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BBC iPlayer on Android update

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David Madden | 16:35 UK time, Monday, 12 July 2010

I've been following the comments on my recent post about BBC iPlayer on mobile on Android 2.2 phones with interest and want to address some of the points raised.

First, it's worth reflecting on what we are trying to achieve with the BBC iPlayer on mobile service. The BBC Online Service Licence, issued in May 2010, describes iPlayer's objectives as:

"BBC iPlayer should enable licence fee payers to access BBC programming quickly, easily and in a high quality format. In doing so, it should aim to be regarded as a high quality BBC service by its users and so contribute to their approval of the BBC.

BBC iPlayer should aim to maintain the BBC's overall reach and consumption levels, as usage of the BBC's linear services is replaced over time by on-demand consumption. In doing so, it should contribute in the long term to the BBC's ambition to provide services that are of value to all licence fee payers. It should aim at least to maintain consumption of BBC content by younger adults (those aged 16-34)....

...In fulfilling its other aims and objectives, BBC iPlayer should aim to contribute to the growth in the usage of rich media in broadband households. Within a reasonable timescale, it should aim to make the seven-day catch-up offering available on a platform-neutral basis, or at the least to be available on all major platforms subject to value for money considerations and as technology allows."

Given these overall objectives, BBC iPlayer on mobile is tasked with maximising reach on mobile platforms while delivering a high quality BBC service in a cost-effective way.

The big question, and it's a question being pondered by other content providers right across the industry, is: how do we scale services across multiple mobile platforms in a cost and resource efficient way?

The mobile landscape is very fragmented with a host of operating systems and a proliferation of screen sizes, resolutions, video codecs and web browsers. Developing for each platform soon becomes very expensive. Maintaining and supporting each variant requires more and more resource as each operating system releases new firmware versions and upgrades.

Rolling out new BBC iPlayer features across all mobile platforms would also be increasingly expensive as would the associated testing and support effort. As new phones and new operating systems enter the market, we would be obliged to support the new ones as well as the old ones adding to our support overheads.

To get an idea of the range of mobile platforms and the potential complexity of development see, for example, this Wikipedia article about mobile application development.

Given these development challenges, our approach has been to build a scalable website that works in the phone's web browser and can be easily tweaked to achieve that high quality experience on a range of internet enabled mobile devices.

The BBC iPlayer on mobile website is modular with a series of components that can be easily switched on or off depending on the phone's capabilities. The practical upshot of this is that if there's a feature which your phone can't handle, you won't even see it (rather than having something that's there even if it won't work for you).

The advantages of a web solution for BBC iPlayer on mobile is we can leverage the BBC's existing web technologies and software development skills while minimising the number of iPlayer variants and special builds we have to support. We just have to build and maintain a single website.

Our web approach also means that new features, like those rolled out with the recent Version 3 release, only need to be built once, rather than for each variant or operating system. We also benefit from infrastructure efficiencies by using existing servers, development environments and encoding and delivery systems. For more on the infrastructure behind BBC iPlayer see Marina Kalkanis's blog post.

We could have enabled the BBC iPlayer on mobile website on all video enabled phones without any restrictions or exceptions. This would have maximized our reach, but would have resulted in a very poor quality experience on many phones as video playback capabilities and web browser rendering vary across devices. Some users would have had a good experience while others suffered a sub-optimal service with features not working and poor video playback quality.

To maintain the consistently high quality service demanded by our service licence we have had to test the BBC iPlayer on mobile website on a device-by-device basis to make sure that everything works and we deliver the best possible user experience.

So, how do we prioritise which phones we test and enable BBC iPlayer on?

We look at the reach potential of a device to understand how many licence fee payers we can make the service available to through that phone. We also evaluate the resource and maintenance costs of enabling a high quality iPlayer experience on that device. In addition we assess whether we can apply technology solutions we already have to new devices with minimum effort, an example of this would be BBC iPlayer streaming on iPad as the tech needed is very similar to that which enables us to stream iPlayer on iPhones. This is driven by our overall objective of maximizing reach on mobile platforms while delivering a high quality BBC service in a cost-effective way.

We have limited resources on BBC iPlayer on mobile and therefore have to carefully prioritise development work to maximise reach and value. So, if, for example, I have 15 units of work I need to do on mobile iPlayer (support, maintenance, new features, new handsets etc) but only 5 units of effort available, I've got to focus on the high volume phones to get the service out to as many people as possible.

I hope that gives an overview of what the BBC is trying to achieve with BBC iPlayer on mobile and outlines the approach we have adopted.

I'd now like to turn to some of the specific questions raised in the comments on my previous blog post.

Tiggs questioned why the BBC took down the beebPlayer which worked on older Android devices and did not rely on Flash, and why we have replaced it with something that only works on newer devices and requires Flash.

The BBC's syndication policy, which governs how the BBC makes its services available through other parties, clearly outlines the criteria for using BBC content. BeebPlayer was not a licensed distributor of BBC content online or on mobile. The BBC routinely looks for unauthorised usage of our brand and our content across all platforms and when we encounter it we work to resolve the issue. If on investigation we find that a company's service proposition does not adhere to our standard licence terms and conditions, we will take steps to remedy the issue.

Why has the BBC replaced beebPlayer with something that only works on newer devices and requires Flash?

Using Adobe Flash 10.1 streaming on mobile delivers significant infrastructure efficiencies for the BBC, as we use our existing video and audio encoding plant to create the streams. We don't need to install any new kit or set up any new servers. We just use what we already have to offer a higher quality BBC iPlayer on mobile experience.

Enabling Flash on Android 2.2 devices also means that all current and new devices that support Android 2.2 can get BBC iPlayer. These devices all use the same standard Flash player which means we can offer a consistently high quality playback across all of them. Previously we had to review and test BBC iPlayer on a device-by-device basis to ensure the right high quality experience. Now we can offer BBC iPlayer on mobile to a whole group of devices at once, which is clearly much more efficient.

Chris questioned why the BBC has chosen Flash over a more open and accessible standard.

Adobe Flash reaches an estimated 95% of PCs which means the BBC can use Flash streaming technologies to reach audiences on the internet right across the UK with a consistent video playback experience.

As soon as Flash streaming came to mobile, through Adobe's Flash 10.1 player on Android 2.2 devices, it made sense to make the most of our existing Flash infrastructure to bring that consistent playback experience to mobile as well.

Why haven't we enabled BBC iPlayer on mobile on any other Android phones apart from Android version 2.2?

BBC iPlayer on mobile's reach objectives mean we have had to prioritise other devices that offer the BBC wider reach over current Android phones.

The best way to bring BBC iPlayer to earlier versions of Android (which don't support Flash), is to develop an app. This would provide a single scalable version that could be offered to all Android phones.

The BBC Trust is conducting a review of the BBC's plans to develop smartphone apps. The BBC will therefore not be launching any Android apps or apps for any other smartphone in the UK pending the outcome of the BBC Trust review.

David Madden is Executive Product Manager for BBC iPlayer on Mobile.

Comments

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  • 1. At 5:12pm on 12 Jul 2010, ascorbic wrote:

    Rather than shutting down beebPlayer, why didn't you buy it? You say how you don't have the resources to develop an app. There's already an app with a great interface that works well. I'm sure you could buy it off the developer for less that it would cost the BBC to develop it yourself.

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  • 2. At 5:20pm on 12 Jul 2010, Mo wrote:

    In answering the "why Flash?" question, you state that it's available on 95% of PCs. great. but also irrelevant.

    The question wasn't so much "why Flash?" in general (its reach on PCs hasn't been under much doubt since the late 1990s), but "Why Flash for Android, when everybody knows you already have the infrastructure to churn out HTML5-based video on the UI side and MP4-based media files as the actual content - you do this right now for iPhone, iPod touch and iPad, albeit in MOV containers -- the adjustments to make these work (by using compliant MP4 containers instead) are technically really trivial. I know this, half the commenters here know this, and a many of the technical staff involved in iPlayer know this.

    A "platform-neutral basis" would strongly suggest a platform-neutral content format, and delivering H.264+AAC encapsulated in MP4 containers to both Android phones (including those which won't ever get Android 2.2) and Apple Devices (and quite possibly others besides) achieves this on a simple and cost-effective basis. While I have nothing against the developers who went to the trouble of tweaking the iPlayer to work on this version of Flash, you can't surely think that this was the most effective means of satisfying the conditions service licence, can you?

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  • 3. At 5:25pm on 12 Jul 2010, Chris wrote:

    What you have failed to address is the difference in approach between Android and Apple devices. If you are convinced that Flash is the right approach why are you not waiting for Flash to be available for the iphone/ipad before deploying to that platform?

    There seems to be no real explanation as to why the Apple streams couldn't have the minor changes needed to allow them to be accessible on Android.

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  • 4. At 5:32pm on 12 Jul 2010, richiebabee wrote:

    How it can it be most efficient to deliver iPlayer for android to version 2.2 phones, when by Google's own figures android 2.2 is on barely a handful of phones (mostly unofficially)?

    A significant proportion of the android phones out in the marketplace at this time (and probably for the foreseeable future are stuck at 2.1 or below (http://nexus404.com/Blog/2010/06/17/android-market-share-numbers-show-version-2-1-growth-what-android-fragmentation-50-of-android-users-flock-to-newer-version/google-android-user-share-full-sizejpg/).

    So how does developing for 2.2 offer the best value for all of the android phone owners who currently don't have access, and are unlikely to ever get access due to handset owners being unwilling to upgrade android versions? To not even attempt to provide for android 2.1 owners is selling the entire process short.

    This is the 2nd time the BBC have effectively denied me content that I pay for with my licence fee - once on XBMC (which contrary to your internal discussion papers is not limited to old xboxes - it's on PC, linux, mac, etc.), and now on my HTC Desire (a phone launched in the uk less than 3 months ago).

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  • 5. At 5:38pm on 12 Jul 2010, Alex wrote:

    Did the BBC make an estimate of how much effort it would take to supply HTML5/MP4 (minus MOV) as a web-app to pre-Android 2.2 phones?

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  • 6. At 5:40pm on 12 Jul 2010, Chaddledee wrote:

    Why not develop a website based on standards, as that will undoubtedly provide the best support across all platforms. If a web browser does not support the standard, well then nobody is to blame but the developer of the browser. Also, I am sure a lot of people would prefer an iPlayer in which half the features works to not being allowed to even try on your device.

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  • 7. At 5:42pm on 12 Jul 2010, mmillmor wrote:

    You say you shut down beebPlayer because it wasn't a licensed distributor? Why didn't you make it a licensed distributor then? Just say to Dave that he's licensed to continue to provide the service as long as he doesn't profit from it or allow it to download as opposed to stream. Doesn't cost you a penny, and keeps everyone happy.

    On a side note, isn't that exactly the kind of thing that BBC Backstage should be enabling?

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  • 8. At 5:49pm on 12 Jul 2010, David M wrote:

    Er, so how come there's an official Symbian iPlayer app? This just doesn't sound right.

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  • 9. At 5:50pm on 12 Jul 2010, NX3 wrote:

    The HTC Legend is 3 to 4 months old, it will get Android 2.2 before the end of the year from HTC and then whenever Vodafone roll it out. The normal take a 4-6 weeks so far after HTC.

    The next problem is Flash 10.1 is only available for ARM 7 CPU devices. My phone though brand new, will get Android 2.2 but has an ARM 6 CPU so Adobe won't give my Flash 10.1! An awful lot of ARM6 Andorid phones exist currently and still being sold that will never get Flash 10.1, is Flash 10.1 really the solution ?

    On my phone currently I have Flash lite from HTC, I can watch videos from YouTube and other sites in high quality and full screen no problem for fps etc so it can be done now. Other apps like Beebplayer (which the BBC killed off) and myPlayer (which hopefully the BBC won't kill off) allow me to unofficially watch the BBC HQ on Wifi, ok quality on 3G. Again the phone is capable, the output from iplayer and live tv is already working but not via a BBC approved viewer.

    I don't understand the logic that says the BBC can't support or provide service to the majority of Android users who won't get Flash 10.1 when via solutions already exist.

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  • 10. At 5:51pm on 12 Jul 2010, Matt Oakes wrote:

    If you really want to make one website that works on everything why not just use a standard (even one with patents like h.254). You already use this on the iPhone and iPad and it would be trivial to make it work on android devices as well.

    All android devices are able to stream content in this format and that will mean you don't have to test each devices individually before you allow them access, because Google won't like them have access to the whole of the android operating system (bits like maps and market) without meeting some conditions, one of which is the ability to stream content in these formats. This means there are only a few devices (mainly tablets at the minute which are only not accepted because the screen resolution isn't officially supported yet) which are no certified, and even these are able to stream the content properly.

    Instead of going down the route of using close source software again like you did for the first version of the iPlayer website why not just get it right first time. It took you so long just to get something workable on the desktop, even even now I have flash randomly crash in the middle of programs because flash on linux sucks.

    Why not just use open standards. There is no problem with rights managements really because to be honest anyone who wants to download something illegally will do it whatever restrictions you put on the content (there is always a version in high quality with no DRM anyway, it's called TV, that's where most of the copies available for download on the internet come from, not from the iPlayer). The majority of people don't even realise there are places you can download TV programs for free anyway.

    I know this isn't technically incompetency because I know someone working on the iPlayer, however you really need to just sort out one solution and stick to it. Just create a version of the site that works using HTML5 video tags with H.264 + ACC streaming behind it (you already have these stream available, just need to change the container format) and then just serve that. It will soon be usable on the desktop and will also work on iPhone, iPad and all android devices.

    You say you want one version to serve to all platform and yet you still bother to make one version for the desktop (flash based), one version of big screens (flash based on Wii I think, html style on ipad and ps3) and another version for android (flash based). For the mobile market you still only cater for a tiny share so at the current rate you have about 4 versions floating around and you'll need more version to support platforms like palm, windows phone 7, budget and mid end phone (3gp) and others.

    Just make the obvious choice in front of you and just use HTML5 video. It will be simpler for you and much more cost effective.

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  • 11. At 5:54pm on 12 Jul 2010, Bob_ wrote:

    Personally I think the argument against an HTML version for android, using the bigscreen layout and without flash hasn't been well made. I have disabled flash on froyo because it was a hog and it means I get less advertising. I don't see a reason to enable it other than perhaps iPlayer but there are more disadvantages than advantages at the moment. Is it a DRM issue? A codec issue?

    Bob

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  • 12. At 6:32pm on 12 Jul 2010, foolonthehill wrote:

    While I'm glad to see a fairly thorough response to a number of the issues about mobile iPlayer raised by commenters, you seem to miss the key point that many are making:

    I may be wrong, but as I see it, Android is quite capable of playing streams that are already available (and I don't mean the iPhone stream). However, the current web-interface provided to Android browers prevents us from accessing it, pushing the flash version only. Beebplayer was just an interface to these other streams.

    Dave Johnston (beebplayer) explains it best (http://davejohnston.posterous.com/beebplayers-secret-sauce):
    "...the most important thing about iPlayer is that it also caters for mobile phones, primarily those running the Symbian operating system (i.e. most ‘dumbphones’ made by Nokia, Sony-Ericsson and so on.), and provides mobile streams for these phones in a 3G streaming format designed for small screens and delivered over RTSP....
    "...This is where beebPlayer came in – allowing Android phones to access the streams intended for simpler phones by simply reading the appropriate URLs"

    I agree that supporting the huge number of devices is an impossible task, and that a web-based interface is (possibly) preferable in its ease of maintenance. But we're not necessarily asking for new streams (even if modifying the iPhone stream would be trivial) - it's just an interface we need!

    As you say, the mobile iPlayer website is modular, so, please let us access the low-bandwidth / low-capability streams. It wouldn't be the best quality avaiable for (most) Android devices, but at least it's *something*! Beebplayer has proved it's possible and in demand.

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  • 13. At 6:46pm on 12 Jul 2010, Nick Reynolds wrote:

    Just to add some context to comments, here's Dave Johnson's blog post about beebPlayer. Quote:

    "The new iPlayer site does a much better job at providing a good experience for Android users than beebPlayer ever could have – not only are the streams it uses designed specifically for Android phones, but because of this they’re higher quality and less likely to break at the merest sign of a lost bit or byte. It’s also maintained by the BBC and paid for by the license fee, so it’s level of service will be far higher than what beebPlayer could provide.

    The fact the new site is limited to Flash-enabled devices is a sore-spot, but I can understand this requirement and its benefits, as well as its current and future limitations. RTSP (mobile/beebPlayer) isn’t exactly an ideal alternative if you have a level of service you wish to maintain, something RTMP (Flash) is far better at providing, especially across multiple different platforms."

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  • 14. At 8:35pm on 12 Jul 2010, rhughes2832 wrote:

    I don't think anyone with any technical know-how believes the "wait for Flash" excuse, as we all know that there are existing streams that will work on Android either as-is or with little modification. So please don't insult our intelligence

    If it's simply because the Flash client enables stricter DRM enforcement, PLEASE JUST BE HONEST ABOUT IT. Then at least we'll all be arguing about the real reason, not the smokescreen.

    It seems to be that if the DRM rules being applied for Android were also applied to Apple devices, there would be no iPlayer on Apple devices. So if you're allowed to do it for Apple, why can't you do it for Android?

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  • 15. At 10:10pm on 12 Jul 2010, Tiggs wrote:

    Nick,

    You even quote the relevant sentence that you seem to be trying to ignore people alluding to.

    "The fact the new site is limited to Flash-enabled devices is a sore-spot,"

    Anyone with an older Android phone. SOL. Anyone with a current FroyoPhone who dislikes Flash (whether on principle or, as post #11 says, due to performance issues), also SOL. Anyone with Froyo but the wrong processor, SOL.

    Like with the iPad app, it looks like you're focusing on products not yet readily available, at the expense of an existing install-base.
    Don't expect people to be too happy about this.

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  • 16. At 11:58pm on 12 Jul 2010, threedaymonk wrote:

    Ah, come on, guys. Stop complaining about the fact that your three-week-old Android phone can't play the new Flash-only iPlayer. That's outdated technology. Bin it and buy a new one that's man enough for the job. Never mind about the environment; copyright is far more important. And it's good for the economy to buy stuff you don't need!

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  • 17. At 00:37am on 13 Jul 2010, Mo wrote:

    This is a nitpick, but…

    Nick, you quote Dave as saying:

    "RTSP (mobile/beebPlayer) isn’t exactly an ideal alternative if you have a level of service you wish to maintain"

    I know you are just repeating his words, but Dave is sorely mistaken. There's nothing wrong with RTSP/RTCP/RTP (RTSP is a fairly simple protocol for managing session setup and teardown, RTCP is the control protocol and RTP carries the actual streams). The combination of the three are actually very capable. RTMP (Flash's streaming protocol) only recently gained capabilities which the RTSP stack has had for over a decade. The majority of commercial VoIP applications use RTP — the difficult part of the stack, essentially — and manage “a level of service” without too much difficulty. Indeed, I'm sure the people responsible for delivering the BBC's content via RTSP would be interested to know if it's particularly lacking in some area!

    RTSP, for what it's worth, was standardised back in 1998.

    Now, the quality of the streams being delivered by the BBC via RTSP isn't fantastic — they're low bit-rate streams designed for small screen devices (such as less capable mobile phones), but this is a very separate issue — there's actually no reason at all why 1080p HD video can't be transported over RTSP/RTP if you've got the bandwidth.

    I don't know if Dave was referring to the RTSP streams which the BBC provides, or RTSP itself. If the former, he's obviously correct; if the latter, he's dead wrong.

    But, this is an aside.

    I do, however, have a couple of questions:

    (1) Is it, or is it not, the case that the primary reason for the BBC not providing streams to Android devices as standard MP4 containers carried by HTTP streams because the BBC is not satisfied with the level of "content protection" which this affords?

    (2) Who is it that requires that this level of content protection be put in place, given that it clearly runs counter to the goal of providing iPlayer to as many platforms as possible? For the avoidance of doubt, I do not need specific names: one of "solely BBC policy", "BBC policy, but requested specifically by third-party content owners" or and only if neither of the preceding options, "BBC policy, in part as a result of consultations with third-party content owners" is perfectly sufficient, and indeed preferred.

    If nobody feels like giving a timely direct answer to these questions, please consider the above questions a Freedom of Information Request (there is no requirement that FOI requests be directed to a designated point of contact: any properly-formatted request constitutes an FOI request).

    My e-mail address is, of course, associated with my BBC iD profile and so accessible to the administrators of the blog although a blog post or comment is absolutely fine as a response mechanism.

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  • 18. At 00:51am on 13 Jul 2010, techbelly wrote:

    threedaymonk is absolutely right.

    We should stop these mealy-mouthed complaints.

    It's wrong of us to challenge the way the BBC defames us as potential pirates when we demand that our "reasonable time-shifting expectations continue to be met."

    It's wrong of us, having phones with the exact same capabilities as the iPhone to expect to be able to watch BBC content made available to the iPhone.

    It's wrong of us to suggest that this preference for certain classes of device might be market interference by the BBC - like many others, I bought a non-approved device and must live with that.

    It's wrong of us to suggest that the BBC has deliberately and measurably taken action - and indeed, spent licence payers' monies - to ensure that their service is incompatible with these devices.

    I now realise I'm mistaken on all these points.

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  • 19. At 07:43am on 13 Jul 2010, Bob_ wrote:

    Google official chart showing Market share of Android versions: http://3.bp.blogspot.com/_GTM_W5mVPTU/TDuZX7I2-PI/AAAAAAAAAH8/1tSYEfsZHbA/s1600/versions.png

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  • 20. At 08:01am on 13 Jul 2010, Dave Parker wrote:

    The BBC is making a rod for its own back, there is a way of supporting many different OSs - open source.

    Yes, there will be many applications that give an inferior experience not up to BBC quality standards, but so what?

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  • 21. At 11:10am on 13 Jul 2010, Paul Jakma wrote:

    Ladies and gents,

    There's an "easy" way to get non-Flash, HTML delivered iPlayer on your chosen device: Ask the BBC to issue you an SSL/TLS client certificate, which presumably will require you to sign some kind of "I won't be a pirate, yarr" contract.

    Be interesting to see how the BBC could justify refusing such requests, and I don't see how the BBC can charge for it (indeed, the BBCs' position, stated in its previous blog, is that its strategy is not to charge for its anti-piracy systems).

    After a couple of hundred of such requests, the BBC may or may not wish to reconsider its piracy position.

    Nick, would you be able to give us the contact details for the relevant dept. in the BBC? I asked this in the other blog, but you must have missed my question.

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  • 22. At 11:29am on 13 Jul 2010, Nick Reynolds wrote:

    Tiggs - the reason I quoted Dave's post was to show that although using Flash is a "sore spot" for him, he also understands why the BBC is doing what it is doing.

    techbelly - as far as I'm aware no one has "defamed" anyone in the way that you suggest.

    This is not a "preference" as you put it - it's a practical set of choices based on the factors that David has outlined. The BBC iPlayer is available on lots of platforms and devices - here's the current list. I'm surprised that you cannot access any of these.

    Bob_ - your chart is interesting but doesn't give any sense of how big the market share of Google Android is as a whole.

    Dave Parker - so the BBC should deliberately give people a poor quality, inferior experience?

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  • 23. At 11:32am on 13 Jul 2010, Nick Reynolds wrote:

    Mo (comment 17): In order to make a request to the BBC under the Freedom of Information Act you should email your request, providing your name and address for correspondence to foi@bbc.co.uk

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  • 24. At 11:50am on 13 Jul 2010, Matt Oakes wrote:

    "The BBC iPlayer is available on lots of platforms and devices - here's the current list. I'm surprised that you cannot access any of these."

    I'm pretty sure he will have access on the desktop but the issue is that he will likely have one mobile phone although it is perfectly capable and used to have access (through the now gone BeebPlayer) it has been taken away in favour of something that requires Android 2.2. For the majority of current devices they will never get 2.2 unless you root the devices and install a custom ROM, which obviously voids the warranty.

    Also, I've gone through the process of putting Android 2.2 on my HTC Desire and Flash player is still not available to me. It's currently only available to Nexus One users it seems. To me this seems unfair that I can't watch the iPlayer even though my phone is basically a HTC branded version of the same phone.

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  • 25. At 12:14pm on 13 Jul 2010, mmillmor wrote:

    Nick, you say "Bob - your chart is interesting but doesn't give any sense of how big the market share of Google Android is as a whole". It's about 10% and growing. Compare that to the current market share of the small list of antiquated Nokia devices that you support, and I'd bet it's very favourable. I don't actually see a single Nokia phone on your list that is still for sale. I'm not saying you should stop supporting them, but don't pretend that continuing to support obsolete devices is worth bragging about.

    I too don't believe any of the reasons you have given so far about why you went down this route. I don't believe you think Flash is the only solution, because you know that the iPhone streams work on Android given the right client (i.e. beebPlayer). I don't believe you even think Flash is the best mobile solution - you guys aren't stupid by any means, and you must realize that a flash intermediate layer is unnecessarily demanding for a mobile device. I don't believe you are worried about cost, because there was a free solution already. I do believe you think that the iPhone is worth the special effort because of it's media coverage if nothing else, but I don't think that would actually cause you to cripple the Android versions in the way that you have. So what is the actual reason?

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  • 26. At 12:28pm on 13 Jul 2010, Dave Parker wrote:

    @Nick Reynolds
    "so the BBC should deliberately give people a poor quality, inferior experience?"

    No, the BBC should give the superior experience with official applications, but it shouldn't stop other developers giving people an inferior experience, when the alternative is no experience at all.

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  • 27. At 12:45pm on 13 Jul 2010, Mo wrote:

    Nick (#17): the request I posted is, as far as I can tell, a perfectly valid FOI request. By law, the BBC is not allowed to refuse to deal with a request purely because it was posted here rather than sent via e-mail to a designated address (an authority - that is, the BBC in this case - can recommend such requests are sent this way, but I have chosen not to in this case). Indeed, the public doesn't even have to say that a FOI request is an FOI request!

    However, I'm only making the request if the questions aren't otherwise answered. So, you (collective "you") are free to do either :)

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  • 28. At 1:28pm on 13 Jul 2010, digital_elysium wrote:

    I'm a Nexus One owner, running on Android 2.2 with Flash installed. The iPlayer website is OK, but it doesn't have any live TV or Radio streams, which means I find myself switching back to BeebPlayer for those anyway. Videos are not significantly better.

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  • 29. At 1:29pm on 13 Jul 2010, foolonthehill wrote:

    mmillmor, the iPhone streams don't work natively on Android, as the mov container is not supported (Android would be capable of understanding the video inside it, H.264, but this is irrelevant). Actually, beebplayer allowed access to the "Nokia" streams, which are also H.264 but in a supported container. The downside is that they are much, much lower quality than the iPhone streams (176x96 resolution!).

    Nick, again, I'll ask my question. If we're not allowed to develop apps which access the iPlayer XML feeds directly, why can't we have web-based access to the Nokia/WM streams instead?

    If I spoof my user agent to look like a N96 (I'll try it later), then I should be able to access the streams that were previously only available through beebplayer (there are no iPhone header shenanigans, as far as I am aware).

    I understand that it's not the best quality and won't work for every device, but then you just need a "Your device is not supported, but you can try _here_ at your own risk" type message in. In fact, surely any phone should be allowed to *try* using the Nokia streams....

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  • 30. At 1:33pm on 13 Jul 2010, Iain wrote:

    I'm afraid my comment does not follow the general thread but it DOES address a point in the article - and I can't seem to find any other way to bring it to the BBC's attention. David said:

    "The BBC routinely looks for unauthorised usage of our brand and our content across all platforms and when we encounter it we work to resolve the issue. If on investigation we find that a company's service proposition does not adhere to our standard licence terms and conditions, we will take steps to remedy the issue."

    Have you seen this: http://bbgnews.co.uk/uk/index99.html ? I followed a link to it from about.com because I couldn't believe it was 'As seen on the BBC'. I think it constitutes unauthorised usage of your brand.

    As a .uk domain it comes under Nominet's jurisdiction, and their Policy (http://www.nic.uk/disputes/drs/?contentId=5239) is pretty clear that it's an Abusive Registration if it is used 'in a way which has confused or is likely to confuse people or businesses into believing that the Domain Name is registered to, operated or authorised by, or otherwise connected with the Complainant'. (3/a/ii)

    Which it clearly is. Scumbags!

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  • 31. At 1:48pm on 13 Jul 2010, Nick Reynolds wrote:

    Mo - I think the answer to your question 1 is contained in David's post:

    "The BBC's syndication policy, which governs how the BBC makes its services available through other parties, clearly outlines the criteria for using BBC content. BeebPlayer was not a licensed distributor of BBC content online or on mobile. The BBC routinely looks for unauthorised usage of our brand and our content across all platforms and when we encounter it we work to resolve the issue. If on investigation we find that a company's service proposition does not adhere to our standard licence terms and conditions, we will take steps to remedy the issue."

    You may find this blog post relevant to your question 2. Quote:

    "But in order to do this we need to need to balance many factors including value for money, market impact and our commitments to rights holders and the third parties involved in making our programmes, not only BBC Worldwide (as has been suggested on the BBC internet blog), but also actors, writers, photographers, musicians, sports rights holders, our partners from the independent sector and foreign studios."


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  • 32. At 2:33pm on 13 Jul 2010, mmillmor wrote:

    @foolonthehill, thanks for the clarification. I really never noticed the lower quality as being an issue. It is mobile after all. I don't expect HD.

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  • 33. At 2:49pm on 13 Jul 2010, foolonthehill wrote:

    @mmillmor Agreed - both the 3G and wifi Nokia streams work great for me. When I'm watching Have I got News For You on the bus on the way home, it's the content I want, not HD-see-every-hair image quality. But then fortunately I can still watch it, as I still have beebplayer installed (at least until Google uses its "kill switch" to remove it from my HTC...)

    @Iain That's terrible! They've even edited the favicon to BBG!

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  • 34. At 3:11pm on 13 Jul 2010, Paul Jakma wrote:

    Nick,

    Would you do me the favour of giving us a contact address in the BBC to obtain the needed TLS client certificates for access to the HTML video iPlayer? It's a friendly request which I'd be very grateful if you answered, or else it's an FOI request, as you wish.

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  • 35. At 3:25pm on 13 Jul 2010, Mo wrote:

    "Mo - I think the answer to your question 1 is contained in David's post:"

    No, that doesn't even come close to answering the question I asked, which specifically related to the reason why the BBC opted to employ RTMP-based streaming for Android (thus excluding pre-Froyo devices) rather than HTTP-based streaming with MP4 containers (which would be a technically trivial change to the iOS device support). This question has been asked several times with no forthcoming answer.

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  • 36. At 4:06pm on 13 Jul 2010, techbelly wrote:

    It seems to me that the BBC wants to standardise on Flash as a platform for iPlayer delivery. Ok - that's somewhat valid. Not the most inclusive or open choice, by a long way, but relatively well-deployed. I understand, but don't agree with the decision and the logic holds so far.

    But, then, there are popular devices that don't support flash. Notably just about all current Android devices, and iPhones. The latter will likely never support flash; most currently bought Android devices will not either.

    The BBC already provides iPlayer content in a manner that these non-flash devices are capable of consuming, but that content is specifically and deliberately denied to all but Apple's iPhone devices.

    We are told that this is to avoid "the associated testing and support effort." That it's a matter of priority and not of principle. That it's all about 'quality of experience'.

    Nick, is that a fair summary of the situation, as described?

    I find these arguments hollow. The BBC has never cared about the quality of my television set or tuner cards. Why should they?

    Reconfiguring the service that iPhones receive such that ( a large number of currently owned) Android devices can access them is a trivial change, reversing a deliberate blocking of all non-iPhone devices. No extra encoding required, no app building either.

    The logic still holds if you're planning on closing down the iPhone service too. I don't think you are, though.

    Or, if a significant reason for preferring flash and not supporting current Android phone is content protection. You know, that's a valid argument; again, I don't agree, but stating it straightforwardly would be much preferred to the self-justificatory, and illogical, post above.

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  • 37. At 4:10pm on 13 Jul 2010, techbelly wrote:

    Someone else is "epically, fumingly angry" too: http://dropsafe.crypticide.com/article/4195

    "And if like most people you’re on Android 1.5, 1.6, or 2.0/2.1?

    If so, the BBC have just taken away your content from you. Digital switchoff. Get used to it."

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  • 38. At 5:54pm on 13 Jul 2010, Paul Jakma wrote:

    techbelly,

    Flash is a client-side delivery technology. That the BBC wishes to involve itself in the client-side details, and the good/bad of that is one thing.

    The point is that there were 3rd party apps that were making use of the same streams. *No one* is asking the BBC to support those apps. The problem is the BBC *deliberately* goes out of its way to make changes to frustrate those 3rd party apps.

    To see how wrong this is, imagine if the BBC changed its broadcast TV signal willy-nilly so as to try make it so that only BBC TV sets could receive the signal. The crux of the issue is that, when it comes to online-delivered TV, the BBC thinks it should approve any and all TV sets.

    As Nick has pointed out before, the BBC Trust are holding a consultation on syndication, which closes soon, which covers these issues. People may wish to give their opinion on that as well.

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  • 39. At 5:58pm on 13 Jul 2010, Paul Jakma wrote:

    Oh, and bear in mind the BBC intends to spend public money developing and promoting a DRM-infested IPTV set-top-box - Project Canvas.

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  • 40. At 10:45pm on 13 Jul 2010, Simon Partridge wrote:

    It's a saddening repeat of the BBC's decision to marginalise uses of the iplayer plugin on XBMC: http://www.bbc.co.uk/dna/mbiplayer/NF13735685?thread=7320127&skip=0

    Many constructive comments were made and complaints submitted - but no change. The community has moved on and found work arounds - the BBC stayed still and gave nothing back.

    The BBC's 'platform-neutral basis' leans heavily towards a group of devices built on controlling and limiting content delivery - so completely contradicts the "BBC Online Service Licence". Also take into account the Apple products and service plans are the highest cost in the market then we have further contradictions.

    If the BBC had announced they would no longer support the Apple products because they do not support flash then we could agree with the arguments - alas this is not so - resources are tied up with supporting that platform and all other platforms have to 'fit in' or 'catch up'.

    Perhaps Google have just come to the BBC's rescue - all you need is a gmail acocunt :-D

    https://services.google.com/fb/forms/appinventorinterest/

    Sign up and invent an app - probably be able to fund it by selling a couple of BBC development iphones and ipads on ebay - lol

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  • 41. At 07:27am on 14 Jul 2010, randomsite wrote:

    I like all the comments bashing flash (Although I have the nexus one, and currently running flash, even so, on some sites it is SLOW AS HECK, anyway), but the problem with running with HTML5 video is that the spec isn't finalized, so they may encode their video in H.264 (A horrible and patent encumbered format btw, which firefox doesn't support) but then when the spec is released, it could state that WebM is the standard.

    At the moment flash is still really the only way to go, even if the iWhatever devices don't support, and will never support it.

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  • 42. At 07:47am on 14 Jul 2010, Emma wrote:

    Not an android question per se, but in several places you mention "BBC iPlayer should enable licence fee payers' ... does this mean that future iPlayer (any platform, though probably most likely mobile) will enable licence fee payers, temporarily out of the country, to watch iPlayer?

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  • 43. At 09:59am on 14 Jul 2010, Nick Reynolds wrote:

    I think we are starting to drift off topic. The post is not about Canvas, nor about an international version of iPlayer, it's about iPlayer on Android.

    Regarding Flash here is a story from The Register from May which contains the following quotes:

    Erik Huggers:

    "We're not wedded to Flash. Let's be really clear about that,,, Having over 25 devices out there for BBC iPlayer means we are quite flexible about the technologies we use to get our service out to consumers. Not all of our services are powered by Flash."

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  • 44. At 10:03am on 14 Jul 2010, Matt Oakes wrote:

    "but the problem with running with HTML5 video is that the spec isn't finalized"

    It's only finalised when there are are 2 complete implementations released in production quality browsers.

    At the minute the spec doesn't mention any specific codec and isn't likely to. If you compare this to the image tag (<img>), it also never mentioned what format the image should be in. The standard group of images just emerged from where formats all the browsers supported. Currently all browser support H.264 (Firefox and Opera do this if codecs are installed on the host OS) and most support WebM, also known as V8 (IE does this if the codec is installed, and Safari doesn't do it but as it uses QuickTime for rendering I'm guessing it will work if there is a V8 QuickTime codec installed).

    Take this as a similar situation to jpeg, gif and png. There are all supported by browsers and are pretty much guaranteed to work, however none of them are mentioned in the spec.

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  • 45. At 10:07am on 14 Jul 2010, Paul Jakma wrote:

    Matt, You mean VP8. In the context of Google technologies, V8 is a JavaScript engine, used with Chrome/Chromium.

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  • 46. At 10:14am on 14 Jul 2010, Stephen wrote:

    Can anyone explain why the Listen Again radio functionality is disabled for mobile users outside of the UK? Up until about a month ago I was able to use the Listen Again player on my Android device running 2.2 and flash but now it redirects me to the iPlayer, which is of course disabled in my country. So now I have to listen to everything through my normal desktop PC :-(

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  • 47. At 10:17am on 14 Jul 2010, Paul Jakma wrote:

    Nick, the issues of BBCs' support for Android access to iPlayer are intrinsically embedded with the BBCs' decision to try tightly control access to iPlayer (for whatever reasons). I don't see how you can separate them. This blog post is explicitly about beebPlayer; it's explicitly about the choice of Flash (i.e. about the BBCs' reluctance to provide supported access to anything but low-res streams); it's explicitly about the syndication policy. All those are products of said desire for control.

    Project Canvas, which we know will specify DRM for what may become the next-generation of TV, thus very likely *robbing* the public of their long-held rights, is another manifestation of that desire for control.

    PS: There may be many differing views within the BBC about all of this, there may be many different factors influencing the decisions, but to the outside world the executive decision and its consequences are essentially all that matters. And it reflects on the entire organisation.

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  • 48. At 11:01am on 14 Jul 2010, Matt Oakes wrote:

    "Matt, You mean VP8. In the context of Google technologies, V8 is a JavaScript engine, used with Chrome/Chromium."

    Sorry, cause I mean that. Acronyms do my head in.

    Thanks paul!!

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  • 49. At 11:22am on 14 Jul 2010, Nick Reynolds wrote:

    Paul - this post is specifically an outline of the BBC's approach to mobile phones and some explanation around beebPlayer. Please can people stay on that topic. Thanks.

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  • 50. At 11:47am on 14 Jul 2010, peterdragon wrote:

    It's asking for trouble in the long run not to offer compatibility with Google TV's WebM format, especially since YouTube is now supporting VP8.
    http://www.fsf.org/news/free-software-foundation-statement-on-webm-and-vp8

    No-one has raised the significant security problems that Adobe products pose.
    http://www.google.co.uk/search?ie=UTF-8&q=adobe+zero+day
    http://www.pcworld.com/businesscenter/article/198575/adobe_fixes_flash_zeroday_with_massive_security_update.html

    I would not want to install Flash on any computer I used for Internet banking. Should I get a second mobile then purely for iPlayer viewing?

    If the BBC moves towards a restrictive DRM protected system for iPlayer (presumably chasing ad revenue) it will offer a poorer service to subscribers and I would expect the BBC Trust (or its replacement once the government abolishes it) to scrutinise these choices very carefully.

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  • 51. At 4:24pm on 14 Jul 2010, Mo wrote:

    randomsite (41): the W3C doesn't use "finalised" the way other people do.

    The video element is considered stable, with some caveats. If you're targeting, say, a bunch of WebKit-supported devices, all of which can play H.264+AAC-LC wrapped up in an MP4 container (which covers most Android, all iOS, and a bunch of other devices in one fell swoop) and have per-platform front-ends anyway (as the BBC does), then it would ordinarily be a no brainer.

    Unless, of course, there was some specific reason as to why you don't want to serve content this way to those devices ("Flash is on 95% of PCs" isn't such a reason, and is somewhat orthogonal, given specific tweaks had to be made to target these devices anyway).

    And this is the point: many of us can deduce the reason why it's done this way (to the detriment of the audience), but the BBC doesn't really want to come out and say it.

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  • 52. At 6:16pm on 14 Jul 2010, MeAndmyAndroid wrote:

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the House Rules.

  • 53. At 7:14pm on 14 Jul 2010, Nick Reynolds wrote:

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the House Rules.

  • 54. At 7:23pm on 14 Jul 2010, Matt Oakes wrote:

    "What do you think the reason is?"

    I'm going to suggest the DRM reasons that people have stated many time in these comments which has so far received no response.

    I wouldn't be as bothered if the BBC just came out and said these were the reasons, at least they are being honest.

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  • 55. At 8:33pm on 14 Jul 2010, MeAndmyAndroid wrote:

    I used to enjoy the BBC app on my iPhone. I really did spend a lot of time on there keeping up with the events of the world while commuting to work. I recently purchased an Android phone and was glad to see that I could get the same access I used to get on my iPhone. Luckily, for me, I haven't had one single problem- from getting the app on this new site I found called xxx that amazingly seems to be the antithesis of all Android app sites out there and it's very clean and no ads. It just lists the apps, which makes it really easy to find the BBC app I wanted.

    I must be lucky because I have an Android phone with the latest version and everything just clicked for me. I really just wanted to express my appreciation from "across the pond" that you've done what needs to be done to be accesible by a great majority of people that use mobile technology. THANKS MUCH

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  • 56. At 9:22pm on 15 Jul 2010, SImon Whittaker wrote:

    I had submitted an FOI request about the beebplayer removal and received the following response http://blog.szlwzl.com - am very disappointed that the app was removed as it is simply using the streams already in use. Why not use twitter's model of an open API so that people can write their own applications and expand your audience? I think this is a really big mistake and is very disappointing to see from the BBC

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  • 57. At 12:36pm on 16 Jul 2010, Nick Reynolds wrote:

    Paul Jakma (comment 34) - we don’t have any plans to offer this kind of capability at this time. You may like to contribute your views to the BBC Trust’s consultation on the BBC's syndication policies.

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  • 58. At 4:55pm on 18 Jul 2010, Doc wrote:

    Coming late to this argument... I'm sure that in a few years, this will all be resolved, maybe with cross-platform apps like those enabled by BONDI. In the meantime, there are a a lot of annoyed licence-fee payers.

    The annoying thing, over all, is that you seem intent on not answering straightforward questions.

    Everyone accepts that supporting the wide range of mobile devices is difficult. But actively preventing third parties from helping in this seems counter-productive.

    Everyone accepts that with limited resources you have to devote your efforts to the most popular devices. But it's far from clear that your list of supported devices represents the list of most widely deployed smartphones in the UK. If you know better, perhaps you'd care to share that data.

    To say that Android is best supported by a Flash option, when you have gone out of your way to make a non-Flash option for iPhones just seems partisan. Especially when a lot of technically-minded people say that you could make the iPhone (or Symbian) streams available to the Android platform with minimal effort.

    And, finally, the iPlayer help doesn't mention Android phones at all. It does explain how to use iPlayer with iPad, so it can't simply be argued that it's out of date. Many HTC Desire users will be surprised that they have a YouTube app, but no iPlayer: couldn't you at least have the decency to give them an indication about why this is.

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  • 59. At 09:58am on 19 Jul 2010, Nick Reynolds wrote:

    Doc - David's post is precisely designed to give an indication of why the BBC is doing what it is doing. You may also find this blog post helpful.

    It may be that iPlayer help is out of date and if it is I will raise it with the appropriate team.

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  • 60. At 8:05pm on 19 Jul 2010, Mo wrote:

    Okay, this should hopefully be the most straightforward of all questions.

    The blog post states:

    “The best way to bring BBC iPlayer to earlier versions of Android (which don't support Flash), is to develop an app.“

    On what basis was this determination made? In other words, what factors were taken into account in order to reach this conclusion, especially given everything stated above?

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  • 61. At 09:21am on 20 Jul 2010, Paul Jakma wrote:

    From a tweet by Paul Battley (threedaymonk): "Google has just discontinued the only Android phone that can actually use the BBC iPlayer."

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  • 62. At 4:32pm on 21 Jul 2010, Mo wrote:

    Regarding comment 61, GigaOm has a chart showing penetration of various different Android versions (yes, if you look closely, 2.2 is on there. just).

    http://gigaom.com/2010/07/21/finally-58-8-of-android-handsets-run-a-recent-os-version/

    Of course, this is international, so no idea if the proportions are at all different in the UK -- it's quite unlikely they would be for 2.2, at least.

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  • 63. At 1:20pm on 23 Jul 2010, Tiggs wrote:

    Ooh! Native smartphone apps have finally been approved by the Trust.

    So, when do we get a real iPlayer presence on Android? One that works on older smartphones, or for those who find Flash a resource hog?

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