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BBC defends iPlayer against Murdoch Jr's 'anti-competitive' claims

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The BBC Trust, Auntie's independent oversight body, has today defended the iPlayer against claims by James Murdoch that it squashes competition and innovation in online TV.

Murdoch, who's currently chief executive of News Corp in Europe and Asia, and is now reckoned as the Digger-sprog to most likely to inherit control of daddy's worldwide media empire, criticised the BBC's on-demand service at the Marketing Society's annual lecture last night. He called iPlayer a "big step, a pre-emptive intervention in a marketplace otherwise hugely competitive and moving very fast".

Sky is not a member of Project Kangaroo, the BBC Worldwide-led commercial version of iPlayer that's also backed by Channel 4 and ITV.

In a statement, the BBC Trust replied today: "The BBC Trust subjected the BBC iPlayer to a rigorous Public Value Test that included a Market Impact Assessment carried out by Ofcom."

Murdoch argued that oversight of the iPlayer's impact on commercial TV competitors had been poor. "I'm not saying it is a bad product, but I am saying it does crowd out competition and innovation. But we have it now, so there you are," he said.

The iPlayer is straining ISP business models and challenging relatively weak online TV efforts from commercial rivals, after a rethink last year switched the project's emphasis from peer-to-peer downloads to high quality streaming.

The BBC's governing body said: "The trust imposed a number of conditions on the iPlayer to take account of market impact issues, consultation responses from the industry, and responses from over 10,000 licence fee payers before final approval was given."

James Murdoch is also chairman of BSkyB, which has its own internet TV offering. Sky Anytime is based on the same unwieldy desktop application-run peer-to-peer technology that threatened to sink the iPlayer before the decision to launch a streaming version was made.

Open source advocates also complained about the oversight of iPlayer last year, however. They said the Microsoft-only download iPlayer represented an illegal government interference in a market that Ofcom and the trust had not considered. As it turned out though, the peer-to-peer version has become a crippled curio in the face of the massively popular streaming service. ®

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