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BBC claims angry iPlayer plugin mob 'conflated' open source term

'Unfortunate' XBMC community caught in crossfire

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The BBC has tried to draw a line under its decision to bar open source implementations of RTMP (real-time messaging protocol) streaming in the iPlayer, after The Register revealed the Corporation's quiet switcheroo last week.

BBC online managing editor Ian Hunter claimed in a blog post today that the term "open source" had been "conflated" by users who had grumbled about third party RTMP plugins being locked out of the catch-up service.

"We know that a number of applications have been making unauthorised use of some media types and we have tightened security accordingly - this was done for several of the formats and content delivery types, not just for Flash," said Hunter. "The result was that some applications that 'deep link' to our content may no longer work."

He was also at pains to insist that the decision had not been made to appease Adobe.

"It's important to note that this has nothing to do with Flash, and it's nothing to do with support for open source. In fact we continue to make our content available as H.264 or SSL, both of them open standards that have nothing to do with Flash or with Adobe," he said.

Hunter said people had drawn the wrong conclusion because the first iPlayer users to be affected by the change were linking to the BBC's Flash streams. Auntie has now added what the BBC online MD described as "similar protection levels" to that which already existed with its open source streams.

At the same time, he reaffirmed that the iPlayer is available in a range of media formats, based on open source and/or proprietary tech.

"The discussion around this issue suggests that two different uses of the term 'open source' are being conflated," said Hunter.

The Beeb hasn't altogether blocked out open source formats, he noted. But he also acknowledged the "unfortunate" demise of the open source XBMC plugin, which "stopped working" after the BBC tightened up its "content protection".

Hunter also reminded UK iPlayer viewers and listeners that the corporation uses Windows Media, Adobe and OMA digital rights management (DRM) systems for downloads, while streaming is subject to (acronym alert!) SSL, RTMP, RTSP and HTTP DRMs.

Returning to his "conflated" claim regarding the use of the term "open source" by critics of the third party RTMP streaming blockade, Hunter had this to say: "The two "open sources" are quite different to each other - we have no particular attachment to Flash over open source formats. In fact most of iPlayer is built on open source products.

"However, we do need to protect our content from applications that threaten to make unauthorised use of it, even if those applications are themselves open source."

Meanwhile, the BBC is working on adding more devices and platforms that are both "legal and supported", said Hunter. However, he didn't reveal further details about development in that area, nor on when support might arrive.

El Reg was first to report last week that the Beeb had quietly applied the update to its online video catch-up service on 18 February.

The tweak meant that free RTMP plugins offered by the likes of the XBMC community - whose code is based on the GNU General Public Licence v2 - were prevented from streaming iPlayer content.

In effect, the Beeb shut the door on "unauthorised" video player applications by applying Adobe's SWF verification, which locked down the iPlayer in Flash, to its system.

Since then the BBC has been inundated with complaints about the unannounced change to its service. However, the BBC Trust, which is the corporation's governing body, later confirmed to the Reg that it had no plans to investigate the gripes.

"The Trust is currently consulting on the BBC's 'on demand' services which covers some iPlayer functions," we were told.

So anyone wishing to grumble about the Beeb's plugin lockdown has until next Friday (12 March) to do so. ®

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