Yesterday, there was a Twitter chat with Jason DaPonte, managing editor of BBC Mobile. Macworld and Electric Pig have reported on this, including responses to a couple of my tweets. But they missed out a few details, and didn’t mention some questions that went unanswered about the future of BBC iPlayer on the iPhone and iPod Touch.
First off, I read David Madden’s BBC blog post which describes some of the latest developments with iPlayer, but leaves some questions unanswered.
My first question was about streaming over 3G networks:
Why can’t we stream iPlayer over 3G networks other than 3 and Vodafone? David Madden’s blog post today makes no sense on this.
The BBC’s resonse was:
Re iPlayer on other networks – its not currently supported on all networks but we’re working with all of them to get it there.
That’s good to hear, and hopefully, we will soon be able to stream iPlayer over 3G.
My next little bugbear is downloading of TV shows for offline viewing. This is supported on only a small subset of phones, and the iPhone’s not one of them. This is because the Beeb has opted to use OMA 2.0 Digital Rights Management. In order to use this, a certificate has to be installed on the phone when it’s built – apparently it can’t be retro-fitted once the phone is on the market. Unfortunately the iPhone is not one of the phones that can use this sort of DRM; they use Apple’s own Fairplay DRM instead.
Why OMA 2.0 DRM? It’s only supported by a small number of phones? Feels like Windows-only iPlayer downloading all over again
It does really feel like, when it comes to mobile, the BBC has forgotten the lessons of iPlayer initially only allowing working with a Windows-only app, because only Windows supported the specific flavour of DRM that they had chosen.
The response from Jason was:
Talked to David Madden and OMA 2.0 is the most suitable right now and don’t forget we’re on iPhone and other platforms too
I have to disagree. It’s not the most suitable when it cuts off the majority from accessing the service. This is incompatible with the BBC’s mandate as a public service provider, allowing equal access across all platforms. Ok though, let’s try another tack:
OMA 2.0 DRM means no downloading for iPhones ever. Why not provide a dedicated iPlayer app on the App Store?
If no dedicated app, why not provide iPlayer content through iTunes rentals? Takes care of DRM
I didn’t get any answer to these. A dedicated app – such as currently provided for high-end Nokia devices – would mean that iPhones and iPod Touch owners could download TV for offline viewing. The downloaded shows could also be sandboxed within the app, to prevent people keeping the files permanently. Really though, it’s a bit silly since the Beeb already broadcasts all this content over the air, which people are then free to record.
I did get a couple of responses from Twitter user thephazer though. His take on it:
No iTunes rentals will happen because Apple isn’t interested in paying for the bandwidth for that free content.
I think Apple and the BBC could come to a deal regarding bandwidth for iPlayer TV content, but perhaps this is favouring one provider over the rest, especially when they’re still trying to get some sort of successor to Project Kangaroo off the ground.
So at the moment, the only way you can download BBC iPlayer content to watch offline on your iPhone is to use the thoroughly unofficial ipl2iph script. There may be a GUI version of this in the works, time permitting.
The final question, which I forgot to ask, was about live TV. Other mobiles can stream live BBC TV from the mobile website, but you cannot currently do this on the iPhone.
We use standard web technologies for our streaming. We’re looking at whether we can make that work with the 3.0 iPhone software
Leaving aside the fact that they don’t use standard web technologies for streaming (they use Adobe’s proprietary RTMP protocol), iPhone OS 3.0 does allow HTTP streaming. This could enable live TV from the BBC mobile site. Here’s hoping…
All in all, kudos to the Beeb for talking about their development plans in such an open way. I hope we can have another Twitter session or other Q&A soon.