October 16, 2007 | Becky Hogge

BBC U-turn: Full iPlayer service may never be available to Mac and Linux Users

Yesterday, the BBC announced that a cross-platform "streamed" version of its on-demand service the iPlayer would be available by the end of the year. According to this report from BBC News Online:

"At the end of the year users of Windows, Mac or Linux machines will be able to watch streamed versions of their favourite TV programmes inside a web browser, as well as share the video with friends and embed programmes on their own websites, sites such as Facebook and blogs."

If the idea sounds vaguely familiar, that's because back in March, when the BBC Trust put the iPlayer out for consultation, the Open Rights Group gently suggested that streaming was a far better short term solution to on-demand services than DRM-restricted market-distorting technologies that would serve to widen the digital divide. We observed that:

"Such an approach is cheaper, lower risk, more inclusive (it works for example in libraries) and more flexible than the current BBC proposal. It may not appeal to consultants looking to make huge profits at public expense however, precisely because it is simple, clean and low-risk.

"It does not, of itself, address the desire for users to obtain content in DRM-free downloadable form for any platform, but it provides a basis until the BBC is able to identify more open solutions for the download of content, preferably ones which do not depend upon DRM... The Open Rights Group considers it is quite possible that, as already is clearly happening in the music world, the use of DRM will soon be abandoned by the market itself."

You can read our full submission to the BBC Trust here. But enough of the I-told-you-so-s. Is yesterday's move good news for licence fee payers who do not use Windows? Well, not really. Although they will now be given online access to content their licence fee has helped pay for, there are still fundamental inequities between users on different platforms, and this still leaves the BBC deforming the market in favour of Microsoft DRM and Windows. People on Macs, Linux, PDAs and other handheld devices are still losing out on all the features that make the downloadable iPlayer different from, say, the kind of streaming that the BBC has done for years with the RadioPlayer.

And that's not all. Ashley Highfield, director of Future Media and Technology at the BBC has now indicated that the full, downloadable iPlayer may never be made available to those who do not use the latest versions of Windows. When the iPlayer launched in June, Highfield was quoted as saying:

"I am fundamentally committed to universality, to getting the BBC iPlayer to everyone in the UK who pays their licence fee."

But yesterday, he admitted:

"We need to look long and hard at whether we build a download service for Mac and Linux. It comes down to cost per person and reach at the end of the day."

The BBC could avoid all this mess if it eschewed DRM and instead employed standard formats. The Open Rights Group believes that the BBC cannot be truly public service in the 21st century until it gives the British public access to the programmes that they have paid for without DRM or restriction. This is not a technology problem, but cuts to the heart of what the BBC is for and how it makes and commissions programming. ORG challenges the BBC and the BBC Trust to re-examine the BBC's commissioning and rights frameworks with the goal of creating public service content, owned by the public and available to all.

Update: The BBC Trust have hit back at the Future Media and Technology team, reiterating their condition that the entire service must be platform neutral and adding "we would expect BBC management to come back to us if they are planning any changes to iPlayer." Read the full report here.

Comments (13)

  1. Peter Knowles:
    Oct 17, 2007 at 11:31 PM

    Count me in as well. As another one of those "cheap bastard" Linux users, I will happily pledge 1000 Pounds to any organization which mounts a legal action against the BBC in the UK/EU over this matter. I'm not so wealthy that money has lost all meaning to me. I just feel that strongly about it.

    I don't use Linux because I'm cheap. I use it because I value a little thing called freedom (and I imagine I'm not alone in that). dogStar would be surprised at what price tag some of us assign to it, and how much some of us might contribute to protect it.

  2. Linux, the BBC and Your Rights » Yet Another Linux Blog:
    Aug 24, 2008 at 08:58 PM

    [...] they would be creating an online video player that supports all operating systems, only to backpedal and state that Linux would not be supported. Now they’re also including DRM in much of their [...]

  3. dogStar:
    Oct 23, 2007 at 08:40 AM

    @Peter Knowles and @pauls
    I'm also a cheap bastard who uses Linux and likes to whine. In fact I excel at the latter.
    If it comes down to it we should start a fund.

  4. Niel:
    Nov 12, 2007 at 03:43 PM

    Hummm, have the BBC got some kind of deal with microsoft?
    Browns Brainwashing Colusionists are not to be trusted!

  5. Dodgeblogium » Blog Archive » BBC: Sod off if you don’t have a new PC:
    Oct 16, 2007 at 11:12 PM

    [...] minority of BBC tax payers off. Yet more in the column in the privitise the corporation then. read more | digg [...]

  6. Paul:
    Oct 20, 2007 at 10:57 PM

    This is the last straw as far as I'm concerned. There are so many things wrong with what the BBC has done (and not done) in recent years: declining quality of TV programmes (esp. science), bad science in general, poor quality and proprietary audio streams, slow to podcast, poor reporting on important digital era issues (swpats, IP extremism) esp. in Europe, lobbying in international forums for new IP privileges, arrogant disregard for the their "customers"...

    The money I would've once been happy to pay for a TV licence is going to genuinely public service oriented organisations such as NPR in future.

  7. netzpolitik.org: » Neues von der BBC » Aktuelle Berichterstattung rund um die politischen Themen der Informationsgesellschaft.:
    Oct 21, 2007 at 12:40 PM

    [...] der Open Rights Group: BBC U-turn: Full iPlayer service may never be available to Mac and Linux Users. von markus um 13:40 | abgelegt in Digitalkultur | tagged in BBC und uk | Trackback URL | [...]

  8. Matt Wayne:
    Oct 17, 2007 at 01:41 AM

    I for one would be in favour of a legal challange to the BBC on this. This is tantamount to stating that their product (which we pay for through our license fees,) is only to be available to a limited proportion of license payers. We in turn must be well within our rights to demand at least a reduction in our fee to compensate us for our limited access to their service. Unfortunately I fear that it is only through this sort of stratagem that we will be able to force the implementation of an open platform solution. You would find HUGE support for this amongst Mac and LInux users - and after all, there are many 10s of 1000s of us!

  9. Foreign BBC Lover:
    Oct 18, 2007 at 04:03 AM

    "It comes down to cost per person and reach at the end of the day."

    It absolutely does not.

    The BBC produces (read: spends money on) a lot of content that isn't especially popular and has a very HIGH cost per viewer. Does that mean they should stop making it? Of course not. Bizzare, off-beat, hidden gem kind of programmes are what makes the BBC so great. I don't even live in the U.K. but I'd be happy to pay a license fee to the BBC to ensure they keep producing these shows - our culture is all the better for them.

    So why the philosophical U-turn when it comes to the medium they can be accessed through?

    Failing that, is the BBC going to set up an ongoing investigation into Linux/Mac market share so that they can release a Linux/Mac client when the arbitrary user numbers rise to a "feasible" level? If not, how will they know when we Mac/Linux people deserve equal access? If so, wouldn't it just be cheaper to build a Linux/Mac client in the first place?

    ...and couldn't the BBC simply set up an Open Source project to build these clients and let us figure it out ourselves? I can virtually guarantee it would be superior to the existing Windows version or proprietary Mac and Linux software.

  10. Links For Wednesday 17th October 2007 at Digitalia:
    Oct 17, 2007 at 07:18 PM

    [...] BBC U-turn: Full iPlayer service may never be available to Mac and Linux Users Replacing it instead with a streamed-in-a-browser service. Which would mean that it’s unavailable off-line. I am generally in favour of the Beeb and the license fee, but this is not on, and the Beeb deserve a hefty slapping for it. (tags: bbc technology standards video) [...]

  11. dogStar:
    Oct 17, 2007 at 07:18 PM

    @Matt Wayne: "I for one would be in favour of a legal challange to the BBC on this."

    The BBC management's apparent change of heart is due, in part, to the threat of a formal complaint to the EU competition authorities by groups such as the Open Source Consortium and the FSF.

    Formal legal action in the UK courts would be enormously expensive, something that I doubt the '10s of 1000s' of Linux users you refer to would be willing to help fund - because they're generally cheap bastards who like the sound of their own whining

  12. pauls:
    Oct 17, 2007 at 07:53 PM

    As one of those '10s of 1000s' of Linux users, I would definitely help fund legal action in the UK courts. I probably couldn't afford more than 250 pounds, but I wouldn't consider myself a cheap bastard who likes to whine. I also don't think I'm in the minority. Linux is my only OS, and I don't see why I should have to pay a tax to some multinational to view programming I've already paid for, especially when cross-platform solutions exist and are mature.