How far should the BBC open the iPlayer?

BBC iPlayer
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StrategyEye reports that the BBC is to share iPlayer technology with its rivals. In fact the sharing plan goes beyond this–including the use of the iPlayer brand, which BBC has heavily invested in over the past few years:

ITV and Channel 4 will rebrand their online VoD services as iPlayer if the technology sharing plan is enacted, reports the Guardian. As well as saving money for its competitors, BBC sources claim the high-speed platform will become an industry standard.

This is a good step towards enacting the benefits of a BBC Public License, potentially going even further than I had expected, to include sharing the brand equity of iPlayer.

One hopes it won’t be limited to Channel 4 and ITV but also be available with anyone with video content they want to share. Why limit it to those who are already on the inside of the media inner circle? It raises the bar for genuinely new entrants into the field.

One alternative might be for iPlayer to become a distribution platform akin to Sky or Freeview. The BBC could spin it out and build a commercial, arms length relationship with Iplayer; as could ITV, C4, Sky and your next door neighbour. In this case the BBC would open the technology, the brand asset and the ownership to the public. Nice.

As a license payer I am all for turning a cost line in the license fee into a capital asset on the balance sheet of the Beeb.

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  1. Posted December 10, 2008 at 11:37 am | Permalink

    I’m not sure this is a good idea in the long term.

    Why would the commercial sector invest in development work, if they know that the BBC is going to give them whatever it develops for free?

    And without competition, you get stagnation. Where is the incentive for the commercial companies to develop products *better* than the BBC?

    It would be far better for the BBC to simply release its code under an open source license – that way, there’s the opportunity for others to take what they’ve built and improve it. Plus, of course, it would be open not only to large commercial “rivals”, but to any technology company, no matter how large or small.

  2. Pierre Far
    Posted December 10, 2008 at 12:29 pm | Permalink

    The last bit of the quote you have from Strategy Eye is a bit troubling:

    “will become an industry standard”

    The problem here is how open the standard is. Is it a UK telecom standard (akin to having an ISO, ITU standard or specific examples like USB, Bluetooth and WiFi) that any compatible software will be able to access? Or will it be developed by the BBC only who will have complete lock and control about its future?

    The latter can be “an industry standard” just like the Windows API is an industry standard.

    The question as you suggest is how open and public the license is. If it’s truly open, then I’m all for it. If not, then we’re just handing the BBC a monopoly.

    More related questions: Will there be an industry body? Who will be on it? What license will the code be released under, if any? What about copyright? Will users be able to upload and share their content with iPlayer (like a national P2P network)?

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