In provisional conclusions ahead of a new consultation on the BBC’s new syndication policy, the BBC Trust said the BBC iPlayer should be made available in standard formats that the majority of other TV operators can readily adopt. “Bespoke versions of the iPlayer should be developed only in exceptional cases,” said the Trust.
It means the BBC will turn down requests for ‘bespoke’ versions of the iPlayer for use by single platforms or devices as a matter of course, only accepting them if the BBC’s costs for development and maintenance were fully reimbursed. Instead several standard versions of the iPlayer would be created, such as the current ‘big screen’ version.
The move would impact platforms such as Virgin Media and its recently launched TiVo box. There is currently no BBC iPlayer app, instead the assets are made available through the main TiVo interface over DVB-C as opposed to IP and managed by the Liberate/TV Navigator middleware. Although Virgin has been working with the BBC for some time there are concerns that the consumer experience may alter as the quality of the IP delivery is not as good as through DVB-C. The existing Liberate version of the iPlayer was developed between the operator and the BBC.
A Virgin Media spokesperson told Broadband TV News: “The BBC Trust has a responsibility to ensure that the much loved shows created by the BBC are available to all license fee payers. Today’s provisional conclusions appear to undermine that commitment to choice and quality by mandating distribution methods which will lead to a poorer viewing experience for many people. Whilst the rhetoric may be open and collaborative, the BBC is becoming increasingly prescriptive and inflexible in its dealings.”
Eddie Abrams, CEO, IP Vision, said the BBC risked constructing barriers and preventing the development of a level playing field. “The focus on providing standard versions would seem to be a positive move, but our concern is that, given the huge variations in HTML browsers and even Flash players in the market. To put the consumer first, the cheapest and easiest option would perhaps be to remove the iPlayer “wrapper” and allow third party service providers to offer syndicated BBC content as part of their service, as we believe was intended when on demand services were approved through the Public Value Test.”
In March 2009, IP Vision, the company behind the Fetch TV receivers, made a formal complaint to the BBC after support for its version of the iPlayer was declined by BBC Future Media and Technology. The matter then passed to the BBC Executive’s Fair Trading Complaints Panel, which also rejected the complaint.
The BBC Trust has also said BBC programmes should only be made available to platform operators through the BBC iPlayer and not on a programme-by-programme basis. This particular element irked Sky which said it was disappointing that some licence fee payers may miss out because the BBC was so determined to promote the iPlayer. “We think the public would be better served if the BBC adopted a less rigid approach and unbundled its content for the benefit of the tens of millions of people who choose to watch TV on other platforms,” said a spokesman. Indeed, if the BBC were to release individual programmes they could be included on the Sky Anytime push VOD service in the same way that shows from third party channels are currently made available.
“Since the iPlayer first launched in 2007, watching programmes this way has become a routine part of many people’s viewing habits,” explained BBC Trustee Diana Coyle, who led the syndication review. “But we know that audiences get the most out of BBC programmes when they access them in a context that is consistent, familiar, distinctive and free to air, like the iPlayer”.
The Trust says the BBC will be able to deliver the highest public value for its programming if it is able to provide a trusted and familiar way for viewers to access it.