Dear BBC… [updated]

The licence fee charged by the BBC in the UK certainly has it’s share of people for and against it. Personally I am very favourable towards it, I think the output of the BBC is very creative and of a high quality. If anyone is reading this wants more infomation about how it works then go check out the TV Licensing website at www.tvlicensing.co.uk/. In a nutshell if you own a TV in the UK then you are required to pay £131.50 per year (or just £44.00 if you have a black & white TV!!!). As I said I have no problem with the licence fee, it provides a public service with aims very different from commercial channels. In particular as a parent I find the children’s channel ‘CBeebies’ to be a safehaven for my daughter, especially in contrast to the incessant advertisements on other channels!

Another aspect that I think is great about the BBC is the increasing range of alternative ways of listening or viewing content. The bbc.co.uk website has for sometime had various news clips etc available to watch and more recently has added on-demand viewing of shows, sometimes before they actually appear on air. Podcasting has also been embraced by the BBC with a quite a few Radio shows now available to download every week. The Digital Planet and Mark Kermode Film Review podcasts are both a regular part of my podcast consumption.

However, all is not well with the future of BBC’s on-demand service.

Introducing BBC ‘iPlayer’…

Ok, it’s not a new joint product by the BBC and Apple, it’s the name of the BBC’s proposed new on-demand service. There is now an open consultation into these new on-demand services being provided by the BBC Trust [Link edited to point to consultation conclusions as open consultation is now closed]. The ‘Public Value Test’ as it’s known is intended to allow the public to give feedback on the BBC Trust’s initial conclusions for the on-demand service.

The main components of this proposed service are:

  • Seven-day TV catch-up over the internet
  • Seven-day TV catch-up over cable
  • Simulcast TV over the internet (streaming of live television networks)
  • Non-digital rights management (DRM) audio downloads over the internet (podcasting of selected radio programmes)

With the exception of the second item they are all to be delivered over the internet, and they sound great in principle. There’s even talk about the possibilities of ‘series stacking’ where entire series will be available to view online. However, the last item in the list hints at where the vision starts to fall apart, DRM.

Doh Rae Me?

Nope, nothing to do with musical scales, DRM stands for Digital Rights Management. Basically DRM is intended to control the usage of content such as audio and video files, in the case of BBC iPlayer it is intended to control the duration the files held on people’s computers.

Now, I don’t have an issue with the use of DRM in itself, but when you read into the details of the iPlayer proposal you find that the BBC are proposing using Microsoft’s DRM system to control the audio and video. Basically this means the content will only be playable on computers running the Windows operating system, so if you’re like me and use an Apple computer running Mac OSX it means that we (along with anyone using Linux OS) will be unable to watch any of this content due to the fact that Windows Media Player is now discontinued on OSX (and has never existed for those on Linux!) and there is no support for Windows DRM available.

So, what can be done?

Well, remember the BBC Trust’s proposals are undergoing the Public Value Test process, so you have an opportunity to give feedback on their proposals. So, if you care about this even just a little bit then I’d encourage you to check out the questionnaire on the BBC Trust website, pay particular attention to question #5:

"How important is it that the proposed seven-day catch-up service over the internet is available to consumers who are not using Microsoft software?"

You can find the questionnaire and more information on the BBC Trust website by following this link [Link edited to point to consultation conclusions as open consultation is now closed].

Some related links / articles

~Rick