BBC 2.0

The lecture by Mark Thompson on BBC 2.0 is worth reading in full. It details some of the BBC's strategy around 'web 2.0' and the move to on-demand content becoming the default method of consumption.

Thompson talks in the lecture about the MyBBCPlayer (or Interactive Media Player or BBC iPlayer or whatever it's called this week). This is a trial the BBC has been running for at least a couple of years, which uses peer-to-peer technology to distribute their TV content online. The caveat is that the files are DRM encrypted, only allowing you to watch the programmes for up to a week after broadcast. Thompson suggests that the trial showed that the DRM "proved very robust" (i.e. it wasn't cracked), but also reveals that the 5,000 people in the trial were "balanced to ensure that the group reflected the population as accurately as possible – and not just the geeks and download experts".

Anyone who understands cryptography will know that, once widely deployed, the DRM would quickly become hacked (because, whilst files can be securely encrypted, you are also effectively given the key, buried within the program, in order to be able to view the files). The BBC must know this too, and I suspect that many people within the BBC secretly wouldn't be too fussed about people cracking the DRM, which I imagine is there more to assure the rights holders that anything else.

Thompson acknowledges that "quite a few of the triallists objected to the seven-day rule - why couldn't they hold onto unwatched programme files for longer, after all, viewers are allowed to keep programmes on VHS or PVR indefinitely?". This indeed, would be my reaction, as I do in fact use a PVR to record tv. Thompson hints at 'variations' to the 7-day rule having been tested during the trial, and suggests that they'll look at the results from this, and change the proposal where necessary. Which at least sounds promising.

Mention is also made of the BBC Creative Archive, which is a Creative Commons-inspired project to allow clips from the BBC's archives to be freely distributed. These clips could also be distributed via the MyBBCPlayer, Thompson suggests, but first the project must jump through a Public Value Test hoop, which will take yet more time.

Which is one of the reasons that Thompson has published this lecture. The MyBBCPlayer has to endure a 'market impact assessment', conducted by Ofcom, to make sure that it won't have too much of an adverse effect on the commercial market. Whilst Thompson agrees that this needs to take place, clearly it's a bit of a pain in the arse, and he puts forward some strong arguments for the player, including the fact that it isn't offering new content, just existing content delivered in new ways.

Whilst all this is going on, Channel 4 is due to launch it's own on-demand web service, '4od', in two days, iTunes is beefing up video content available for sale, and of course, pirated bittorrents of tv content are as popular as ever.

The BBC's player service is clearly a good idea - delivering content online that has already been paid for by the licence fee should be a priority - but these delays are frustrating and needless.