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Why is the iPlayer a multi million pound disaster?

Betting big, and betting wrong

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As it turns out, the Beeb itself has proved that making shows available with streaming solution would have been cheaper and quicker to develop. The Flash player catch-up service cobbled together in response to Mac and Linux iPlayer interoperabilty gripes took just a few months.

Before we examine why a download "platform" was wrong, we want to make it clear we're not making a happy-clappy anti-DRM argument against the iPlayer. The BBC has unshakeable obligations to producers who spend vast sums on the expensive telly-making process.

Downloads take time and build up certain expectations. Anyone prepared to wait for a download of their favourite programme to finish before they can watch it, expects it to last longer than 30 days - or however long it takes for the DRM to disable the file.

PC users who have become accustomed to using BitTorrent as a main source of TV aren't interested in iPlayer's lower resolution encoding.

And in the real mass market, most licence-fee payers won't be enamoured to learn that the iPlayer's Kontiki P2P system is distributing programming on the BBC's behalf - via their bandwidth. For the average consumer it's been made tricky to turn off, too.

It'll leave us, the British public, with a multimillion-pound internet curio.

Special Needs

Despite the widely reported problems and mistakes made over iPlayer, the BBC has keenly stage-managed its drunken stumble into the limelight. A bizarre opinion piece by Silicon.com in July, which called for a "ceasefire" on iPlayer from Linux enthusiasts, made the claim that "so far, it seems the Corporation has managed the development well".

As we wrote earlier this month, arguments over interoperability have provided a convenient diversion for the spinners from our bigger question of how to deliver BBC shows over the net. In focusing on DRM and Linux interoperability, campaigners have missed the bigger picture.

The irony of this is that the whole free software versus BBC bunfight would have been avoided if the Corporation had only been more patient. It should have concentrated on getting the content management and archives right before spending big on a consumer-facing distribution system.

Even today, the internet TV business is immature: a special needs six-year-old who still wears nappies. Yet the BBC was teased into an expensive and premature attempt to second guess the market, and technology.

Rebirth?

BBC on demand via broadband and a TV set-top box - the real reason the BBC spent £130m - is on the cards, and makes much more sense than a redundant PC desktop app. Whether it'll be branded iPlayer remains to be seen, but hopefully it'll bear little resemblance to Auntie's current digital village idiot.

Today, the the size of the team that is building the second generation iPlayer client is closer to 15 - a far cry from 400, and far more productive.

Banishing the desktop download service altogether would be even better. ®

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