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Beeb's iPlayer service gets greenlight

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Viewers in the UK will be able to access a full weeks' worth of BBC output via their PCs and other digital devices when the broadcaster finally launches its iPlayer service later this year.

The BBC Trust received 10,500 responses from companies and individuals after it first outline proposals for the service. As a result two changes have been made. Firstly "series stacking" - where all episodes of a serial are made available - will be restricted after concerns were raised, presumably by DVD sellers. The Trust is setting an annual limit of 15 per cent of Beeb content that can be stacked. This will be reviewed after a year.

Secondly the Trust said there was strong demand from the public for platform neutrality. It balanced this against BBC claims that "a two year deadline [to get the service on all platforms] is unworkable because success is dependent on third parties outside of the BBC's control." But in light of public concern the Trust will audit the BBC's progress every six months. The BBC is currently working on making iPlayer work on Macs and set-top boxes.

The Trust has also limited the non-DRM audio content that can be released. Classical music is excluded completely as are book readings. The existing "listen again" feature of the BBC website will not be affected.

The vast majority of programmes will be available for seven days after showing, with some series available in their entirety until seven days after the last episode is transmitted.

The iPlayer application will only be available for MS Windows initially, but the support roadmap reveals interesting priorities: cable TV service support will come first, followed by Apple Macs and then Freeview boxes.

Making the service available to Virgin Media customers (who are the UK cable TV service) would be one in the eye for Sky television at a very important time, so you can be sure that Virgin will be working hard to make that happen.

Most responses were from the public and most of them supported the proposals. But a "significant number" came from businesses concerned about potentially negative market impact.

There will be a formal evaluation in two years.

In related news Channel 4 has been talking to the FT about its download service. C4 claims over a million people have watched a programme using the service in the last six months. Some 20 million programmes have been watched but the broadcaster refused to detail how much money was made or how many shows were watched on a computer rather than on TVs.®

Go here for the full BBC statement.

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