BBC Blocks iPlayer Hack

So, my enjoyment about being able to download iPlayer programmes was (as I expected) short lived. If you’re new to this, well, the BBC changed the service so that iPhone/iTouch users could stream the iPlayer on their devices. However, this also allowed everyone to be able to download raw MP4 files, unprotected, and do what they like with them – like sync them in iTunes so you didn’t have to be ‘connected’ to the internet to watch them. The BBC have, this morning, fixed this hole meaning the hack no longer works. Booo.

Now, I don’t blame the BBC for ‘fixing’ this user feature, after all the only reason we can watch this material is that the rights owners have said they’ll let people download it but in a way that limits what they can do with it. If it was like this, DRM-free, it could mean, for example, that people wouldn’t buy DVDs and this could limit the amount of money needed to actually make the show. Whether you agree with the rights holders or not, it is (perhaps unfortuantely) their decision how they want it consumed.

Now even though my personal belief is that DRM is unneccessary, as I think the amount of ‘bad’ that users do is massively outweighed from the goodwill that people will have for a format that they can do anything with. And that indeed people prefer to use legal stuff and only tend to use illegal methods when they’re frustrated by legal ones.

However, what I do understand is that rights holders haven’t quite joined the rest of us on the road to Damascus and will need some hand holding to get us there so I don’t ‘blame’ the BBC for doing what they’ve done. In fact i’d sooner we at least started like this and let someone like the BBC teach them how people are using their content.

Many people liked the hack becuase it meant they could consume the media in a way that suited them – which for most iPod/iPhone owners is by using the syncing capabilities of iTunes. This let them consume BBC content when they wanted, on a plaform that they wanted.

What mystifies me is why the BBC refuse to provide the content they make available at bbc.co.uk/iplayer natively through iTunes. Indeed by doing this they could take the DRM that is on offer from Apple that would follow the BBC rules of providing a 7 day window of download and then a 30 day use it or lose it deadline. This would surely please both the right-holders and (the majority) of iPod users?

The BBC currently broadcast its television channels on Analogue, Freeview, Digital Satellite, Cable, IPTV and probably some other platforms too. It does not care how licence fee payers receive them – just that they can get to them somehow. Indeed a cornerstone of its licence fee related policy is that its services are available to the widest number of people. Therefore I don’t understand why, maybe through APIs, the BBC don’t make all of it’s iPlayer content available to any website/application who would like use it? I’d imagine that the BBC’s systems would still deliver the video, so it could keep it DRM wrapped and they could list rules, like you must have registered for the API and not wrap ads around it, that sort of thing, but otherwise it should be open to everyone. Something that would make universailty of service more easier to attain. It would also co-opt the development time of a much larger group of people.

The only reason I can think of that has stopped this, is the BBC’s desire to make its own site a web ‘destination’. If this is so, it’s where it falls in the trap of many content providers where they try and control the distribution rather than competing on quality of content – wherever people get it.

So, in my best Points of View voice – “Come on BBC” create iPlayer for iTunes and provide APIs (and rules) for any website or application to use.

One thought on “BBC Blocks iPlayer Hack”

  1. In time, I suspect that making programmes available through iTunes will become standard using their DRM to limit the playback period for 7 or 30 days.

    But I suspect that Apple currently want to promote sales of paid-for programmes ahead of BBC free ones. A quick trip into the Television section of the iTunes store reveals a still limited number of programmes to buy. The Beeb’s daily iPlayer output would drown the paid for stuff. And then there’s the confusion of having a free edition of this week’s Torchwood (from the BBC TV), whereas last week’s (from BBC Worldwide) costs GBP 1.89.

    I’d love to be able embed videos on my site as I can YouTube videos – I might gather any “media” related programmes in one place, with critical comment. But if I start taking Google ads on the page, there are suddenly some issues. And the programmes will die in 7 days limiting the value.

    Nice idea though.

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