BBC’s Internet TV Service Provides Little In The Way Of A TV Experience

BBC iPlayer Review
The BBC announced today their new free Internet TV service today and are heralding the arrival of their "on-demand" iPlayer as "important as the first color broadcasts in the 1960s." They have got to be kidding.

For starters, the service is only available to users running Windows XP, contains programming from only 65% of the total content on TV and is only available to users living in Britain. The BBC says that it’s a priority for them to support other operating
systems at some time, including Mac, Linux and Vista, but don’t give a
time frame as to when. You can’t save the content to your computer and can’t burn copies of the shows and you can only watch the content for a total of seven days. You can stream content on-demand, you can only download it. The iPlayer, which the BBC has been working on since 2003 and was originally called the iMP (Integrated Media Player) is still in beta mode and to date, I have not seen the BBC talk about what kind of market penetration they think they can get with their player when they do a full launch.

The content won’t be HD quality and I can’t find any article or info that details what the quality of the video will be. What is the bitrate and resolution? You’d think the BBC would really be focusing on getting this info out there being they are comparing it to a TV experience. But of the 37 news articles in Google News today, not a single one talks to the quality of the BBC service. The BBC is not the first broadcaster to offer this service in Britain. Channel 4’s ‘On Demand’ video download service has been out  for close to a year already.

Also, you can sign up to use the service, but the BBC is limiting the number of people initially who use as so as not to swamp the service and keep it to a controlled beta. I don’t think there is anything wrong with  doing it that way, but then why promote it and talk about it so heavily when a large percentage of the people who sign up you will be turning away? Sets bad customer expectations.

The BBC has a long way to go before this becomes a real service and by continuing to talk about how important this is and comparing it to the color TV considering the service is only in beta, has not been tested for scalability, can’t support multiple platforms, and can only do downloads, they are setting themselves up for failure in the eyes of customers. You can’t promise the world, call it the start of a new revolution for TV and then not deliver an experience that is not even close to the one you say you are going to replace.

  • What I don’t understand: why all the bother about locking this baby down so much? XP only. IE only. UK only. Yet everyone within the satellite beam – be it in the UK or outside – can pick up a good quality digital TV signal from the BBC, record any shows straight to DVD, harddrive, tape or whatever else and upload it to the web, should they wish to do so. Is the tight ‘security’ of iPlayer really necessary?
    I’m unimpressed and couldn’t try the player even if I wanted: my desktop machine runs Vista, my laptop is a Mac…

  • I got tired of waiting for the BBCiPlayer so I can watch BBC from the comfort of my PC. Anyway, I found this website that streams bbc stuff.

  • Steve

    iPlayer sucks. The ISP’s are right to block this or charge BBC for traffic. iPlayer uses P2P technology, which in general moves costs completely from the broadcaster to the ISP’s, plus causes 40% MORE overhead traffic (to guarantee some QoS) so is 40% less efficient and causes 40% more costs for the ISP’s.

  • Harvey Benedict

    I just came across this. Wow, this is quite a negative post against what is the most ambitious large scale project in the space. I would think you would want to support and understand exactly what they are doing. There is not a project out there that comes close to this design and integration scale. We are not talking about providing a dumb pipe with some html player. This is a deeply integrated system into a complex broadcast workflow all the way to the desktop. Of course they need to have a starting point and the system will evolve over time, but you should applaud the fact that unlike the traditional streaming media services, this is the one system that will not penalize (more cost) the company for being successful.
    I have been with, virage and Kontiki (now Verisign) and have seen this industry evolve. This project dwarfs the others out there. Just like the enterprise deployments of Kontiki, finally there is a product that actually delivers on the promise of high quality, full reach. I would think you would be supportive, not attacking it. Harvey

  • Hi Harvey, my comments on the BBC iPlayer are not unlike many others who have reviewed the product. In fact, the majority of the reviews by the media are not positive. I think you and I may have different ways of measuring success.
    While I understand your point when you say this project is very complex from a design and integration scale, do those metrics alone make it a success? You seem to be implying that since this project “dwarfs the others out there” that we should all hail this as a success in the industry. Where is the revenue? How will the BBC make money? Can they scale to the size of the audience they need to and how quickly? What functionality will the player have? Will they support Mac users?
    This is a product that is in Beta, has very limited functionality, is not available to a global audience and while it may be using complex or new ways of doing things, the newest technology is not what always gets adopted. What if the majority of traditional BBC users choose not to use the player to get their content? Is it still a success?
    In my original post, I ask a lot of questions about this service as it pertains to quality, scale, functionality, comparison to TV etc.. that the BBC will not answer or address. That kind of says it all right there.

  • Phil

    I think they should take the lead from some unofficial sites like that really got their act together with shows, indexed complete series, and ad free, and just charge subscription for the service or 2 make it free and bring in the ads, but agree that locking and limiting is not the answer when others can just open a page and play.

  • Wow just came across this article from 2007 and the BBC have just announced their new online streaming BBC iPlayer service which is restricted to windows XP only. Fast forward three years to 2010 and the iPlayer is a fantastically polished service which is cross browser and cross platform with HD streaming (for those with a super fast connection). in short we have come a long way in three years but why oh why can i not receive the service unless i am a resident of the UK???