Has BBC iPlayer traffic peaked?

18 05 2008

The Guardian reports on BT-owned U.K. ISP PlusNet’s claims that BBC iPlayer traffic may finally have levelled off. Launched last Christmas, the service has been the bête noire of U.K. ISPs, particularly those such as Tiscali which pay higher fees to access BT’s U.K. IP backbone at peak times.

The same report includes a rebuttal from the BBC, claiming iPlayer continues to enjoy steady month-on-month growth. PlusNet only accounts for 220,000 consumer and business customers, so it’ll be interesting to see what figures emerge from other ISPs during the coming weeks.

Sky Anytime rebrands as Sky Player

18 05 2008

Proving that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, U.K. satcaster BSkyB has rebranded its online video service Sky Player, in a nod to the success of the Beeb’s iPlayer. New features include live streaming of its six own-brand TV channels, as well as progressive downloads allowing immediate playback of downloaded content.

The re-vamped service, which launched in 2006 as Sky by Broadband and claims to be the first U.K. mass market TV download service, also gets tweaked navigation and some personalisation.

Sky’s mobile TV service will shortly get the Sky Player makeover too, while its Sky+ push VOD DVR service, available to 2.7 million Sky homes, will retain the Anytime brand.

BBC iPlayer bags a BAFTA

12 05 2008

The BBC’s iPlayer catch-up service picked up its first gong last night, beating co-nominees Bebo, Kate Modern and the production team behind U.K. Channel 4’s Big Art Mob to the British Academy of Film & Television Arts Craft Award for best Interactive Innovation – Service / Platform. Congratulations to all involved.

Joost – what went wrong?

6 04 2008

It was heralded as re-inventing the TV paradigm or the end of TV as we know it, yet barely a year after its public launch, online video service Joost appears to be lurching from one crisis into another. The service is planning a major retrenchment, reports the UK’s Sunday Times newspaper, “after failing to attract enough users and top-flight broadcasting rights.”

Joost was the one service guaranteed to get the digerati foaming at the mouth, with the kind of gushing enthusiasm normally reserved for the latest Apple gizmo. The company struck gold early in its history by opportunistically inking a content deal with Viacom – some speculated it was less about Viacom making a serious push into the brave new world of web video and more one-in-the-eye at YouTube, which it is currently suing for alleged copyright infringement.

The online video market has evolved considerably during the last year – most if not all of the big broadcast networks have launched or beefed up their offers: NBC Universal and NewsCorp. have bowed their “YouTube-killer” portal Hulu; the BBC iPlayer eventually made its debut and ‘Project Kangaroo’, the JV between the BBC, ITV and Channel 4 looks set to create a new online video powerhouse later this year.

Meanwhile Joost, requiring users to download and install a desktop application, populated with pedestrian content, is in danger of looking as cutting edge as a parent at a school disco. Moreover, at a time when play now Flash streaming has become the de facto user experience, Joost feels clunky by comparison. True, Apple’s iTunes also requires users to install a desktop app, but it does boast some heavyweights as content partners.

It’s a cruel twist of irony that the ‘revolutionary’ service which looked set to shake up the TV paradigm is in danger of looking so web 1.0 at a time when video is so seamlessly being woven into the fabric of the rest of the web. Joost is retrenching from global markets to focus on the U.S., says The Sunday Times – something it probably should’ve done in the first place.

Moral of the tale #1 is that striking gold very seldom happens more than once in succession – something the entertainent industry understands well. Joost’s founders Niklas Zennström and Janus Friis may have turned the telecoms industry upside down with Skype, but thus far Joost has failed to establish itself as anything more than an over-hyped vanity business.

Moral of the tale #2 is under-estimate the deeply-entrenched business models of media and entertainment incumbents at your peril.

The future for Joost? Renewed focus on the U.S. will likely help the service to leverage its strengths and build a significant niche market. Eventually its founders will tire of it and likely offload it to a media heavyweight. beyondnessofthings predicts Viacom will buy it at fire auction rates.

Update: Joost has rebutted yesterday’s story in The Times, telling paidContents Rafat Ali that it’s not planning any major layoffs, though it is doing a “re-alignment” (not to be interepreted as a sole focus on the U.S. market). beyondnessofthings accepts that Joost may not be refocusing its activity to the extent outlined in the Sunday Times report, but stands by the comments stated above.

The U.K. VOD market – nascent but growing

2 02 2008

Policy wonks, quango officials and broadcast executives met in central London last Thursday to debate the state of the U.K. VOD industry: offering perspectives on incumbent services, those soon to launch, rights management and pending regulatory changes.

Unsurprisingly, the first half dealing with audiences, programming and business models packed them in, while 90 minutes on regulation drove half the audience away, and left the other half in near coma.

Virgin Media’s charismatic Malcolm Wall, CEO of Content, hailed the success of VOD rollout on his platform, proclaiming that “the UK market is coming of age.” The service offers 3,700 of video content, including around 1,000 hours of catch-up TV from broadcasters such as the BBC and Channel 4. Just under half of Virgin customers use the service at least once a month (this compares with around 70% of Comcast subsribers stateside), with around 30% of views to catch-up TV. Some 270 million pieces of content viewed during 2007. His prediction that VOD viewing on the platform would soon outstrip linear viewing of terrestrial channel Five was built on with the further portent that 20% of UK viewing would be non-linear within the next five years. But most striking of all was his disclosure that subscription-based viewing is rapidly replacing pay-per-view.

Both Wall and BBC Future Media Group Controller Erik Huggers used their respective turns to plug the impending launch of a “10 foot” version of BBC iPlayer on the Virgin Media platform, due Q2 2008.

Channel 4’s Sarah Rose, Head of VOD and Channel Development, asserted that partnerships with TV platform partners Virgin, BT Vision and Tiscali TV were “fundamental” and responsible for generating the majority of views to the broadcaster’s 4oD umbrella brand. The biggest mindset change for C4, Rose said was developing approaches for customer relationship management, investing in software functionality and developing new approaches for compliance in an environment where the 9pm watershed is immaterial.

4oD online has an installed base of 1 million users (those who have installed the service software) and unsurprisingly the constituency is 60% male. More striking though was the suggestion that the most active of registered users skews female. Around two-thirds of online users are under 35. No surprises that comedy, drama (about a third of all viewing) and entertainment lead performance, but minority interest programming also does “disproportionately well”. The service is split between around 3,000 hours of (mostly free to view) archive – some of which can “engender loyalty to series” – 60 to 70 hours of new catch-up TV every week and around 300 films.

But there were two star turns at the event: Paddy Barwise, Emeritus Professor of Management and Marketing at the London Business School, and Roger Edmonds, a freelance journalist and one of the key figures behind UKNova, a BitTorrent site which specialises in British TV programmes.

“Calm down dears,” was Paddy Barwise’s opening remark, attempting to balance the boundless enthusiasm of incumbent providers with the reality check that for the overwhelming majority, linear TV rules. Barwise said that while announcements from major players were creating enormous developments on the supply side, but the demand side remained sluggish. Adding: “let’s have a bit of huimility about what will or won’t work, before throwing out too many babies with the bath water.”

John McVay of independent producer trade body Pact chipped in with the challenge that broadcasters may like to consider boosting spend on quality programme-making, before over-investing in technical platforms which were yet to prove themselves with mass audiences.

Roger Edmonds of UKNova threw down the gauntlet to U.K. broadcasters, promising that when they could fully meet the demand for British TV programmes that he sees from his users with a free service, he’d close his site down. With a nod to Project Kangaroo, the soon-to-launch on-demand joint venture between U.K. terrestrial broadcasters, he decried the scarceness of choice from traditional players.

Jeremy Olivier, Head of Convergent Media at regulator Ofcom issued the rallying call which cleared half the room, and devoted his piece to changes ushered in by the European Audiovisual Media Services Directive, which compels member states to move to more robust regulation of the VOD sector, including greater protection from content which may harm or offend vulnerable audiences. Ofcom has pulled together an industry panel to

BBC iPlayer to launch Christmas Day

6 12 2007

The BBC is to fully launch its iPlayer TV downloads service on 25 December, according to this report. Not mentioned by Broadband TV News, but covered in an earlier BBC announcement, the iPlayer will also offer streaming video before the end of the year, promising access to 400 hours of TV shows from the last seven days.

Australia’s ABC launches online video destination

3 12 2007

Following the trend from major TV broadcasters around the world to launch branded video players, Australian public service net the ABC has today unveiled ABC Now.


The service aggregates national and local TV, radio and news content from the ABC into a single downloadable player application. The PC version, built with Flash 8 and MProjector, has just been released in Beta, with a Mac version to follow “soon”.

Unlike equivalent services, such as the BBC iPlayer, ABC Now’s initial content offer is far less ambitious: alongside news, weather and sport bulletins the roster of popular TV shows features home-grown productions, such as The 7.30 Report, At the Movies, The Cook and the Chef, Gardening Australia, Enough Rope, Good Game, Insiders, Media Watch and The New Inventors.

But ABC Now does also include a selection of vodcasts – something BBC iPlayer doesn’t.

In a final twist of irony, offering a broader selection of programmes the ABC shows is doubtless down to the BBC’s commercial arm, BBC Worldwide, which licenses many of the corporation’s most popular shows and formats to the Aussie PSB.

TV nets face up to growing online competition

25 09 2007

Variety reports on the latest online video forecasts produced by market analysts Screen Digest: the U.K. market for online TV will be worth £181 million (US $362 million) by 2011, but growth of the online movies segment is predicted to be slower.

There’s no doubting that across the Pond, the competitive environment is really gaining traction, as observed by the Financial Times: in the two years since that watershed moment when iTunes first started offering download-to-own TV shows from Disney, all of the major networks have scrambled to not only beef up their own sites, but also to broker those all-important third party syndication deals.

In the last week alone, Walt Disney-owned ABC has agreed a deal to syndicate its shows, for free, via AOL. The net joins CBS, which has been aggressively pursuing its own syndication strategy for the past few months, while Hulu.com, the online video aggregator site JV between NBC Universal and NewsCorp. is due to bow next month.

Hopping back over the Pond to the U.K., the BBC, ITV, Channel Four and five all have online catch-up TV services: the BBC offers the broadest range and volume of hours, while ITV and Channel Four are increasingly bolstering their catch-up offers with back catalogue shows. Satellite broadcaster BSkyB is broadening its Anytime service, with different flavours of the catch-up service available both via broadband and Sky+ DVRs; the company’s recent pact with Sony will also see an extension of the service for Playstation PSPs.

The Screen Digest research referenced at the top of this post acknowledges that established players such as TV networks also face competition from non-traditional market entrants, such as Joost and iTunes. Significantly, it may be players such as Apple and Microsoft, which stand to gain the most if they can finesse their strategies to leverage consumer relationships through ownership of devices, such as iPods, or the world’s most uniquitous operating system.

Four predictions of my own:

  1. The last year or so has merely been about positioning and trying to establish which online video offers work, and which don’t. Note CBS is moving beyond merely offering full-length TV shows online and gradually ramping up 2.0 functionality: conversational content. 2008 will see the space grow up considerably. 
  2. Whether it’s aggregators or TV networks’ own sites, online video offers are principally restricted to ‘walled gardens’ of content, usually from the operating network or a select few content partners. This is wholly alien to the TV viewing experience: consumers don’t watch shows from a single network or producer. The walled garden approach smacks of protectionism and, over the fuller term, it won’t last for all but the smallest handful of players. The creation of Hulu.com is the first acknowledgement by two major players that hybrid partnerships such as thes, which broaden out the available content offer, are the way to go. YouTube is further evidence of a successful broad-brush aggregation model – albeit with some copyright complications.
  3. The market is already overcrowded: come further shocks to the world’s stock markets (an inevitability), watch the venture capital evaporate. Incumbent players looking to second or third round financing, against a backdrop of unproven business models (let alone profit) will shutter or consolidate. Viacom had better be hoping that it can pick up the assets of Joost for a song.
  4. Apple TV and Microsoft Media Center are the first two examples of mainstream PC/TV convergence: but neither has yet created a compelling enough content offer nor low enough price points to give the products a reasonable run at setting the market alight, beyond early adopters. Next gen games consoles from Sony and Microsoft will up the ante by gradually bolstering their IP-delivered VOD offers, but even these may struggle to break through beyond gaming loyalists. Either some boffin will come up with the cheapest and most elegant plug-and-play convergence-enabler – witness what Freeview set-tops did for the U.K. market – or new product categories, such as networked DVD player / recorders or DVRs will hit that magic tipping point of attractive pricing and mainline retail distribution.

The tipping point for made-for-web TV

31 08 2007

Cast your mind back just three years and the term ‘made-for-web TV’ was usually greeted with derision by broadcast execs (it still is in some circles), suggesting the reason why it was made for the web was because it wasn’t good enough for more mainstream distribution, on a grown-up medium like telly.

Fast-forward to the last 15 months and it’s easy to see how far made-for-web TV has come:

  • lonelygirl15 came from nowhere and generated 50 million views, attracting product placement deals with Hershey’s and Johnson & Johnson.
  • Its star, New Zealand-born actress Jessica Lee Rose became a United Nations ambassador, landed a role in a Lindsay Lohan movie and was named biggest internet celebrity by Forbes magazine.
  • Sam Has 7 Friends ran for 80 x 90-second minisodes, with 10,000 downloads a day via iTunes, and got nominated for a broadband Emmy.
  • Michael ‘Disney’ Eisner took the wraps off his new media production house Vuguru, following up a month later with the MySpace debut of Prom Queen (a co-pro with Big Fantastic, producers of Sam Has 7 Friends).
  • Now Afterworld, the new sci-fi web series produced by Electric Farm Entertainment, and presumably basking in the halo effect created by Heroes, has created a number of firsts by: i) breaking the cost barrier [the overall production budget was US $3 million — still small beer comparative to linear networks, but a watershed moment for web TV]; ii) international TV, gaming and mobile rights have been licensed to Sony Pictures International; iii) the first linear TV distribution deal is already in the bag: the Sci-Fi Channel in Australia will condense the slate of minisodes, webisodes, whatever you like to call them in to 13 x  30-minute episodes for linear broadcast. Superficially, it’s cheap linear telly, but this really is a breakthrough moment.

Just to get the shock-of-the-new back into perspective, on the U.K. side of the pond the BBC has been experimenting with this area for years, even further back:

In 2002, its ‘utlra-local’ broadband TV experiment in a small region of the north of England took Thunder Road, the BBC’s ‘first interactive drama’, a piece originally conceived by local playwright John Godber as a single 90-minute film, and segmented it in to 30 three-minute minisodes, releasing these on a daily basis over a month, also assembling an archive of back episodes simulatenously. Despite the rudimentary approach, with the benefit of hindsight, the show exceeded even Auntie’s wildest expectations and delivered substantial audiences — all because it did two things really well: it had the production values of network output and combined this with a resonance which touched people on a very local level.

So where is this all going? Some nimble indie producers have been quick to seize the opportunity that open distribution represents. Others have been waiting on the sidelines, worried about the ripple effect they’ll have on the main (linear) buyers on whom they rely. Disintermediation etc.

If you’re a producer reading this, wake-up, this is the beginning of a truly global distribution opportunity opened up by the connected age. Don’t be intimidated by linear precedents, the world is truly now your showreel. Seize the moment.

WiTV: the new Joost-alike kid on the block

20 08 2007

When Joost emerged from its Venice Project chrysalis late last year, commentators said it would re-invent the TV landscape.  Then came Babelgum and Veoh, products which have adopted broadly similar approaches: full-screen, televisual user interfaces paired with community features, such as the ability to customise channels and rate content.

Now it seems these three are to be joined by yet another newcomer, WiTV, conceived by the people behind the Streamcast Player.


Details of the new service remain sketchy, beyond a currently small amount of blog chatter, but you can bet you’ll be hearing a whole lot more about this over the coming months. WebTVWire was first to splash news of WiTV back in June, following up yesterday with these screen shots. Hopefully the company will work out how to spell trailer before it rolls out to the public 🙂



Differentiating it from the rest of the pack, WiTV is browser-integrated, so will work across all operating systems from word go — it’s only in recent months that Joost has released a Mac-compatible version, while the BBC’s iPlayer continues to vex Mac owners and open sourcers by only offering a Windows XP version in its initial release.

It’s stated that the service is compatible with Apple TV and Windows Media Center, bridging the all-important ‘last 20 ft’ PC / TV divide. If the developer’s claims stack up, the service also works with mobile devices and games consoles.

In these just-released screen shots, its backers have clearly been giving careful thought not only to community-type features (Skype compatability is mentioned in reports) but also to attracting content owners, through branded environments, as well as advertising overlays.


Another key differentiator, it’s claimed, is that all content will be streamed directly from a central server. It’s already widely-known that despite being bases on a p2p architecture, Joost continues to server augment content distribution to its one million registered users.

As impressive the screen shots are, it remains to be seen whether WiTV’s backers will have the wherewithall to cut meaningful content deals: Joost’s formidable hype machine, the deep pockets of its Skype-founding backers and a liberal sprinkling of opportunism have allowed it to engage majors such as Viacom. Meanwhile, despite wheeling out Spike Lee at its launch to media movers and shakers in Cannes earlier this year, Babelgum has announced just 25 small, indie content deals.

One to watch…

BBC iPlayer and the U.K. ISP bandwidth row

17 08 2007

So a typical download of a TV programme (of unspecified duration) costs U.K. ISPs £0.67 at peak times, according to Jeremy Penston on The Register, a site which has selflessly devoted itself to BBC iPlayer-bashing in recent weeks — given that BAA, the operator of London’s Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted airports is outside its reporting remit, probably understandable, given it’s silly season.

While the piece offers a more conciliatory slant on the BBC’s position, highlighting the fact that ISPs with unrealistically-tighter margins are feeling the greatest squeeze, it neglects to mention that the recently-beta-launched iPlayer is but a drop in the ocean of online video usage.

YouTube’s figures grow exponentially month-on-month, for every YouTube there are 100s of lookey-likeys, alongside BBC iPlayer there are also dozens of video download services (most of which got to market before); so why is the BBC’s product singularly responsible for all of this greater usage?

While a major marketing campaign to promote the iPlayer once it fully launches is inevitable, together with the halo effect of other services which don’t have access to the kind of on-air time or impact at the BBC’s disposal, just take a look at the chart below, illustrating daily reach over a one month period: the flatline at the bottom is one of the world’s most popular websites (bbc.co.uk; which includes BBC iPlayer), barely registering on the radar. The one at the top is another of the world’s most popular websites 🙂 YouTube…


Then there’s the £0.67 figure itself: where does it come from? Regulator Ofcom’s earlier estimates were based on an average user downloading 13 x 40-minute programmes over a typical month. Even at peak times of consumption its estimate was that this would cost no more than £0.50 per hour, per user.

But the clincher is that the average iPlayer user (take as a generic for average user of a video downloads service) would typically cost an ISP £0.24 per hour of usage. That’s tough on operators like Carphone Warehouse and Tiscali, who have chosen to underprice competitors, but perhaps they should be pricing in the exponential growth of other online video, or targeting the offer at market segments which are less likely to reach even average levels of consumption (e.g. research has demonstrated that the 55+ market, an ever-more-active online usage segment, is least likely to warm to the idea of consuming big files, like video downloads).

U.K. ISPs lobby against BBC iPlayer: net neutrality debate lands in Britain

13 08 2007

It started with a bit of BBC-bashing in yesterday’s Mail on Sunday, followed up by pieces in the Financial Times and Independent.

The story: U.K. ISPs are concerned about the strain the BBC iPlayer will place on the IP backbone — the industry concensus, as reported, being that someone has to pay and it should be the BBC for flooding the internet with all of its nasty big video files.

The Mail‘s coverage was rich in motoring metaphors to help 4×4-owning yummy mummys across the nation understand the story in the context of speed cameras and congestion charges. Of the U.K.’s other two nationals which covered the story, stories were restricted to mere coverage of reported fact.

The FT was the only paper to clock the fact that the BBC isn’t the only U.K. broadcaster to have launched potentially bandwidth-intensive services: Channel 4’s 4oD and ITV Broadband to name but two others.

It falls to the non-UK press to offer more intelligent comment, admittedly at a time when the nationals are going to press, but take, for instance, this Washington Post report, quoting industry analyst Jonathan Coham of Ovum: “It’s interesting they are making such a big deal out of the BBC’s iPlayer.”

Not to mention The Register, a site which has done more than its fair share of BBC iPlayer-bashing in recent weeks and by the same token staunchly outside the mainstream media loop, which was the first to splash the story that BT doesn’t (at least at a corporate level) stand by the line reported over the weekend:

“BT has denied reports that it is working with other ISPs to pressurise the BBC or consumers into paying extra for delivery of iPlayer on demand TV shows,” it says.

So given the BT restraction, the critics would appear confined the Carphone Warehouse and Tiscali U.K., two ISPs which have made much of reducing broadband access to the level of mere commoedity, undercutting the competition, and their margins in the process. So who’s laughing now?

Only a fortnight to go before the nationals have some real news to report on and it’ll be the end of the season to bash both the BBC and the British Airports Authority.

First green shoots of the U.K. online video long tail

4 08 2007

This morning was my first real opportunity to play around with the BBC’s Open Archive trial, a corucopia of vintage treats — made even more rewarding by the addition of newly-shot contextual pieces wrapped around the original video, as well as extra material from some of the BBC’s best-known faces.

Wildlife presenter David Attenborough, for example, talks about life on both sides of the camera; while comedian Lenny Henry shares his thoughts on [the now very un-PC] 1970s variety format The Black and White Minstrel Show. 

Browse is filtered by decade or category, with the real reward coming through ‘serendipitous’ linking of related content, turning a mere experience into a voyage of discovery.

Lots of predictably worthy ‘public purpose’ stuff there, but I’m afraid it was a 1982 episode of The Keith Harris Show which I gravitated towards. They don’t [thankfully] do song and dance routines like that any more 🙂

The trial service is currently available to just 20,000 people, but it’s hoped that the BBC’s Trust unit will soon grant permission for it to be made available to a broader audience.

The ITV Broadband service, meanwhile, is open to all and features an increasing range of full-length classic drama, comedy and children’s titles. While the availability of the programmes is rewarding in its own right, the BBC service differentiates itself with the additional contextual material mentioned above.

Channel 4’s 4oD service also offers a small back catalogue of titles, but these are accessible only a pay-per-view basis (vs. ad-funded for ITV and free for the BBC) and with the majority being titles which were broadcast within recent months, the service is generally more based on extended catch-up than a true long tail offer.

Anyway, I’m off to catch some more of Keith Harris, Orville and Bournemouth’s answer to Vegas showgirls.

BBC iPlayer: first publicly-released uptake stats; 4oD update

3 08 2007


BBC iPlayer launched in beta a week ago today. According to this report, 100,000 users are up-and-running on the service.

paidContent says the BBC puts the number of users so far at 120,000; with a forecast of 500,000 registrations to the service during its first six months. Meanwhile, Channel 4’s 40D service will soon reach 500,000 users, according to The Guardian.

40D has so far recorded 2.5m unique users and 20m downloads of shows since the launch in December 2006.

In a possible hint at the forward roadmap for BBC iPlayer, Jeff Richards, vice president of digital content services at Verisign, which provided the peer-to-peer download technology underlying both the BBC and Channel 4’s services, said: “Over time, the iPlayer could be modified to allow users to embed video.”

When is fast broadband not so fast?

2 08 2007

U.K. consumer magazine Which? expresses shock and awe at the revelation that consumer broadband speeds may not be as fast as they purport to be. Welcome to the internet business.

The Which research reported on suggests, horror of horrors, that consumers might be getting swizzed by ruthless ISPs which advertise certain connection speeds, but then deliver something less.

Now that online access is reduced to mere commodity, isn’t it about time we all wised-up on the fact that:

  1. The U.K. internet backbone remains somewhat wanting (BT’s 21st Century Network has yet to deliver)
  2. ISPs, irrespective of geography, turn the tap up and down to manage demand on their networks
  3. Some ISPs are better at doing it, others aren’t

As a point of interest, the survey revealed that larger ISPs were the worst offenders [related, perhaps to the size of their customer base?], whilst smaller ones delivered greater satisfaction from those polled.

The quoted Which? editor does speak some logic when it comes to calling on ISPs to be more transparent about the practices employed. How long is it, I can’t help wondering, ’til we have a Which? report on BBC iPlayer’s lack of support for Mac and Linux operating systems?

More iPlayer flack for a beleaguered BBC

2 08 2007


Poor old Auntie, it’s already suffered a bit of a drubbing in the blogosphere following the beta release of its iPlayer internet catch-up service. Among the critics are those insisting that the BBC should immediately make available versions of the service compatible with Apple Mac and Linux operating systems — a relatively small, but very vocal and media-savvy bunch [is it mere coincidence that many Apple Mac owners also happen to work in media and entertainment industry-related jobs?].

A 10 Downing Street petition aiming to press the point has already garnered over 14,000 e-signatures [at time of posting], with a spike in new ones since all of the blog chatter increased during the last fortnight.

Now, the Free Software Foundation, a group “dedicated to promoting computer users’ rights to use, study, copy, modify, and redistribute computer programs” is to take its latest campaign offline and protest the BBC’s offices in London and Manchester on 14 August.

The group claims the BBC’s appointment of senior manager Erik Huggers, formerly a director at Microsoft’s Windows digital media division, is as good as saying that the Beeb is in bed with Bill Gates.

Somehow, I don’t make the connection (at least not to the extent of the conspiracy theory purportedly playing out).

It’s akin to claiming that another large organisation hiring an ex-Enron employee to a senior role would mean that hire would act illegally.

So the BBC is aiming to future-proof its services by poaching expertise from a blue chip technology company; just as every other major operator in the content space is. Are there not other ex-Microsoft employees working in other senior roles at other organisations? 

Returning to the BBC iPlayer: which other broadcaster or other online video provider has been forced to provide Mac and Linux versions from day one? So the organisation is funded by everyone with a TV in the U.K. and is mandated to be platform agnostic.

But at which precise moment in time has the BBC made a statement saying it wasn’t working on versions of the iPlayer software suitable for other operating systems?

Hopefully the BBC’s new governance unit the BBC Trust won’t be scared into any knee-jerk response — it has, after all, been open season on BBC-bashing during all of the recent ‘faking it’ scandals which, in fairness, have been exposed across the U.K. broadcasting industry and not just at Auntie.

There’s a faint whiff of some opportunistic BBC-bashing by a handful of individuals who should get out some more. Flame away, but this same tiny constituency is wrongfully distorting the truth. Why not focus your activity on something far more pressing? [see post immediately above].

Who says ITV don’t have a sense of humour?

30 07 2007

Picture the scene: it’s BBC iPlayer ‘i Day’, when registration for the service goes live to the general public. Type into Google the keywords “BBC iPlayer” and the top organic search result returns a defunct page, pointing to the earlier iMP content trial, while the top paid search result reads: “Why wait for a download? ITV Broadband… [link]”

Strange, it’s gone now though 🙂

In related news, here’s what BBC News [impartial, promise] says about the first few days following iDay.

Analyst: TV downloads ‘use underhand tactics’

30 07 2007

So says Jupiter Media broadband analyst Mike Fogg, quoted in The Guardian today.

Mr Fogg warns that new U.K. download services such as BBC iPlayer, 4oD and Sky Anytime use [the same Kontiki] software which continues to upload downloaded file fragments in the background, even though the requested piece of content may already have finished downloading. “Many will notice that their internet connections may be running slower, but will not necessarily know why,” the sage of Jupiter adds.

Welcome to the wonderful world of peer-to-peer, Mr Fogg, it’s the way the technology works. You get something and act as partial onward distributor for others who may want the same thing. Slower connection speeds could as attributable to ISPs throttling speeds for heavier users, as it is to the Kontiki app. itself.

The analyst may have a point though when it comes to transparency from the content providers themselves: information on how to turn the Kontiki app. off, however, would be counter-productive as it reduces the available pool of onward distributors.

But then again, as he also observes: “Other peer-to-peer programs such as Skype and Joost [coincidentally from the same people] – which do not behave in this way – have come from people who understand how the internet works… These guys [BBC, Channel 4, Sky] are broadcasters and don’t necessarily have the same understanding.”

In a not entirely unrelated development, New Media Markets [sorry, subscription only] last week reported that the U.K.’s Virgin Media is to cap connection speeds for heavier users at time of peak demand (4pm-12 midnight) across its entire network, following successful trials earlier this year. A user on a 20 Mbit/sec contract exceeding a 3GB download threshold, for example, would typically have the tap turned down by 5 Mbit / sec. The restriction remains in place for four hours.

Nothing particularly novel about turning the tap up and down, it’s common practice by U.K. ISPs to help manage capacity. What is new is the end of Virgin Media’s truly ‘unlimited’ broadband offer, a U.S.P in the U.K. consumer broadband sector (at least for the price). On balance, p2p traffic figures do bear out that Virgin has a disproportionate number of heavier users vs. other U.K. ISPs. But speaking of transparency, how are Virgin proposing to announce this to customers?

The BBC iPlayer and rival 10 Downing Street petitions

26 07 2007

So the petition imploring the British Prime Minister that the BBC should not launch its iPlayer service until there’s support for Apple Mac and Linux users is up to 12,320 signatures (that’s a pretty staggering growth in the last week alone, as I could’ve sworn it was just 10K signatures strong then).

Some wag has now posted two rival petitions on the same site (though, so far, rather fewer responses):

“We the undersigned petition the Prime Minister to allow the BBC to release the iPlayer as planned on 27th July.”


“We the undersigned petition the Prime Minister to Ensure the BBC Releases the iPlayer for Windows NOW and other platforms later.”

Could Rob Ashton and Rob Greig by any chance be related (at least by IP address range)?

If this is e-government, I’m loving it — almost as much as the open sourcers statement to The Register yesterday, which, strangely, seems to pre-empt some official comment (so far not forthcoming) from governance unit, the BBC Trust.

Still, the last sentence of this piece from the New Statesman produces a wry smile.