturers to consider more standards-based app platforms on their connected devices.

New provisional conclusions by the BBC Trust, announced Wednesday, are part of an ongoing review of the BBC’s syndication policy, which determines how it makes its iPlayer catchup service available to third party providers such as Freeview, Freesat, Sky and Virgin. The review also seeks to determine how the U.K. national broadcaster will deal with an increasingly fragmented TV and connected device market.

According to GigaOM Pro analyst Michael Wolf, there are now at least 10 different platforms for building smart TV applications, many of which have their own requirements for video formats and delivery mechanisms. That means that publishers who wish to feed their online videos directly to consumer TVs, Blu-ray players and other devices frequently have to develop build app interfaces for multiple platforms.

The best example of a video publisher fighting TV application fragmentation is Netflix, (s NFLX) which has spent the last several years building custom applications to reach a multitude of consumer electronics devices. Netflix is now on more than 250 different devices, including TVs, Blu-ray players, game consoles and mobile phones, but it wasn’t easy.

For the BBC’s part, its iPlayer is now available through more than 30 different connected platforms, but most of those implementations are built off its large-screen web experience. With the rise of smart TV platforms, more CE makers are appealing to the broadcaster to build custom versions of the iPlayer. However, as a public broadcaster, the BBC doesn’t have the resources to do so. Not just that, but the broadcaster hasn’t seen a huge demand from connected devices — yet.

As a result, the BBC Trust has determined that it will generally only build versions of the iPlayer based on standards that can be used by multiple manufacturers. That said, the BBC said it will create platform-specific apps under “exceptional circumstances where the BBC’s costs for development and maintenance would also be fully reimbursed.” In other words, CE manufacturers can get an iPlayer app, maybe, if they pay to have it built.

The focus on standards by one of the biggest content providers in the world, and one which sees large demand from a voracious catch-up audience, could drive some CE makers to rethink their strategies for how their app platforms work. Already, some device makers have adopted HTML5 for the backend delivery of apps and video on their connected platforms, which is easing development times for companies like Netflix.

But for the most part, the industry has a long way to go before it sees wholesale adoption of a single standard that will allow publishers to reach a wider audience. Until then, broadcasters like the BBC and other online video publishers may have a tough time building users experiences in a fragmented smart TV market.

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