Ofcom looks ready to give its consent to the use of the now infamous Huffman Tables as part of content protection measures on the new Freeview HD platform. Without it key programmes may have to be withdrawn from the terrestrial platform.
The regulator has published its second consultation on the control of content over the terrestrial platform. It follows BBC requests to compress data from the electronic programme guide using Huffman coding and then use look-up tables to decompress the data.
In consultation with the DTG the BBC has agreed a licensing scheme that would give manufacturers royalty free access to the tables on a non-discriminatory basis.
In a concession to open rights organisations, made in a letter to the regulator by Graham Plumb, acting controller BBC distribution, said the tables would be available to both manufacturers and those using Open Source software. “The BBC confirms that all parties seeking to licence access to these ‘Look-Up Tables’ will be treated equally regardless of whether they are consumer electronics manufacturers or organisations that wish to make use of this functionality within a system incorporating Open Source software, provided that it is clear that the tables themselves would remain the BBC’s IPR, which would need to be separately licensed by a subsequent user or developer on terms which ensured the effectiveness of HD content management on the DTT platform”.
The BBC has been criticised by organisations such as the Open Rights Group for considering content management at all. However it is ITV and Channel 4, with their higher proportion of US-originated content that would be more likely to use the content management for their HD services that share Multiplex B.
At issue is the number of recordings that viewers might be allowed to make to an external device. For the majority of programmes there are likely to be no restrictions, but a US series or feature film may have rules imposed that prevent, for example, more than one recording being made. Already there are differences in the way content from third party producers is distributed on the BBC iPlayer, with viewers being restricted to streaming, rather than also downloading, certain content.
Strictly speaking in varying the terms of the licence held by Free-to-view limited (Multiplex B) Ofcom is being asked to approve the method by which the BBC is looking to deploy content management, rather than the use of content management itself.