The BBC iPlayer broadband video service will be supported on the Nintendo Wii games console. Over 40 million programmes have been viewed on the service over the last three months, causing some broadband service providers to complain about the impact on their network economics. Meanwhile there are reports that Ashley Highfield, the director of future media and technology at the BBC, may be hopping over to join the Kangaroo project, a broadband video portal supported both the BBC and its commercial competitors.
The Nintendo Wii games console is best known for its innovative motion sensing remote controls. The decision to support the Wii, in preference to the Sony PS3 or the Microsoft Xbox 360, which are both positioned as media cable consoles, is something of a marketing coup for Nintendo.
Erik Huggers, the controller for future media and technology at the BBC, announced the collaboration with Nintendo to offer the BBC iPlayer on the Nintendo Wii.
“Working with Nintendo marks another exciting milestone for BBC iPlayer,” he said at the annual MipTV and Milia conference in Cannes in France. “It underlines our commitment to reaching new audiences by making BBC iPlayer available on as many platforms as possible.” He added that “It will shortly be available on TV,” by which he may have meant the Virgin Media cable service.
Owners of Wii games consoles will be able to access BBC iPlayer through the internet channel on the main menu screen, accessing the iPlayer through the built-in browser.
As with the announcement of support for the iPlayer on the Apple iPhone, it amounts to little more than a custom version of the existing web site. The BBC ran in to difficulties with that when users quickly discovered that they could exploit this to download programmes without any copy protection.
Within a day of the announcement of the launch of the iPlayer on the Wii, an enterprising individual had demonstrated that it could also be made to work on a PlayStation 3.
In the first three months of the year, usage of the BBC iPlayer has risen from 11 million requests for downloads or streams in January, to 14 million February and 17 million in March. There are now over a million users a week, viewing over a half a million programmes a day.
The most requested programmes have been the first episode of the latest series of The Apprentice, followed by a serious documentary on an American prison, Louis Theroux: Behind Bars.
However, the most successful video so far appears to have been an April Fool stunt featuring flying penguins, which has been viewed nearly a million times on iPlayer, and a million and a half times on YouTube.
“BBC iPlayer continues to show significant growth and we are delighted that audiences are responding to it so positively,” said Ashley Highfield, the director of future media and technology. “Its initial performance proves the case not only for BBC iPlayer, but for all video-on-demand services over the internet, and benefits both our audiences and the industry as a whole,” he said. “We continue to work closely with the internet service providers with a view to driving the next generation of broadband internet access.”
The BBC has come in for some criticism from some broadband service providers for the impact that making its programmes available online may have on their networks and their already minimal margins in an increasingly competitive market.
Ashley Highfield went so far as to offer a proposed Broadband Charter, suggesting that service providers should offer genuinely unlimited services without caps. He suggested a new tier of HD broadband service, and hinted that programming providers could start to indicate with which service providers offered the best user experience, and conversely those which imposed traffic shaping or capping.
Notable amongst the critics is Tiscali, which notably offers its own television and video on demand service over its broadband network.
Simon Gunter, strategy chief at Tiscali, said it was “bit rich that a publicly-funded organisation is telling a commercial body how to run its business.” He added that “inflammatory comments about blacklisting ISPs do not help. There seems to be a lack of understanding about how networks are built. Either we are not explaining it properly or it is falling on deaf ears.”
Ashley Highfield joined the BBC in 2000 from the new media division and broadband arm of Telewest, now part of Virgin Media, the largest broadband service provider in the country.
He has been tipped to head the Kangaroo project, a joint venture between BBC Worldwide, ITV plc and Channel 4, to provide a common platform and portal for their video-on-demand and archive services.