Has the BBC been "corrupted" by Microsoft?

Has the BBC been It’s no secret that I’m critical of the BBC’s decision to buy into Microsoft’s DRM solution for its recently launched Internet TV catch-up service, iPlayer. In a post titled ‘BBC’s iPlayer and the Windows DRM monopoly‘, I expressed my bemusement that, after four years of R&D and three million pounds of funding, the corporation needed to outsource its DRM solution in the first place. However, I never went as far as to accuse the BBC of being corrupt, which is precisely what The Free Software Foundation (FSF) has done, alleging that the public service broadcaster’s management is too close to Microsoft.

The Register reports:

… the FSF says the appointment of Erik Huggers, the former director of Microsoft’s Windows digital media division, as the BBC’s controller of the future media and technology group in May this year, is evidence of Redmond-driven corruption of the BBC’s core values.

The FSF goes on to accuse the Beeb of handing over “complete control” to the U.S.-based company, effectively giving up “the fight for open access”. Protests are being organized by the FSF, to take place next Tuesday outside BBC Television Centre in London and the corporation’s Manchester offices.

While I have no inside knowledge of what drove the BBC to choose Microsoft’s solution, appointing a former director of the Windows Media division, doesn’t look good. On the other hand, it could be argued that Huggers’ appointment is, in itself, value-for-money, if he was recruited after the BBC had already made its technology choice.

What do you think? Has the BBC has been corrupted by Microsoft?

Need more iPlayer? Look out for our full review this Monday.

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.

5 Responses to “Has the BBC been "corrupted" by Microsoft?”

  1. Matt S says:

    I tend to think that Microsoft is becoming a Framework company kind of akin to Sun in it’s glory days. Microsoft has a fairly full circle solution to this stuff so it isn’t a shock that an enterprise would pick Microsoft’s solution for deployment (especially if they are already entrenched in MS tech).

    It’s easy for technology people like myself to think that support for all desktop OS’s is important BUT I happen to know that this technology is already being tested against other desktops so it’s just a matter of time until full spectrum support is offered – Without Apple / Linux support these systems will never be supported. For now they are fine targeting the 95% of users that are on Windows.

    There is a huge business risk in the BBC opening their content with no DRM as the Content Supply Chain in video is very sophisticated (lawsuit after lawsuit).

    I’d challenge you and ask: what other options are out there for the BBC that are full circle? If they signed with iTunes would you be saying the BBC has been corrupted by Apple?

    I’m an integrator for Microsoft and one of their strategies is to toss money at people deploying MS solutions – EX// if a solution costs 1M Microsoft will pay consulting fees up to $500K to ensure their solution is selected. It’s kind of their way of doing a proof of concept in a market they don’t otherwise have a strong inroad on and winning long term license deals. If the solution succeeds they gain credibility and gain adoption. If that is what you are considering corruption then possibly this is just a legit business case that has not panned out in MS/BBC’s best interest.

    I wrote an article on Silverlight a while back that basically stated this was what Microsoft planned on doing: http://mattstark.blogspot.com/2007/05/microsoft-silverlight.html

    Just my opinion.


  2. Pete White says:

    I’m not sure if the BBC have been corrupted as they have promised an alternative for Macs and Linux. Remember that the iPlayer doesn’t work on Vista either yet.

  3. Andy says:

    “If they signed with iTunes would you be saying the BBC has been corrupted by Apple?”

    The difference is that iTunes can be had for free on Mac or windows. That still leaves everyone else out though. I think people are making a mistake thinking that the customers are not as important as the producers. The producers of ‘content’ are here for us, and paid for by us, directly or indirectly. Other ‘content’ is available on all platforms, and if producers have a problem with the systems as they exist then they should be considering seriously whether they are the kind of people who should be in the distribution business at all. They don’t do this because they can see a lot of money potential and even though distribution has changed drastically in the last few years they want to cling to the gravy train they have been on all these years.

    We should not have our equipment which we own locked down by commercial entities who have no business doing so (e..g BluRay). There are other ways. The DRM in iTunes is a good example of compromise. These large corporations such as microsoft, universal and so on have forgotten why they exist, and seem to believe that consumers exist for them rather than th eother way round.

  4. Jack says:

    > The difference is that iTunes can be had for free on Mac or windows.

    iTunes can be had for free but Apple’s FairPlay DRM is proprietary and not openly available, so the BBC could not use iTunes.

    Apple removed wmv support from the iPod (which started with a chip bought in from PortalPlayer). However, Apple will now license wmv as VC-1, because it’s needed for high-definition video. So Mac users’ problems could be solved if Apple licensed Microsoft’s DRM. This is not hard. It’s not the BBC’s fault.

    I would have preferred the BBC to choose a different system, or better still, not use DRM at all. (I am against DRM.) But since it says has no choice, for rights reasons, I can’t really blame it for going with the same system as other TV broadcasters, including Sky and Channel 4 in the UK.

    Otherwise, the idea that the BBC has been “corrupted” by Microsoft is, to be frank, insane. I expect it’s an anti-DRM publicity stunt on the part of the FSF, of which I’m normally a keen supporter. Unfortunately this is going to damage the FSF much more than it damages the BBC. If the FSF wants mainstream support, it should try to avoid looking like a bunch of cranks.

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