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Thursday, September 28, 2006


The BBC Top Brass was over in Seattle today signing a mysterious “understanding” with Microsoft. I expect a lot of people to hit the BBC with Freedom of Information requests over the next couple of weeks to see exactly what they are up to.

Yet last week the launch of OFCOM’s MIA (Market Impact Assessment) study was launched with very little background noise. In my opinion, it is far more important to debate the scope of the BBC rather the technology they use to deploy the services. The big question for me is do we want the BBC to launch these services?
• Seven day catch-up TV over the internet;
• Seven day catch-up TV over cable and Homechoice;
• Simulcast TV over the internet; and
• Non-DRM audio downloads over the internet.
I expect some heavy hitters from the both the online and broadcast world to object strongly to the BBC launching these services. I lean towards BBC making the streams and content available to any aggregator – I do not think the BBC should serve as aggregator, packager or distributor in the online world. I object strongly to the BBC DRMing any video or audio content that has already been paid for by the license payer.

However, I expect the BBC to win the debate and get to do whatever it pleases and anything that the OFCOM raises in the MIA study to be counterbalanced by the PVA (Public Value Assessment) study performed by the BBC Trust (ie BBC board of directors - hardly impartial) and the overall decision will be taken by this body not the OFCOM. I don’t know how the BBC gets away with self-regulation. Come the revolution this would be the first thing to go…

Once a decision has been made on whether the BBC should launch the services, then it should be up to the BBC to decide how to deploy the service. The relevant technologies and companies/standards the BBC used in its’ various trials are as follows:
• Peer to peer distribution (Kontiki)
• Digital Rights Management (Microsoft)
• IP Geography (Quova)
• Multicasting – IGMP (Video: Real (365Kbps) WMV (365Kbps), H264 (1.25Mbps) & Audio: Real, AAC)
• Unicast (Video: Real & WMV, Audio: Real, WMV and AAC)
• Media players (iMP – HTML based)

I don’t think the BBC have decided on any specific technologies yet, however I expect a lot of lobbying and discounting from the suppliers and open-source communities given the importance of the BBC. A lot of people in the UK today only use RealPlayer because of the BBC RadioPlayer.

If any good at all in to come from the forthcoming BBC dominance, I’d like the BBC to invest a lot of time and effort in some of the really boring techno-stuff like: agreeing meta-data eg EPG, content filtering and rating with the other UK broadcasters; pushing ISPs to deploy multi-cast technology within their network and publishing full details of network technologies and configurations used; and opening up the iMP to 3rd party developers and content providers.