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Broadcasters and ISPs cosy up for iPlayer on Freeview

BBC, BT, ITV standards push for on demand telly

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The BBC, ITV and BT are working on technical standards aimed at offering on demand TV over broadband to the UK's more than 15 million Freeview households.

The trio announced proposals today that to build a "standards based open environment for broadband connected digital television receivers". They invited other public service broadcasters (Channel 4 and Five), device firms and other ISPs to back the initiative.

The initiative, currently described only in the vaguest terms, will seek to extend the reach of the BBC iPlayer and the ITV player to mainstream living rooms.

Public broadcasters will be offered use of the iPlayer back end, the BBC said. It also seems likely the involvement of BT and other ISPs indicates plans for a shared content delivery network, to soften the impact on bandwidth charges.

No timescale was provided, but the announcement said plans for high definition on demand would be included. Like all new services, the BBC's involvment in the intiative is subject to approval by the BBC Trust. On demand via a new generation of Freeview boxes would carry no subscription fee.

BBC director-general Mark Thompson said: "We are building on a history of collaborating with and supporting the industry in research and development which includes NICAM stereo, Teletext and Freeview."

The BBC's on demand offering has been available to Virgin Media TV subscribers via set-top boxes since the end of April this year. The service has proved a success, and accounts for about a third of total iPlayer usage.

Relations between other internet providers and the corporation hit a nadir this year when now-departed tech chief Ashley Highfield suggested he might name and shame ISPs who restrict iPlayer traffic. A more conciliatory tone has prevailed since and BBC engineers have been investigating content delivery networks for months as a way of slashing the load iPlayer places on ISPs.

The BBC has also been under regulatory and political pressure to collaborate on technology with struggling commercial public service broadcasting rivals. ®

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