BBC Launches iPlayer Video Service

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Back in April, the BBC announced plans for iPlayer, an on-demand online video service showcasing recently broadcast BBC programming. Today, the BBC opened up iPlayer registration, with BBC Director Mark Thompson extolling the new service as the most important development in television since the introduction of color broadcasting in the 1960s.

At first, the iPlayer test will be available only to a limited number of users to register for (and are invited into) the beta; the number of users will be increased as iPlayer works toward a full launch in the third quarter of the year. Viewers will be able to choose from about 400 hours of television programming, which represents between 60 and 70 percent of the BBC’s total TV output, and includes well-rated programs like Eastenders,Planet Earth, and the resuscitated Doctor Who. In its current form, iPlayer lets users catch up on up to the last 7 days of selected video programming; some series can be stored and viewed for up to 30 days, at which point they expire. iPlayer also enables live streaming of BBC content, but excludes audiobooks and classical recordings.

The iPlayer initiative got started in 2003 as the Integrated Media Player (IMP), which used peer-to-peer technology to distribute video content. At the time, the IMP was considered an innovative use of technology; now, it might be a latecomer to a crowded party. Since the development of IMP, YouTube has come to dominate the Internet video landscape, and UK broadcaster Channel 4 has beaten the BBC to the punch with its own online video service, 4OD. iPlayer has also sparked controversy from open source advocates, who decry the service’s use of Microsoft DRM technology: as a result, iPlayer is only certified for use with Windows XP: Linux and Macintosh users need not apply. Although other services like 4OD also use Microsoft DRM, as a taxpayer-funded organization, the BBC’s mandate is to serve its license-payers, many of whom don’t use Windows.

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