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BBC spreads free Wi-Fi Cloud over iPlayer delay

Cobbles together Flash streams for Mac and Linux

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The BBC has delayed the launch of its iPlayer on demand internet TV application by months. In a bid to head off criticism from Mac and Linux users, they will get access to a new ,more limited, streaming service.

The full consumer marketing push for the download version, which launched in beta in July, had been slated for autumn (see official BBC statements here and here).

In a briefing to selected press yesterday, BBC technology executives said the controversial project won't surface until Christmas.

A spokeswoman for the corporation told The Reg the delay is insignificant. "We've always said autumn or the end of the year," she said.

So far, about 250,000 people have downloaded the iPlayer, according to the BBC's figures. The target is for 500,000 by April next year.

The BBC's new-media top brass were out to trumpet a non-exclusive deal with Adobe to offer a Flash-based catch-up and live streaming, separate from the iPlayer proper. It'll be branded iPlayer, however, and run inside Safari and Firefox.

The second-string service is aimed at pacifying frustrated Mac and Linux users who are unable to watch downloaded shows because of the Windows DRM that the BBC says it is forced to use by programme makers. Open source advocates are working on an EU complaint against the iPlayer's lack of interoperability on anti-competitive grounds.

Ashley Highfield, director of future media and technology, changed tack slightly yesterday on whether the full download version will ever be available for non-Microsoft viewers. According to The Guardian* he said it was "too early to make a call" on the "cost per person reach" issue. Digital initiatives look set to avoid the sharpest edge of the cost-cutting drive being led by director general Mark Thompson, however.

"We need to get the streaming service up and look at the ratio of consumption between the services [downloads versus streaming] and then we need to look long and hard at whether we build a download service for Mac and Linux," he explained to the BBC news site.

In July he was less agnostic: "I am fundamentally committed to universality, to getting the BBC iPlayer to everyone in the UK who pays their licence fee."

The iPlayer project Public Value Test carried out by the BBC Trust, the corporation's independent watchdog, makes no mention of a streaming-based catch-up service. Executives instead "proposed to allow users of seven-day TV catch-up over the internet 13 weeks to store a programme file after downloading it to a computer". A "streaming iPlayer" wasn't in the plan.

As well as the new Flash service, yesterday's meeting revealed a marketing deal with Wi-Fi operator The Cloud. A link on The Cloud landing page will offer free access to bbc.co.uk. The operator has about 7,500 hotspots across the country.

Highfield said: "We're delighted to be partnering with The Cloud in what we hope is the first of many such partnerships across the UK. For instance, they can catch up on Strictly Come Dancing whilst having a café latte in Coffee Republic." As you do.

ISPs' fears about the iPlayer's bandwidth needs were brushed off again. "We do not believe there will be an impact on the infrastructure of the UK internet. It is more than capable of dealing with this level of demand," said Highfield.

The BBC's own version of the story is here. ®

*The Reg wasn't allowed to attend by the BBC.

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