Tuesday, 21 April 2009

Next step for the BBC iPlayer - Updated

I'm not the BBC's biggest fan, but have to admit to liking the iPlayer. I don't use it much though and that's only partly due to not being the BBC's biggest fan. It's mostly because I don't like watching TV on my PC. I haven't lived in student accommodation for years and so I like watching TV in my lounge.

The Beeb has just upgraded the iPlayer to higher definition, which is great.

It doesn't solve the problem of getting it off PCs and onto TVs though. Sony's Playstation 3 is a step in the right direction. It's got a web browser in it, that you can use to get to the iPlayer and then blow the video up to full screen on your big flat screen telly. Brilliant.

There are a couple of problems with the PS3 approach though. It's a bit fiddly (only a little bit) to start up a games console and then find the web browser to see what's available. It's also limited to people who have bought the console and are motivated to see if it's possible.

This has always been a problem for next generation media technologies. They're not seamless and so adoption is limited. Apple get it. Microsoft seem to sit there wondering why people get annoyed with a Vista Media Centre that technically does everything, but is a complete pain in the arse to use.

So what should the BBC do?

This article from December last year points the right way. Sounds to me like grand language for giving the iPlayer an API. In case you're more media than analyst, an API is a way for programmers to access something without going through the user menus. Twitter's got one, it's why there are so many great uses of its data drifting around already.

Here's hoping that the BBC don't try to control the iPlayer. Open it wide and make the content available. Come over all Web 2.0. Don't worry about making set top boxes - the box manufacturers will do that for you when they see they can sell loads with 'iPlayer Included' plastered on them. They'll do the interface programming for you too, so forget about making widgets or downloadable applications.

If we're lucky, and the BBC get this right, we're a year or so from having a Freeview box with iPlayer seamlessly integrated into the electronic programme guide. And a slightly more popular Beeb.

Edit 24/4/09:
This BBC press release on Project Canvas that was released in February has a lot more detail, but may suffer the same fate as Project Kangaroo.

There's an easy solution to this but it means the BBC giving up control of the medium. Build an open source API for the iPlayer. Let set top box manufacturers pull content from any provider of IPTV who chooses to use the API.

They'll all put the iPlayer at the top of the list anyway and the regulators can't possibly have any complaints because the BBC would be creating a mechanism that helps everybody (but especially themselves) deliver streaming video to TVs.

Just think - you buy a set top box, which is already set up to deliver iPlayer, the ITV Player and a few others and if you want to add Vimeo to the list then you can with a few clicks.
(Vimeo is going to do to Youtube what Facebook has done to Myspace by the way if Google don't get to work on Youtube sharpish.)

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