BBC iPlayer kicks up a stink

It’s been interesting reading various news articles about the fact that the soon-to-be-released BBC iPlayer application will initially be available only to Internet Explorer and Windows XP users. The Register reports that a group called the Open Source Consortium is due to meet with the BBC Trust since the service will not be available at all to users (for example) of Firefox or Linux OS.

The Guardian‘s coverage points out that the same issues behind the iPlayer are shared with the commercial broadcasters’ services (ie Channel 4 and Sky). Channel 4 says:

Will I be able to access 4oD on my Mac?

Unfortunately not at the launch of 4oD.
This is an industry-wide issue caused because the accepted Digital Rights Management (DRM) system used to protect online video content, which is required by our content owners, is not compatible with Apple Mac hardware and software. The closed DRM system used by Apple is not currently available for licence by third parties and there is no other Mac-compatible DRM solution which meets the protection requirements of content owners. Unfortunately, we are therefore unable to offer 4oD content to Mac users at this stage.

The fact is, all of these services are being required to use DRM since they don’t own much of the content they’re “broadcasting”, and the content owners are saying that they’ll only allow it to be broadcast if it can be protected. And nobody has (yet) built a DRM system that is up to the job of securing the content, for the other platforms in question (with the exception of FairPlay, which Apple won’t license).

Someone from the BBC comments about the fact that the Windows DRM may be a target for hackers…

“We expect it to get broken. When it gets broken, Microsoft releases a new version [of DRM] and the application gets updated. It’s an imperfect solution. But it’s the least imperfect solution of them all.”

So, it’s interesting that the Open Source Consortium is threatening to take this whole thing to the European Union under an anti-trust banner. What’s better – provide an innovative service to 70-85% of the market, or have no service to anyone because the content providers won’t allow it? Sure, the latter example is “fairer” since it doesn’t favour one platform vs another, but is it really in the best interests of the end users…?

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