The BBC is trialing a new desktop download manager for its iPlayer, based on the Adobe Air platform. It will enable Windows, Mac and Linux users to download programmes to their desktops. Downloads were previously only available for Windows users. The BBC is also dropping its peer-assisted distribution, opting for a simpler system that could use network based caches.
Since it relaunched a year ago, the BBC iPlayer has allowed programmes to be streamed on Microsoft Windows, Apple Mac and Linux based computers using Adobe Flash, but downloads were restricted to Windows through the use of a Microsoft digital rights management system. Microsoft now has a cross-platform solution in the form of Silverlight, but the BBC is sticking with Adobe and its Air runtime environment and their rights management system.
The BBC had promised a cross-platform solution “by the end of the year”. The new desktop download manager is currently available as an open beta trial and will be rolled out early in 2009.
Currently it uses the same 800Kbps H.264 encoded material available for its high quality streaming option. It plans to make available streams at 1,500Kbps, offering substantially better quality.
There are also plans to make radio podcasts available for download, add the ability to pre-book programmes or even entire series for download, and offer live radio streaming to the desktop player.
“The BBC iPlayer Desktop beta on Adobe Air will help extend their popular browser-based Web video broadcasts to more viewers with a high-quality, instant-on internet TV experience outside the browser and across all major operating systems,” said Jim Guerard, responsible for dynamic media at Adobe.
“To the best of my knowledge we’re the first major content provider in the world to offer DRM downloads to PC, Mac and Linux platforms,” said Anthony Rose, who is head of the online media group in BBC Future Media and Technology.
He explained the reasons that the BBC employs digital rights management online, when its programmes are broadcast without such protection.
Firstly, under the terms approved by the BBC Trust, programmes are available for up to seven days after transmission, or for download up to 30 days after transmission, after which they can be viewed for up to seven days.
Secondly, making programmes available without rights restrictions would affect the ability of rights holders to sell them in other markets and some rights holders insist on the use of digital rights management.
It may be observed that the use of digital rights management was partly in response to the concerns of rights holders, but also to preserve the opportunity for the proposed Kangaroo project to exploit archive programmes.
The BBC originally used Windows Media digital rights management, which it says was the only viable system available at the time.
After “a long and arduous journey to find the perfect DRM solution,” the BBC has selected adobe Air and their Flash Media Rights Management system for its new download manager. It continues to support Windows Media digital rights management for compatible portable media players, as well as the Open Mobile Alliance system for certain mobile phones. Other rights management technologies may be used in the future for set-top boxes and network connected televisions.
“Although it would be nice to have to support just a single digital rights technology, the reality is that when you look across mobile, PC and TV platforms there’s no ‘one size fits all’ solution, and so we end up supporting a range of content protection technologies,” said Anthony Rose.
Since it relaunched a year ago, the BBC iPlayer has allowed programmes to be streamed on Windows Mac and Linux using Adobe Flash, but downloads were restricted to Windows through the use of a Microsoft digital rights management system. Microsoft now has a cross-platform solution in the form of Silverlight, but the BBC is sticking with Adobe and its Air runtime environment and their rights management system.
The BBC is also dropping its use of peer network distribution, opting for simple downloads instead of the previous system based on technology from Kontiki.
Anthony Rose said some users objected to the use of their network capacity to forward data to other users. He said the decision is not a reflection on the merits of peer network distribution but that the cost-benefits of direct downloads are now more favourable, “perhaps in due course served from edge caching servers deep in ISP networks”. He noted that “in the future new requirements and new P2P technologies such as P2P streaming may lead to a re-evaluation of our preferred delivery options.”