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BBC iPlayer – strategic errors

By Gavin, 12th August 2007

I’ve now had a chance to download, try and then, unfortunately un-install the BBC iPlayer.

There’s already a lot of commentary about the use of Windows Media DRM so I won’t labour the cross-platform issues (anyway, the use of DRM is never actually about technology – if it worked, and if it was really easy, it still wouldn’t help)

I think there are deeper strategic errors.

One significant issue is that while the BBC used to lead (and sometimes still leads), the world has moved on amazingly quickly – leaving the iPlayer standing in a very lonely and strange place.

The worlds of broadcast, community and accessibility no longer really have boundaries. We already have an age where TV is built around community (e.g. YouTube, etc) and is instantly international (e.g. Joost, etc).

In the UK it’s already stupidly easy to do time-shifting with PVRs (e.g. MythTV and any £30 USB DTV stick) and on the other side of the pond, some crazy startups are being valued at $1bn before they even have a name, let alone a website.

iPlayer focuses on  something that’s trivial to do with existing tech, and that tech doesn’t try to “constrain” the content and has better video quality.
iPlayer doesn’t feel enabling.  It doesn’t connect me with anyone, it doesn’t even show signs of linking back into the BBC site/rest of the internet.  It doesn’t feel interesting as a website, as a “channel” or an “aggregator”. It feels like some of the prototypes we built in 2000, which might have been interesting at the time, but not now.

What might be better? A player we could embed in our own sites (geo-restriction is still possible, time-expiry is still possible, branding is still possible). Probably Flash for now. Then Dirac.  Then see what people build. It wouldn’t be hard.

I shudder to think that if the £ that must have gone into iPlayer had gone into Dirac, where might we be…?

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