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BBC's iPlayer's Prospects Looking Bleak 369

Posted by kdawson
from the kick-their-dog-while-you're-at-it dept.
An anonymous reader writes "The future of iPlayer, the BBC's new online on-demand system for delivering content, is continuing to look bleaker. With ISPs threatening to throttle the content delivered through the iPlayer, consumers petitioning the UK government and the BBC to drop the DRM and Microsoft-only technology, and threatened legal action from the OSC, the last thing the BBC wanted to see today was street protests at their office and at the BBC Media Complex accompanied by a report issued by DefectiveByDesign about their association with Microsoft."
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BBC's iPlayer's Prospects Looking Bleak

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  • I'm still not totally clear on how ISP's can throttle your bandwidth if you encrypt what you're sending..
    • by MenTaLguY (5483)
      In this case, it's a simple matter of giving preferential (or anti-preferential) treatment to traffic from particular IP ranges based on what their owners are willing to pay.
    • by nukem996 (624036)
      Basically if consumer A is trying to access files from the BBC make the connection really slow until the BBC pays up. Its why Internet Neutrality is needed.
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      Then I guess you've never used tools like "Ethereal" or whatever it's called now.

      Run iPlayer. Watch what it talks to in Ethereal.

      Download restricted media a bunch of times. Note what servers you download from.

      Now on router, throttle all machines that iPlayer talks to down to 3 KB/s.

      I dont care about encrypted crap and all. If you use regular IP with TCP (yah, no tunnel blocking and all), I can see your to/from information. I dont care about payload.

      Filter it all and let the sysadmin sort it out.
    • by click2005 (921437)
      They would probably throttle everything from the BBC assuming they couldn't get the IP addresses of the actual iPlayer servers.
      Failing that, they'll just throttle everything thats encrypted (as some ISPs are starting to do to combat P2P) and hope most people
      wont notice an encrypted web page being a few secs slower.
    • by rsborg (111459)

      I'm still not totally clear on how ISP's can throttle your bandwidth if you encrypt what you're sending..
      Port-based traffic shaping will work if the target (say P2P) uses specific ports. You're right if you're talking standards based communications using a common port. But this iPlayer may sadly use a non-standard port, which then clearly identifies their traffic, which can be shaped/throttled.
      • To hell with blocking/filtering ports. Just go after their class b/c block.

        The whole blocking ports garbage just doesnt work in the real world. I'd just write a program to change local and remote ports and use standard servers to query "locked-in" hosts. Yeah, just like what Kazaa and Skype does.
    • I'm still not totally clear on how ISP's can throttle your bandwidth if you encrypt what you're sending..

      In the case they could just throttle all traffic from the BBC, encryption or no.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by sumdumass (711423)
      I'm not either. Both the consumer and whoever they are downloading from paid for their connection and paid for an expected speed. It would appear to me that if either of the ISPs did anything to not deliver that expected speed then the consumer if getting hosed.

      I don't care about them stopping it from being faster, that isn't the point. When I have a 3 meg download speed and the BBC has a three meg upload, any actions outside built in limitations(and not manipulated by the ISP) of the hardware or software b
      • by PopeRatzo (965947) *

        With ISPs threatening to throttle the content delivered through the iPlayer..
        Does anyone still need to be convinced that we need to have Net Neutrality laws?
  • Well done everyone who participated in the fight against Digital Restrictions Management. Looks like there is really much protest and I hope the BBC will change to free formats. :)
    • Agreed. Over and over I've seen the argument on /. that the common consumer can't understand or doesn't care about DRM issues. But here we see an example that the message is actually getting through and the debate is becoming mainstream.
      • by sumdumass (711423)
        Well, all it would take is MS's own operating systems to show the general public what it is about and how it is bad.

        I just reloaded a viris infested laptop that had about 300 different albums on ripped to it from WMP. After everything was back up and running, I restored backups and none of the songs would play because the license files (from the WMP's protect your content tab) had been updated before the problems and the backup file was the wrong one.

        Now here is a 19 year old girl going off to college with
    • Offering non-DRM would just make the bandwidth problem even worse, which is already a problem with the ISPs.

      Ultimately there is a cost benefit decision to me made, and they also have to take in account all the people paying the license fee who would rather their money be spent somewhere else to begin with.
  • seriously, BBC.. unless the government is twisting your arm to offer your programs online while saying that only UKians should be able to view it for free and the populace complaining that the player won't work on their operating systems and companies telling you to pony up for the bandwidth costs... why don't you just tell them all "screw it, then"; and not offer it at all. There. Everybody happy.
    • by Billosaur (927319) *

      Well... except for all the people who were hoping to have access to the content.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Wizard Drongo (712526)
      Thing is, only UKians as you put it, pay for the BBC. And we have to. No choice in the matter, if you want a TV in this country you have to pay "licence fee". That fee funds the BBC. They make some cash from overseas sales, syndication etc. but about 95% of their budget comes from the fee paying public. Because we have no choice in the matter, it's not like, say, Sky, who people can choose to receive or not. As such, it puts the onus on them to allow all UK licence payers a way to access the programm
      • It seems like they took the easiest and cheapest approach, which seems reasonable to begin with to see what the demand really will be. Don't people complain about the licence fee because they say they never watch the BBC to begin with? Now they have to pay for internet (not even tv) access to shows they never watch. Maybe they should charge a license fee for computers instead, and make it large enough to cover all the cross-development expenses and the ISP bandwidth expenses while they are at it.

        If the requ
    • seriously, BBC.. unless the government is twisting your arm to offer your programs online while saying that only UKians should be able to view it for free and the populace complaining that the player won't work on their operating systems and companies telling you to pony up for the bandwidth costs... why don't you just tell them all "screw it, then"; and not offer it at all. There. Everybody happy.
      Do it wrong or don't do it at all!
    • why don't you just tell them all "screw it, then" .... unless the government is:

      • twisting your arm to offer your programs online Taxes are like that. UK citizens have spent almost a quarter billion dollars on iPlayer based on M$ DRM, while letting their free player rot.
      • and only UKians should be able to view it for free For bandwith costs and revenue generation, they would like to do that but should not care. The shows are paid for by a license fee and taxes. Other broadcasters will still have to pa
  • by DrXym (126579) on Wednesday August 15, 2007 @01:15PM (#20239377)
    Aside from insisting you have XP and IE (Vista W2K or any other OS won't do nor any other browser), the thing doesn't even work when I install the proper software. I can see the listings but no download button. The thing is a mess with DRM wrapper files, horribly complicated, broken & proprietary HTML/JS driving it all, and a standalone downloader that automatically runs at startup with no obvious way to stop this behaviour. It really is an overly complicated and broken mess.

    While I recognize their desire to protect their content, I wonder what the hell made them choose this pig's dinner of a solution.

    They would be better off to deliver watermarked content in an open format such as H264 that plays just about anywhere. They could require users to register their TV licence in order to get the service, after which they can use it from any OS or browser within reasonable restrictions. Basically people should be able to do what they like with the content, short of sharing it. If they share it, use the watermark to look-up their address and send the heavies round.

  • What Happened? (Score:4, Informative)

    by organgtool (966989) on Wednesday August 15, 2007 @01:18PM (#20239437)
    A few years ago, the BBC seemed to be keen on the idea of releasing content in Ogg/Theora. Then they wanted to help develop and use the Dirac [slashdot.org] codec. And now they want to use a DRM-encumbered Microsoft codec.

    This is an interesting situation because of the BBC's role as a "state-owned but independent corporation" [wikipedia.org]. I skimmed the Wikipedia article and it appears that the BBC is a for-profit corporation, but the fact that it's state-owned leads me to believe that its funded by taxpayers. If that is the case, why should taxpayers have to pay for DRM-infested media that was sponsored by their tax money?
    • by DrXym (126579)
      The BBC is for profit in the sense that any money it makes from sales gets ploughed back into programme making. I think they're trying to be more commercial overseas so that they don't have to keep asking for the TV licence to be hiked.
    • by shish (588640)

      A few years ago, the BBC seemed to be keen on the idea of releasing content in Ogg/Theora. Then they wanted to help develop and use the Dirac codec. And now they want to use a DRM-encumbered Microsoft codec.
      The BBC is a freaking huge organisation, I would think it possible that they have two separate departments :P
    • Re:What Happened? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Chris_Jefferson (581445) on Wednesday August 15, 2007 @01:41PM (#20239753) Homepage
      Actually, there is no reason they couldn't use Ogg/Theora/Dirac as a WMP plugin. The DRM is a wrapped around the file and independent from the codec used.

      If that is the case, why should taxpayers have to pay for DRM-infested media that was sponsored by their tax money?

      The problem is why should UK taxpayers pay for people in other countries to have free media that they didn't pay for?
      • Re:What Happened? (Score:4, Insightful)

        by jeevesbond (1066726) on Wednesday August 15, 2007 @02:09PM (#20240089) Homepage

        The problem is why should UK taxpayers pay for people in other countries to have free media that they didn't pay for?

        I've always thought this to be a narrow-minded viewpoint, people from around the world watching British TV will help the export industries. Perhaps more Americans will learn about how to make a proper cup of tea (honestly, I heard you chaps don't even use boiling water!), buy-in some UK brands: I recommend Yorkshire Tea--am not affilliated with them, it's just bloomin' good tea. Next will come the Digestive biscuits, you've got to have a biscuit to dunk in your tea, the local grocery store in Canada imports these from the UK so there's obviously a market, real ales, DVDs of British shows, and a boost to the tourism industry. At the local farmers market here, across the pond, you can even buy 'Real Men Watch Coronation St.' t-shirts (no I don't own one, and yes I know C. St. is produced by ITV, that's beside the point).

        So you might complain about foreigners watching shows paid for by your tax £'s, but consider the tax money the export and tourism industry will make back from a greater awareness of British culture. When put up against the cost of distribution: a slightly higher bandwidth bill for the Beeb, the benefits far outweigh the costs. The net result will be more tax collected from UK companies.

        • British TV progamming is already available in America. There is the BBC America channel on cable, and many popular shows end up on other cable channels or on PBS stations. This exposure is much higher for the average person than what the website would be, so the website itself would contribute very minimally to the secondary effects that you have stated.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Jah-Wren Ryel (80510)

        The problem is why should UK taxpayers pay for people in other countries to have free media that they didn't pay for?

        No, the real problem is that some UK taxpayers don't understand that it costs them the same whether or not anyone else watches the shows too.

        At best, an argument can be made that there are additional bandwidth costs for internet distribution. In which case, the BBC should just limit downloads to people in the UK. But there is absolutely no need to restrict distribution - if someone else wants to pay for the bandwidth to share a show worldwide, then they should not be stopped from doing so.

      • Fair enough. Give me (a US taxpayer) a way to pay for BBC content feeds with a credit card, and I'd be happy to. Hell, I'll even pay in british sterling if it gets the job done.
      • You are correct that UK taxpayers don't HAVE to let people in other countries watch their shows. However, the DRM doesn't prevent that from happening. Instead, it prevents a video from being played after a certain amount of time (a DRM "time bomb"). So what exactly is the BBC gaining from this DRM that it warrants imposing this restriction on its own citizens? If they were really worried about preventing people in other countries from viewing this content, they could redirect requests from IP addresses
  • by also-rr (980579) on Wednesday August 15, 2007 @01:23PM (#20239513) Homepage
    If you want a current example from the _very same market_ in the UK (TV watchers) then glance your eye over Sky vs Virgin.

    The number one non-over-the-air channel, Sky One, is owned by the same people who own the satellite broadcast system. (In the UK TV service to households with reasonable disposable income is, or was, split into cable vs satellite. Over the air is probably more common but not really in the same market. Outside London there are no real alternatives yet.)

    Sky have denied the Sky One (and a few other not very interesting channels) license to Virgin. This has resulted in a massive exodus from cable. As a TV watching friend of mine pointed out "it's not worth the grief from the missus - and the kids would yell at me too". My choice would have been emigration without kids or wife, but he chose to switch to Satellite/Sky instead.

    What does this have to do with internet TV, which has no presence yet to be missed? Well, the BBC has a tendency to plug new services endlessly on their channels. There is no one in the UK who doesn't hear or see something from the BBC every single week. Computer penetration is also very high, it's a small island so broadband is readily available too (cable and DSL, the latter from a number of ISPs). Even the people who won't see TV adverts listen to Radio 4 (available over the internet for free - give it a go! - especially the comedy) giving them a direct and unique line to highly educated and very powerful people.

    So, a large number of people who have already shown that TV is important enough to make them pick up the phone, will get bombarded with adverts for a new service that they can probably access. Until they get home and try to get to it and see:

    The BBC can't give you access to the iPlayer because unlike every reputable ISP yours is trying to charge you extra and we said we wouldn't be part of it. Here is a list of ISPs, that you probably can switch to with a single phone call, that are doing the right thing.

    Even if the ISP blocks the error page the cost of handling the phone calls to customer support *alone* will probably make the whole thing impossible to maintain for very long.

    Now, it won't come to this. A backroom deal will be cut and the whole thing will go away - precisely because the ISPs have no possible way to win.
  • pissed off (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Gearoid_Murphy (976819) on Wednesday August 15, 2007 @01:24PM (#20239521)
    this is so completely wrong. The ISPs are selling people bandwidth that actually isn't there. You might have dozens of people running off a pipe a few 10s of megs wide but each person is being charged for the bandwidth of a 5-10 megs. this is referred to as the contention ratio of the channel. However, when people go to actually use the bandwidth they were sold, the ISPs recoil in horror and demand that they be paid to upgrade their networks to a capacity that they are already charging people for. Mutherfuckers
  • by Junior Samples (550792) on Wednesday August 15, 2007 @01:58PM (#20239965)
    I download the BBC programming that I want to watch with Azureus an hour after it airs in the UK and watch it shortly after using VLC on my PC. Sometimes I'll burn a DVD and watch it on my TV. The quality is excellent.

    Alternatively I can catch the programming 6 months to a year later on BBC America or the SciFi Channel with commercials and reduced resolution.

    Whatever they do on their web site is a non-issue, although I'm a bit annoyed that I have to use a UK based proxy server to access some of the program guides.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by bbtom (581232)
      The iPlayer is basically a distraction. It keeps the BBC Management from realising the rampant use of BitTorrent for BBC content. The folks at the BBC have their hands tied behind their back by legalities. That said, a huge chunk of people who work at the BBC are tech savvy and use BitTorrent to download their shows. The iPlayer is just fine. Everyone will just use BitTorrent instead. The BBC have pretty much adopted a "live and let live" policy with regards to BitTorrent. Unless you do something really stu
  • by Nom du Keyboard (633989) on Wednesday August 15, 2007 @02:04PM (#20240033)
    I don't need real-time streaming for a lot of my cable video. I'd be satisfied to initiate the download, eat dinner, then go back and enjoy the desired program without interruption, and at a higher resolution or less of a compression ratio. That option seldom seems offered, although it would be so much faster than Netflix US Mail delivery.
  • Its Nepotism, Stupid (Score:4, Interesting)

    by David Off (101038) on Wednesday August 15, 2007 @02:35PM (#20240433) Homepage
    The problem with the iPlayer fiasco is nepotism. Erik Huggers is Group Controller at BBC Future Media & Technology. Erik was previously Senior Director at Microsoft Corporation and before that a Director of Business Development at Microsoft Corporation. Also the UK government in the form of the Labour Party is in thick with Microsoft for all kinds of projects including the Health Service.

    Having worked on some of these kinds of projects it is all nepotism. Erik gets a nice job at the BBC, someone from the BBC goes to Microsoft, an ex Labour Minister gets a job on one of Microsoft's Partner companies.

    I reckon the BBC will abandon the Linux iPlayer the second it can.

    The DRM stuff is a load of guff too. People as far as North Africa can pick up the BBC for free by sticking up a 130 cm satellite dish and aiming it at 28.2 degrees south as the Astra 2 satellite. Wonderful, crisp, digital downloads in realtime.

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