BBC's Internet TV catch-up-service could face European Commision scrutiny

BBC logoThe Open Source Consortium (OSC) is threatening to lodge a complaint with the European Commision over the BBC’s soon-to-be launched iPlayer. The UK-only Internet TV catch-up service utilizes Microsoft’s DRM technology, and so won’t work on non-Windows operating systems such as Mac or Linux, which, the OSC says, will force viewers to buy or use a PC, giving Microsoft an unfair and uncompetitive advantage.

Although the decision on what operating systems to support is usually a commercial one, the BBC faces wider criticism because of its public service broadcaster status, and the fact that the corporation is funded by British tax payers.

From BBC news:

“The BBC has a mandate to provide equal access to people irrespective of platform,” said Mark Taylor, president of OSC. “We don’t think it is appropriate to lock people into a particular desktop technology. We believe the BBC has a higher duty of care than a purely commercial organisation.”

Accusing the BBC of encouraging lock-in, the OSC compares the situation to if the BBC offered programmes that were only viewable on certain makes of television.

In a rather feeble response, a BBC statement reads:

“The BBC aims to make its content as widely available as possible and has always taken a platform agnostic approach to its Internet services.

“It is not possible to put an exact timeframe on when BBC iPlayer will be available for Mac users. However, we are working to ensure this happens as soon as possible and the BBC Trust will be monitoring progress on a six monthly basis.”

The BBC Trust is the government-appointed body charged with overseeing the corporation, and approved the BBC’s Windows-only iPlayer plans, as Microsoft’s technology works on the most commonly used operating system and provides an off-the-shelf DRM solution which will enable the broadcaster to limit playback to thirty days and prevent content from being burned to DVD.

However, the trust has asked the BBC to ensure its iPlayer works on Macs and other platforms within a time-frame of two years. This, says the BBC, can’t be guaranteed as it relies on third-parties — read: Microsoft — co-operating. Alternatively, the corporation would have to find a new cross-platform DRM provider which can match the feature-set of Microsoft’s solution.

Update: In a press release, the BBC has announced the launch date for a public Beta of iPlayer: 27th July. A number of re-announcements were also made, such as that clips will appear on YouTube to encourage links back to iPlayer, and that content will also be made available on Virgin’s on-demand cable service. The BBC is also in discussion with a wide range of additional potential distribution partners, including MSN, telegraph.co.uk, AOL, Tiscali, Yahoo!, MySpace, Blinkx and Bebo.

With regards to a Mac or Linux version, the press release gives mention to it, but with no timescale. On the other hand, a BBC news article suggests — rather ambiguously — it could be as early as autumn.

last100 is edited by Steve O'Hear. Aside from founding last100, Steve is co-founder and CEO of Beepl and a freelance journalist who has written for numerous publications, including TechCrunch, The Guardian, ZDNet, ReadWriteWeb and Macworld, and also wrote and directed the Silicon Valley documentary, In Search of the Valley. See his full profile and disclosure of his industry affiliations.

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