Public Broadcasters Doing The Web

The BBC has gone out for final consultation on ‘on-demand’ services (the proposed iPlayer system). This is under the new ‘public value test’ under the BBC Charter, and the Trust (which replaces the olde Governors). The recommendations aren’t bad (the Trust assessed the BBC’s proposed scheme of services):

o The market creation effects of the new proposals were likely to be considerable and likely to bring substantial benefits to consumers.
o Series stacking and, for seven-day TV catch-up over the internet, the ability to hold a downloaded programme for up to 13 weeks before viewing, could have a negative impact on the competitiveness of the market and should either be substantially reduced in scope or removed from the proposals.
o The provision of recordings of live classical music and book readings as non-DRM audio downloads could have a negative market impact. The MIA says that book readings should be excluded from the service, and the range of classical music specified more tightly or excluded.
o A platform-agnostic approach (i.e. not reliant exclusively on Microsoft’s DRM
solution) would lessen the adverse impact of the proposals on the market for media
player and DRM software and would increase the consumer benefit.
o The internet-based proposals could mean that consumers incur extra broadband internet costs.
o If the BBC wishes to extend the proposals to include non-BBC content or specially commissioned content there should be a further MIA.

They do criticise the use of a Microsoft, PC system for protected downloads, but not harshly enough, in my opinion – access for multiple systems should be a bottom line in public broadcasting. DRMing it is bad enough, but Microsoft DRMing it just takes the biscuits. The excellent new Mac blog from Gerry O’Sullivan tells us of the call to participate in the consultation on this point in favour of opening things up – head over there.

They also decide that (oddly) classical music might need to be excluded from podcasts. I don’t buy it (the argument, not the music); classical music fans are the type to have ten CDs of the same symphony so the availability of a BBC orchestra concert broadcast of the same piece is hardly a serious issue, is it?

One thing that’s not really dealt with in the current documents is the question of whether the iPlayer service should be available outside the UK. This is something that troubles me quite a lot, as a devoted non-UK BBC listener/viewer! The trial was restricted to UK computers, and some current “BBC broadband” services are similarly locked down. This is a shame, as spillover has played a historically important role in bringing different views and perspectives across borders – especially to a wee island like this one. Of course, the unrestricted Internet is like one giant lake of spillover, but when the ability to hear/watch/read content from the next door neighbour is easier on LW radio as opposed to the iPlayer, this is far from progress. I do understand the rights concerns, but they should not dominate the debate. The direction of podcasting has given me some hope; the BBC podcasts are excellent and unrestricted.

Over here, the new RTÉ website has been launched, with a nice shiny interface for the audio and video archives. It means easy direct access to individual clips and a good built-in implementation of Real Player – three years after everyone else, but still great to see.

In a much more important development, bits of RTÉ archive-trivia are making their merry way onto YouTube. I loved this clip of a closedown sequence from the 1980s – complete with dramatic version of the National Anthem and lots of shots of … water. It’s much better than this – “Dan and Becs”, possibly the worst thing that RTÉ has ever put on the air (or on the Web).

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