TV and the BBC iMP

Ben Metcalfe has written up a review of the BBC iMP, the technology that they're developing which will allow UK users to download BBC programmes via P2P.

I haven't seen or tested the iMP (although I was one of the 30,000 who asked to be part of the trial), so what follows are just thoughts from a complete outsider.

Firstly, it appears from this page (which is apparently displayed within the player) that radio programmes are included in the service. This is interesting, because the BBC already allows users to listen-again to radio shows via their radio player. Both are time-limited to 7 days (more of that later), but they differ in that the iMP is limited to UK residents (wheras the radio player is available worldwide), and that the radio player is streamed direct from BBC servers rather than being downloaded.

I wonder how much this difference in technologies will be noticed by users. I don't know whether it's possible to start listening to shows as they're downloading. If not, then streaming will be more instantaneous. However, listening back to shows that have been fully downloaded should be quicker (assuming that loading the audio locally is quicker than the buffer-loading time on streaming). Another significant difference will be that users will be more wary about having to download a 'program' for the iMP, whereas the streaming player is integrated into the browser (invisibly reqiring a Real Player plugin).

For the decreasing minority of users on dial-up, the differences will probably be more apparent, but I don't even know if the iMP will be available to non-broadband users, as the location-checking

probably only works on broadband IPs.

Ultimately, though, both methods are delivering the same content, and so many people will probably just ignore the technology and assume they are getting the same thing (though it might lead to a bit of confusion when comparing across methods).

For the BBC, the differences will presumably be monetary, as the P2P downloads will reduce the load on the costly streaming. I wonder if this factor will lead the BBC into pushing the iMP, perhaps even gradually phasing out the streaming services (apart from 'live')?

Anyhow, back to Ben's iMP review, and I agree wholeheartedly with his requested removal of the 7-day-limit. I can see absolutely why it's there - negotiating these rights must be a nightmare, and TV repeats would begin to look odd if you could legally download the shows anyway, but it will be frustrating. Whilst there's clearly a legal difference between the BBC 'allowing' people to download shows via P2P, and people recording shows at home from the TV (which is technically still illegal, I think, although who knows), it's difficult for the license-fee paying public to see this distinction. As digital PVRs become more and more popular (I've just ordered my Toppy), the 7-day-limit will start to look silly.

The PVR (Tivo/etc) vs P2P (BitTorrent/iMP) vs VOD (Homechoice) battle is one that will run and run. In essence, it's the thin client/fat client debate that has existed in computing for decades, but with the addition of P2P, which exists in the middle region, aggregating content stored on fat clients. Which will eventually prove to be the winner? I really can't tell, so I'm sitting on the fence for this one.

In the meantime, could the 7-day-limit at least be upped slightly to an 8-day-limit? If I just happen to tune in and enjoy the second episode of a new weekly series, it's be nice if I could go to the iMP and download the first episode, rather than it just having ran out...