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iPlayer Politics: Behind the ISPs vs BBC row

Investment at gunpoint

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Political goals

Is the iPlayer a Trojan horse? This is also taken from the MIA: "The additional capacity would also be available for use by a wide range of other services, including commercial on-demand services, [so] it would not necessarily be appropriate to attribute the associated costs to the BBC services in isolation."

The iPlayer brings a critical mass of IPTV content onto the new medium. It provides a platform for R&D to deliver a technically efficient platform for the delivery of all IPTV but for the industry, the project only makes sense if it leads to a standard way of distributing IPTV.

Whether that is P2P + Caching or Multicast to Storage, the resulting platform would then be in place to also allow commercial television distribution over the internet. Can you imagine each different channel having its own way of doing things? No, technology requires standards because users then have certainty. Once you have users, you have commercial opportunities.

Commercial stations can, of course, generate income from advertising and ITV, for example, is well placed to increase the 20 pence or so it currently receives per broadcast viewer hour through targeting. Because internet TV knows who its customers are, where broadcast does not, it reduces advertising wastage. The ability to target adverts delivers a tangible economic gain and at least some of this gain is then available to the ISP as a revenue share. This helps pay the £831m bill.

The iPlayer could be the platform around which standards are set for efficient IPTV distribution, but this is not how it is playing out. Right now, it's a bit of a mess - the service is below average and the network is worse, although the content is great. Oh yes, and the ISPs are preparing for war because they have been backed into a corner.

If the iPlayer project does not help drive these standards decisions, TV will remain on existing platforms and these economic gains will never be realised. Given the lack of any other economic benefit from the launch by the BBC of a free iPlayer, if standards are not arrived at, the launch will have been a miscalculation. The fault for this would rest with an over-ambitious Ofcom, not the BBC.

Jeremy Penston is managing director of The IP Development Network [blog] founded in 2005. He was previously responsible for the strategic planning and product management of the full range of internet and telco products from dial, through broadband, dedicated access, hosting, security, voice and VoIP services at several companies, including Pipex.

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