The BBC’s iPlayer (see our earlier review) will roll out a streaming option later this year, in a move that will finally make the UK-only TV catchup service available to Mac and Linux users, in addition to those using a Windows-based PC.
Described as a “strategic partnership”, by Erik Huggers, BBC future media and technology group controller, the new version of iPlayer will use Flash video technology from Adobe, and is said to compliment the existing Windows-only download version of the service, which utilizes Microsoft’s Windows Media software.
“It is important to ensure that BBC iPlayer is available on as many platforms as possible”, said Huggers. “It will offer our audiences increased flexibility as to how and when they consume our content, both live and on-demand… With a complete end-to-end workflow, Adobe’s video solutions will revolutionize how we create and deliver content to audiences in the digital age.”
Although it doesn’t appear that the BBC is abandoning Microsoft’s technology altogether — the Adobe partnership is described as “non-exclusive” — many had predicted that the iPlayer would eventually overcome its lack of cross-platform compatibility by transitioning to Silverlight, Microsoft’s newly launched Flash competitor.
Whilst it’s tempting to interpret the BBC’s decision to partner with Adobe as a political one, since it both solves the Mac and Linux issue and answers critics who accused the public broadcaster of being too close to Redmond (Huggers himself used to be the former director of Microsoft’s Windows digital media division), there are a number of other compelling reasons for choosing Flash.
The Flash browser-based player has established itself as the industry standard for streaming video, after its adoption by sites such as YouTube, propelled by a large existing user base — Adobe claims the Flash player is installed on 99.3% of Internet-connected desktops. In contrast, Silverlight isn’t yet a proven technology and, having only just launched, doesn’t have nearly the number of users that Adobe boasts.
The road map for Flash also looks impressive, with newly added support for the much more efficient H.264 video codec, which is a capable of scaling all the way up to HD, and the announcement that Flash Lite 3, the next version of Flash that runs on mobile phones and other portable devices, will feature video support.
The BBC has always said it wants to bring iPlayer to as many different platforms and devices as possible, and it looks like Adobe will be the one to help realize this.