The BBC is still hoping to involve other broadcasters with its iPlayer as part of a project known as Marquee, despite its Canvas project being referred back by the BBC Trust for further explanation and the demise of project Kangaroo following an investigation by the Competition Commission. The idea is part of the partnership proposals presented as part of the BBC contribution to Digital Britain and is seen by some as an attempt to avoid top slicing of the licence fee revenue.
Unlike project Kangaroo, which was a joint venture to provide on demand programming, or project Canvas, which aims to establish a joint venture platform, project Marquee aims to exploit the technology and brand developed around the BBC iPlayer.
Speaking at the Delivering Digital Britain conference in London, Anthony Rose, who has overall responsibility for the BBC iPlayer, preferred to talk in general terms about “Broadcasting 2.0”.
The BBC has previously said that it is ready to share the iPlayer technology and brand with other public service broadcasters who could use the same technology and user experience to support their own branded, independent on-demand services supported by advertising or other means.
The only problem is that most major broadcasters have already made significant investments in their own broadband video platforms.
ITV, the leading British commercial broadcaster, has its own service on itv.com which it calls ITV Player. Channel Four has its own offering, which it calls 4oD. Five is developing its own service, backed by Brightcove. Sky has its own Sky Player.
The technology of delivering broadband video is largely a commodity. The BBC iPlayer client is based on Adobe Flash. The Sky Player is based on Microsoft Silverlight. The functionality is essentially similar. The implementation differs, but the proprietary elements are controlled by separate third parties.
The delivery of the BBC iPlayer is also dependent on third-party commercial service providers: Red Bee Media for the transcoding and Siemens for hosting, both of whom compete in the market to provide services to other clients.
The look and feel of the BBC iPlayer is certainly distinctive, but that is largely a function of design decisions. Others have produced equally usable interfaces, notably Hulu in the United States, which is likely to enter the United Kingdom market with its own offering.
So far, following the collapse of Kangaroo and the delays of Canvas, ITV and Channel Four appear content to pursue the own paths.
For the consumer there is still the issue of dealing with different web services for different broadcasters, with little between them in common.
What could make sense would be the adoption of common naming, referencing and metadata schemes to allow third parties to link to programmes from multiple providers.
So far, it seems, that is the last thing that many broadcasters want. They are apparently adamant about the need to maintain their own distinct brand identity and user experience, to prevent “disintermediation” or “disaggregation”.
Sky currently includes details of BBC programmes on its Sky Player and links to them, but they take the user to the separate BBC iPlayer interface.
Others see the benefits of syndicated distribution of programming through multiple platforms and points of presence, an approach adopted by Hulu. NBC programming may appear on NBC web sites, on Hulu, or on third party sites.
Five appears to be adopting this approach, using the Brightcove platform. Needless to say, Jeremy Allaire, the founder and chief executive of Brightcove, also speaking at the conference, was supportive of such a strategy. His platform also provides the video for many print publishers, offering a cost-effective solution for brands for whom managing a dedicated video platform is not necessarily a core competency.
If there is a future for opening up the iPlayer to other programming providers, it could be for non broadcasters, such as arts organisations that do not have their own channels or video infrastructure. Yet offering them access to BBC services, funded by the licence fee, presents its own problems, potentially disadvantaging commercial competitors.
It seems the area is fraught with difficulties. Cosmo Lush, currently responsible for selling off the assets of Kangaroo, suggested that this complexity means that the proposals for Marquee are “unlikely to become a reality any time soon”.