Adobe Flash to add DRM in the player via Flash Access 2.0

I’ve blogged a few times about Flash and how it seemed like an obvious tool for the job of a cross-platform means to provide protected streaming video, in particular for the BBC’s iPlayer in the UK. Many of the things I’d thought in those old posts have actually happened now, streaming Flash video is now used to provide access to the BBC iPlayer content on many platforms such as Mac OSX, iPhone / iPod touch, Wii, PS3 and other devices. Streaming Flash video is also used for in the US.

In addition to the streaming option Flash is now used to provide a cross-platform downloadable iPlayer service via Adobe AIR’s protected runtime, so it’s all come a long way really. Of course no-one really likes DRM but at least it does provide a way to make all of this content available (geographic restrictions aside) without any major restrictions – apart from not being able to download directly onto the iPhone / iPod touch I suppose!

Adobe Flash Access 2.0

Adobe has just announced a new version of a software developer kit called Flash Access 2.0 (previously known by the snappily named ‘Adobe Flash Media Rights Management Server’). One of the main features is that it will enable protection of files that can be played directly within the Flash player instead of requiring it to be wrapped within the Adobe AIR runtime. This will offer a lot more flexibility in that files can be played directly within the browser. The technology supports MPEG4 H.264 content as well as FLV files so the quality of video provided via this technology has the potential to be very good.

Example of Flash Access 2.0 workflow.

I’m not sure if this has any real impact for services like BBC’s iPlayer as they already have a downloadable option via the AIR based iPlayer. It’s an interesting situation with distribution of digital video content really, DRM was a complete failure when it came to audio but there’s no sense that content creators are about to take the same approach as the music industry. Of course the big missing piece to the digital media distribution puzzle is that none of this Flash based content can be used or distributed to Apple’s iPhone and iPod touch platform.

Time for Fairplay DRM to be broadly licenced?

I’m not holding my breath waiting to see Apple add Flash support to their devices and I understand that in many ways. However, the main benefit I’d see personally for support for Flash video on the iPhone is to be able to access more of the streaming video content that is out there as most of it is Flash based, and only the likes of Youtube have the means to offer content in multiple formats. Asides from accessing Flash format streaming video I’m not bothered about accessing any other kind of Flash content on my iPhone (I think the Javascript / HTML / CSS3 / WebKit stack is much more suited, that’s maybe something for another blog post).

Although there’s some sense in supporting Flash video on the iPhone I think what could be a solution is for Apple to make their Fairplay DRM licencing available for others to use on their own websites, media stores etc. If we’re not likely to see media become completely DRM free then what is at least needed is any easy, cross-platform, cross-device method to distribute digital video content to whatever device is desired. At the moment the whole digital video distribution system is full of restrictions, dead-ends and political manoeuvrings by big media companies.

I wonder if it’s going to take greater consumer unrest to finally force the various companies to work together for the greater good, to simply be able to play video content that you’ve paid for on any device you want? Especially if that device is an iPhone or iPod touch? At the moment it’s just “a bag of hurt“.

P.S. Don’t anyone suggest Microsoft’s Silverlight as a solution, we don’t need yet another format for video distribution!


BBC iPlayer launches for Mac / Linux using streaming Flash format

This week the BBC launched a version of the iPlayer that is compatible with Mac and Linux by allowing viewing of streamed movies via the Flash player rather than the Windows-only DRM based download method.

Screen shot of BBC's Stremaing iPlayer interface

First impressions are pretty good although I would have liked the quality to be a little bit better, or at least the video to be a larger dimension. The player uses a 512 x 288 pixel video format and offer the fullscreen playback option, however, playing full screen on my 1680 x 1050 pixel monitor resulted in fairly pixellated video. That’s a pretty extreme example of zooming I’ll admit but if the video was larger to begin with it would make the zooming feature much better. The recent addition of support for H.264 video within Flash Player 9 would potentially offer an big improvement if the video could be offered using that format instead of FLV video files.

Share iPlayer videos with other people

Nope, it’s not what you might think by reading that heading, you can’t share the actual files but there’s a nice little feature available via the ‘SHARE’ link in the player menu.

Picture of sharing features of the streaming BBC iPlayer

This offers the ability to either send a link to a friend via email:

Link to iPlayer 'Send to a friend' page

You can also post a link to the Social Networking sites Stumbleupon,, Digg, Facebook and Reddit:

Link to sharing page of BBC iPlayer

It’s nice to see those links to these sites, it would be great to see a larger range though to include sites such as Ma.gnolia, MySpace etc but perhaps these can be added.

All in all it’s a good start towards better cross platform support by the BBC. My daughter was especially pleased to be able to watch kids shows whenever she wanted! Like many people though I would still like to be able to download shows and watch these on other devices such as iPods etc, I’m looking forward to finding out more about the BBC’s plans for providing cross-platform downloads.

BBC iPlayer comes to Mac and Linux via Flash streaming

There’s some interesting developments in the progress of making the BBC’s iPlayer available to more than just those people running Windows XP. The BBC announced that they are partnering with Adobe to make a streaming version of the iPlayer based on Adobe’s Flash player which will make the service available to people running Mac OSX, Linux and Windows.

This solution won’t bring exactly the same experience that current Windows XP based users of the iPlayer get, users will simply be able to play the files whilst they are connected to the internet whereas the full iPlayer allows people to download shows and keep them for up to 30 days. It is still definitely a step in the right direction though, the use of Flash for the video format was a no-brainer really as it is the most cross-platform solution out there.

Previously I’ve blogged about whether Flash was a viable alternative for the iPlayer so it’s good to see that my thoughts weren’t really off-track. It will be interesting to see how Adobe moves in future, will they try and enable some kind of DRM system in order to try and get the BBC to drop the Windows Media DRM system that the main iPlayer system uses? or will the BBC forego the use of DRM altogether and make the transition to a Flash based iPlayer even easier?

Head in The Clouds…

The BBC also announced a deal with WIFI network The Cloud to offer access to all of their online content without the user having to pay a subscription to The Cloud. This makes the Flash-based streaming iPlayer even better news in that you will be able to watch BBC video content without paying for WiFi access at your local coffee shop, oh, except if you’re on an iPhone as there’s no Flash player!

Joking aside though, I wonder if the BBC will choose to make content available using the H.264 video codec and make use of the latest Flash Player 9? If they did then this could allow the content to be published and made accessible on devices that can’t run Flash player. That’s just one more reason why the BBC needs to drop the Windows DRM based iPlayer as it’s just profoundly inaccessible.


Good News for BBC iPlayer progress

There was some good news from the BBC’s Backstage Blog today regarding the potential progress towards a future cross-platform compatible iPlayer solution (See these posts for a bit of background on the issues associated with the current BBC iPlayer "Dear BBC…" and "Flash: Can it be a viable alternative to Windows Media DRM for the BBC").

The BBC have announced that they have employed Anthony Rose, formerly of Kazaa and Sega, to be the new head of Digital Media at the BBC. With more than a hint of humour the Backstage post states:

In a move which promises to shock those who believe the BBC is in the pocket of Microsoft. It was announced Anthony Rose formally from Kazaa and Sega will be the new head of Digital Media at the BBC.

So, this looks like good news in regards to the BBC’s progression to a non-microsoft centered solution for delivering the DRM’ed iPlayer content. In case you don’t know much about Anthony Rose’s (I’d never really heard of him before) or Kazaa then it’s worth checking out Wikipedia’s entry for Kazaa. Hopefully some good things can come out of this, I’ll try not to let the fact that Kazaa themselves don’t offer a Mac or Linux version of their own client bother me!


Don’t mess with the Basra Badgers!

There was an interesting post on the BBC News website today entitled "British blamed for Basra badgers" which starts of with the following paragraphs:

British forces have denied rumours that they released a plague of ferocious badgers into the Iraqi city of Basra.

Word spread among the populace that UK troops had introduced strange man-eating, bear-like beasts into the area to sow panic.

In the interest of public safety I thought I would post a few links to help educate people about Badgers:

Top Ten Badger Facts

  1. Badgers don’t dance in formation
  2. Badgers have clear likes and dislikes food wise
  3. Badgers don’t actually play football
  4. Len Badger did play football though
  5. The collective name for a group of badgers is a cete
  6. Badgers were planned to replace British Troops leaving Iraq in order to maintain the overall strength of British deployment in Iraq
  7. Ruth Badger had nothing to do with the Basra attacks
  8. Badger is a place in Shropshire, UK.
  9. A Breezy Badger may be installed on your computer

Picture of Honey badger
This Honey Badger was unavailable for comment.


TechCrunch’s Michael Arrington calls for an end to the BBC

Michael Arrington of recently came out with the bold statement that “the BBC should be dissolved“. The BBC’s Backstage Blog has a bit more information. He was taking part in a panel debate, ‘European start-up culture: playing catch-up to the US?’ at the Future of Web Apps conference on 22nd of February in London. He claimed that the BBC’s activities were harmful to the startup culture in the UK, he specifically mentioned a project called ‘CBBC World’. His opinion was that the BBC launching CBBC World was harming the efforts of at least three startup companies trying to get into the virtual world space, that the BBC is basically anti-competitive to the open market due to being funded by the licence fee.

He loves me, he loves me not…

There was an article published on by Michael Arrington in January titled ‘BBC Announces?What?‘ which was all about the CBBC World project. Interestingly he opened the article saying “As much as I love the BBC…“, which is a link to the ‘CrunchNotes’ blog discussing the Top 11 sources of referral traffic to The article gives the initial impression that he’s a big fan of the BBC. However, with the BBC being the 5th largest source of referrals I think he’s perhaps more a fan of the BBC due to the high amount of traffic (or ad revenue!) brought in by the BBC! ;) His comments at the Future of Web Apps seem to indicate that he doesn’t love the BBC at all!

The fee keeps it free (of ads!)

I’m definitely a supporter of the BBC, I support the licence fee model, the TV production output and the value I get for it, more specifically I like the commercial free environment it provides. I left a comment on the ‘BBC Announces…What?’ article at the time:

My experience of US / Canadian broadcasting is a huge quantity of channels but dreadful quality, the same is true of what?s available on the Cable and Satellite channels here in the UK. I just yesterday cancelled my full TV package that I have with Telewest primarily due to the poor quality of shows and endless repeats (and they thought it was ok to ?increase? the price for that?!!).

The BBC channels give much better programming than the commercial channels. Speaking as a parent of a 4 year old, the CBeebies channel is excellent as my 4 year old is not barraged with adverts every 10 minutes like it tends to be on the commercial channels.

I hold really strongly to that, the commercial channels just have a whole other feel to them, they may be ‘free’ but the exposure to all the adverts, including all the constant breaks is a bad user experience to put it mildly!

Ok, I know the context Michael Arrington was speaking was more related to online web application development perhaps more than traditional TV programming, however, I still think the whole ethos of the BBC is a positive thing.

Clarifying a few points

The BBC’s Backstage Blog writes that some points of clarification were made to Michael Arrington afterwards, namely:

  • CBBC World is actually created by an independent company and not the BBC, so the BBC is actually supporting external developers. (Apparently CBBC World is based on this: ‘KetnetKick‘)
  • Everything the BBC does must pass the public value test and is therefore assessed for it’s potential commercial impact.

The BBC’s remit is that at least 25% of production of their New Media (web & online) content has to be provided by external companies. The BBC are actually a great source of opportunity for many external companies rather than being a competitor. Additionally, the remit of working with external companies is something that is spreading through all areas of production, not just New Media. It’s a big cultural change that is spreading through the BBC.

Taking a good look around the BBC Backstage website also shows a great deal of interesting innovation going based around open standards. The ‘More about BBC Backstage‘ page states: attempts to encourage and support those who have provided most of the innovation on the internet – the passionate, highly-skilled & public-spirited developers and designers many of whom volunteer their time and effort.

In the past the BBC has not always encouraged such “amateur innovators”, however public-spirited their intentions and products. aims to foster a newly constructive and open dialogue with the wider development community using BBC content and tools to deliver public value.

So I think Michael Arrington perhaps needs to do a bit more research!

Pageing Mr Arrington…

The Backstage Blog also writes that they would like to discuss his comments with them:

We would publicly love to invite Michael Arrington to come in, talk with people and for us to talk about some of his comments, as its obvious he has the wrong end of the stick.

In light of the ignorance of the BBC that Michael Arrington has shown with his statement I hope that he’ll take the opportunity to do so, I look forward to reading the TechCrunch article all about it ;)

[Incidentally, where is the TechCrunch article all about the BBC iPlayer plans? I’m surprised there’s not been anything written about this on TechCrunch.]

Related links:


Another way to let your voice be heard about the BBC iPlayer proposal

There’s another way to let your voice be heard about the BBC’s iPlayer plans, I’ve previously written a few posts about this whole issue and linked to the BBC Trust’s Open Consultation. If you’ve not looked at this already then have a look here:

Now tell Tony Blair!

The other way to let your voice be heard is to sign the online petition over on the 10 Downing Street website, the petition summary is:

We the undersigned petition the Prime Minister to prevent the BBC from making its iPlayer on-demand television service available to Windows users only, and instruct the corporation to provide its service for other operating systems also.

Further details specfied by the creator of the petition are:

The BBC plans to launch an on-demand tv service which uses software that will only be available to Windows users. The BBC should not be allowed to show commercial bias in this way, or to exclude certain groups of the population from using its services. The BBC say that they provide ‘services for everyone, free of commercial interests and political bias’. Locking the new service’s users into Microsoft Windows whilst ignoring those members of society who use other operating systems should does not fit in with the BBC’s ethos and should not be allowed.

The petition is found here:


Flash: Can it be a viable alternative to Windows Media DRM for the BBC? [updated]

This post continues my ongoing theme of the last few posts which is in response to the issues raised by the BBC choosing to use Digital Rights Managed Microsoft Windows Media format for their new iPlayer initiative. Please read the previous post ‘Dear BBC…‘ for more background information about it.

Where are the alternative formats?

I wrote in my last post about trying to find alternative formats to use instead of Windows Media DRM that could be used to deliver the BBC iPlayer initiative, I didn’t find any real solutions that could compete. I’ve been looking into it a bit more and I still don’t think I’ve found anything. One thing that comes to mind when thinking about video on the web these days is of course Flash video, sites like YouTube and Google Video have meant a huge upturn in the amount of Flash based video content available. What’s more it’s also incredibly easy for people to get it into Flash format thanks to these sites.

Why not use Flash Video for the iPlayer?

If Flash video is so popular then why doesn’t the BBC use Flash for the iPlayer initiative? A good question, and I’ve found a few answers that give some explanation to the reason. I found a post on the website entitled “‘Why we don’t use Flash (video)’ – The BBC speaks up“, the article and the comments left by various people make for interesting reading. This article in turn references a response from the Editor of the BBC News website Steve Herrman regarding changes to the way audio / video is used in the BBC News website. FlashComGuru highlights that the overwhelming reason not to use Flash for video is simply the cost implications of shifting over to a whole new format and delivery method, particularly due to the invested use of RealPlayer format content.

The reponse from Steve Herrman titled “In response to site changes” contains a technical response as to why they don’t use Flash, one reason is:

“The BBC is trying to make its video available to the widest possible audience. This means that when we choose the formats in which to stream our audio and video clips and live programmes, we have to take account of: All the operating systems in use, and the number of people who use them (this is not just desktop operating systems – we need to take account of mobiles too); whether a player is available for that format on a particular operating system; and whether it is easy to play that video on an operating system.”

These are all good intentions obviously, the BBC has a remit where it has to be available to the widest possible audience and this is clearly stated in the first sentence. However, taken in the context of the iPlayer initiative which locks you into Windows Media DRM format and excludes Mac OSX and Linux OS users then this is obviously not the widest possible audience being catered for! Admittedly the article this quote from is specifically talking about the use of RealPlayer and Windows Media format on the BBC News website, but the remit there is the same as for the rest of the BBC.

So ultimately it is an issue of it being too costly to replace all of the existing infrastructure with a Flash based system due to the previous investment in the RealPlayer over the last 10 years. Now I can appreciate that, obviously the BBC don’t want to go wasting the investment previously made, plus they could be perhaps criticised for wasting Licence payers money too. However, why get into a relationship with Microsoft on this? There’s really no likelyhood that they will ever do much to help the fact that DRM’ed Windows Media content can’t be played on Mac OSX or Linux. I can’t see how this represents any kind of good investment of my Licence fee?

Surely there must be an alternative?

I keep coming back to that question, however, I can’t really find any viable alternatives. However, that is not a reason to let the BBC of the hook here. The best thing I can possibly think of is that this is time for Adobe to step up and take on Microsoft in this area, there’s a long game afoot here which Microsoft are pushing with the BBC. If the BBC can’t just dump the investment into RealPlayer technology overnight then how is it going to be any easier to dump investment into the Windows Media format and it’s DRM?

Calling Adobe! Time to get ‘mobile’…

There are obviously big issues going on here, advocating one commercial companies format over another isn’t necessarily the answer. For some this definitely isn’t the answer, especially with the use of DRM within the files. However, despite the prospect of perhaps seeing music available for purchase DRM free, I don’t think we’ll be seeing this happening as easily or so quickly where video is concerned. With that said I think the best option here is for Adobe to get the Flash video format positioned much better as a viable format to compete Windows Media DRM’ed content.

The previous quote from the BBC above mentions the use of Mobile devices as a target end user of the BBC’s content, yet again Windows Media is no solution here at all either with or without DRM. The point is interesting though because Adobe have just made an announcement at the annual 3GSM conference that version 3 of their Flash Lite mobile platform will support Flash video. This provides a vital piece of the puzzle that the BBC is trying to piece together, and a much more platform friendly method at that.

I think the only technical challenge left to fill in is the provision of a decent DRM scheme to use within Flash video, if Adobe can provide that piece of the puzzle then there’s absolutely no reason for the BBC to use Windows Media DRM and cause thousands of licence payers to be locked out of using a service they are entitled to use.

So, Dear BBC, time to think again…


  • Flash format can work for other TV channels such as ABC around the world,
  • a growing amount of people use non-Microsoft operating systems on their computers,
  • more and more people are looking to access content online via mobile devices

then how can you consider Windows Media DRM a viable solution that is compatible with the remit of the BBC?


Bruce Schneier has written a great article about the DRM restrictions in Windows Vista, more reasons why a lock-in to Microsoft DRM is a bad choice for the BBC: [Via DaringFireball]

This isn’t even about Microsoft satisfying its Hollywood customers at the expense of those of us paying for the privilege of using Vista. This is about the overwhelming majority of honest users and who owns the distribution channels to them. And while it may have started as a partnership, in the end Microsoft is going to end up locking the movie companies into selling content in its proprietary formats.

I think you can replace the words movie companies at the end there with BBC instead. Microsoft desperately wants to have control of the DRM used in TV / Movie / Video distribution, the control they never managed to gain in the Music industry.

Vista: the longest suicide note in history

There’s an interesting article by Peter Guttman I just saw a link to: A Cost Analysis of Windows Vista Content Protection. It gives a lot of indepth information about Vista’s Content Protection, it’s quite scary reading, the heading above kind of sums it up.


Open doors, not closed Windows?

This post is a bit of a follow-up to my last post ‘Dear BBC…‘ regarding the BBC’s new iPlayer proposal which is going to use Windows Media DRM to deliver the files. This is basically just a few thoughts / ponderings based on things I’ve been reading related to this whole issue.

Windows Media DRM, is it the only solution to the iPlayer requirements?

I’ve been looking around a little bit to see if there are any alternatives to using Windows Media DRM (I’m going to refer to this as WMDRM for short herein) for delivering the media that the BBC want to make available. The main reason that WMDRM has been chosen is that it is apparently the only form of DRM that will provide the means for the content to time out at the appropriate point. The BBC’s proposal suggests that programmes will be available to download for up to seven days after original broadcast but that the files will be valid for up to thirty days after downloading.

Now what I wondered is whether WMDRM really is the only option available for delivering this kind of time-sensitive protection, so far though I haven’t really found an alternative DRM. I have heard rumours that Apple’s FairPlay DRM has this kind of development in the pipeline though, the more I think about it I reckon Apple already has something like this working. However, given that Apple’s model of selling content on the iTunes Store is purely for outright purchase rather than ‘renting’ content coupled with the fact that Apple don’t currently licence their DRM to anyone else there is no need for Apple to implement this kind of model in practice. But I’m pretty sure they’ve got this kind of function written into FairPlay if / when they want to use it.

A couple of points of possible interest for alternative DRMs I found are:

  • Real Networks Helix – Real Helix platform (of note is that Real for a while managed to reverse engineer Apple’s FairPlay and offered the only online music store that could deliver Music using their own format as well as DRM’ed Windows Media and FairPlay’ed DRM tracks for use on iPods, however Apple put a stop to that functionality in various software updates, plus Real generally got slated for their accompanying PR campaign.)
  • OpenIPMP – Described as ‘Open source DRM for MPEG-4 and MPEG-2 adhering to ISO/MPEG IPMP open standards (MPEG IPMP Hooks and IPMP-X), ISMAcryp and OMA DRM 2 specs. Includes CA, PKI, DOI mgmt, ISMA streaming, license server, encoding/encryption, player, plugin architecture, etc‘.

The only good DRM is NO DRM?

Perhaps a better option is to not use DRM at all? A growing number of companies, organisations and people seem to think so. About a year ago the British Library expressed concern about the impact DRM has on their ability to ensure long-term access to copyrighted content, part of the British Library’s role is to catalogue everything published in the UK. DRM makes this difficult or impossible and getting round it, perhaps, illegal.

At the recent Midem music trade fair in Cannes the topic of selling music without DRM was discussed, perhaps this shows a turning of the tide by the Labels considering DRM-free distribution as the way forward. EMI has already experimented with DRM free music sales through Yahoo Music using raw MP3 format audio files.

There are perhaps several reasons why the Record Labels may be interested in selling tracks without DRM, one of which is the Labels’ desire to have better control over the music market, something that DRM stops them from doing. Another reason is that some Labels seem to perceive the iTunes Store market dominance as some kind of monopoly hold over the labels, this is true to the extent that Steve Jobs has resisted the Label’s demands for a different pricing structure based on popularity of tracks rather than the standard $0.99 / £0.79 per track model used by iTunes and many other online music stores. There are growing calls from European countries for Apple to open up their FairPlay DRM to licensing, Norway being the most recent country to rule that the FairPlay DRM terms and conditions violates local laws.

I’ve heard and read people say that Apple want to keep FairPlay DRM in place without licensing as it ensures their iPod hardware and iTunes Store sales continue to be successful. However, I’ve always felt that FairPlay DRM’s restrictions are about the least restrictive out there, couple this with Steve Jobs resistance to the Record Labels’ attempts to place further restrictions (albeit with some compromise regarding CD burning) and it’s never appeared to me that Apple would enforce DRM if they had a choice, they did promote the ‘Rip, Mix and Burn’ meme after all!

Joking aside though, my feeling on this seems to be confirmed by an article by Steve Jobs posted on on 6th February entitled ‘Thoughts on Music’. The article contains a lot of interesting bits of information, it gives a background to how we got to the current state we are in regarding DRM and music. Steve also proposes three possible ways forward regading selling music online:

  1. Continue with the way things are with multiple competing DRM schemes.
  2. Apple to open up FairPlay DRM.
  3. Abolish DRM entirely.

Steve gives a good explanation of what is involved for options 1 & 2, however, the third option is the most interesting:

The third alternative is to abolish DRMs entirely. Imagine a world where every online store sells DRM-free music encoded in open licensable formats. In such a world, any player can play music purchased from any store, and any store can sell music which is playable on all players. This is clearly the best alternative for consumers, and Apple would embrace it in a heartbeat. If the big four music companies would license Apple their music without the requirement that it be protected with a DRM, we would switch to selling only DRM-free music on our iTunes store. Every iPod ever made will play this DRM-free music.

Why would the big four music companies agree to let Apple and others distribute their music without using DRM systems to protect it? The simplest answer is because DRMs haven’t worked, and may never work, to halt music piracy. Though the big four music companies require that all their music sold online be protected with DRMs, these same music companies continue to sell billions of CDs a year which contain completely unprotected music. That’s right! No DRM system was ever developed for the CD, so all the music distributed on CDs can be easily uploaded to the Internet, then (illegally) downloaded and played on any computer or player.

So, there it is, straight from the horses mouth so to speak. If there was ever any doubt about Apple’s thoughts / motives regarding DRM I think Steve Jobs just made it quite clear.

What’s this got to do with iPlayer? Is DRM a necessary evil in this instance?

I think it highlights the two different functions or types of DRM in use: One for outright purchased content and one for leased or time-sensitive content. It does appear potentially that there is no need for DRM on purchased content but that there is a need for protecting content that publishers want to make available for a limited period of time. Mmm, so, I’m not really any further forward at presenting an alternative solution for the BBC in regards to the iPlayer’s DRM am I? Here’s a few thoughts:

  • Apple could step up to the mark and make a version of FairPlay available to the BBC that allows time-sensitive content.
  • Adobe could step in here and make a DRM method for their Flash player format, especially ideal with the recent launch of the Flash player for Linux

Apart from those couple of thoughts I’m not sure of a way forward, so I’m still not very happy with the current BBC iPlayer proposal. Amongst the details of the BBC Trust’s proposal is discussion of other methods of delivery such as peer-to-peer file sharing, according to Wikipedia the BBC have done some tests using a peer-to-peer system called Kontiki. I’m not sure this really offers anything other than a different method of delivery rather than an alternative DRM method though. Of interest though is a new venture called Joost that was created by the original founders of Skype, their ‘About us’ page states:

Joost™ is a new way to watch TV, free of the schedules and restrictions that come with traditional television. Combining the best of TV with the best of the internet, Joost™ gives you more control and freedom than ever before – control over what you watch, and freedom to watch it whenever you like. We’re providing a platform for the best television content on the planet – a platform that will bring you the biggest and best shows from the TV studios, as well as the specialist programs created by professionals and enthusiasts. It’s all overlaid with a raft of nifty features that help you find the shows you love, watch and chat with friends, and even create your own TV channels.

So, an interesting delivery model but it doesn’t provide an answer to the challenge of finding an alternative DRM for use with the BBC iPlayer proposal.

Perhaps if Music becomes DRM-free, TV / Video will follow suit?

Steve Jobs’ article cites the fact that 90% of music sold is via CD format that contains no DRM whatsoever and this is the reason why DRM for music online makes no sense as it is so readily available in non-drm form. In contrast TV shows and Movies on DVD are primarily in a protected format so that argument doesn’t hold up there. Is it really feasible to expect the BBC and any other provider of TV / Video content to make it available without DRM? I can’t really see it happening, although anything that is distributed using those methods is sure to have it’s DRM circumvented and the content finding it’s way onto sites such as YouTube, Google video and other web sites. It’s still probably a losing battle for the Movie / TV industry but one that I don’t think they’ll yield too in a hurry.

Finishing up, any ideas?

Researching and writing this has made me have a little empathy with the BBC’s situation. They are facing, like Apple did with the big music labels when they proposed the iTunes Store, the requirement to provide a protected way to distribute digital files to satisfy the holders of the copyrighted material. I haven’t really found an obvious viable alternative, other than just dropping DRM altogether.

Anybody got any other ideas / suggestions? If you do then don’t forget you have an opportunity to give feedback on the BBC Trust’s proposals. I encourage you to check out the questionnaire on the BBC Trust website, paying 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?"

Don’t forget that the Microsoft DRM the BBC iPlayer will use will also limit functionality for certain older Windows OS’s too, so it’s not just an issue for Mac OSX and Linux users!

I’m of course interested to hear people’s thoughts on this in the comments below too :)

Update: Interesting links


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 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 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].

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