Last time we surveyed the UK’s live and on-demand Internet TV landscape (back in July 07), it was a bare-bones affair. The BBC’s iPlayer was Windows-only and hadn’t yet launched out of private beta, while rival broadcaster offerings were lacking content and, like the iPlayer itself, crippled by DRM and the need to install additional and sometimes conflicting software.
How things have changed.
Today, TV watching Brits are spoilt with choice when it comes to live and on-demand online from the 6 main UK broadcasters, along with a number of aggregators, including the newly launched SeeSaw, the closest yet to the US Hulu.
Read on for our full guide:
1. BBC iPlayer
BBC iPlayer has the most helpfully laid out video on demand site in the UK. However, the newer version of the site (currently on show at http://beta.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/) adds to this with an impressive new design. As ever, there is access to a TV schedule so you can find what was on when, for each channel.
The front page of the site has a small section that displayes featured programmes in each genre. However, clicking the “Show All” button takes you to a full listing for that genre. Down the side category pages are a list of all categories, which when clicked expand to show a list of sub-categories, and how many programmes are in each. Each of these pages have options to list programmes by how recently they were broadcast, or as a full A-Z list.
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3UK’s CEO talks about how the network is planning to address its ‘legacy perception problem’ and why bidding for the iPad would be like trying to sign a premiership footballer
I’ve just got back from a fascinating press briefing with mobile carrier 3UK’s CEO Kevin Russell and CTO Graham Baxter, billed as a discussion of the “themes, trends and challenges that will shape the mobile industry in the UK in 2010.” Although the subtext was something more along the lines of: how is 3 addressing what was described as its legacy perception problem.
People still, wrongly or rightly, often associate the network with poor coverage and/or service. This despite the fact that the network’s coverage and capacity has and is improving and that in my view 3 is one of the most, if not the most, innovative of the UK networks, especially on pricing, data services and positioning.
Here’s what I learnt during two presentations and the very frank Q&A that took place afterwards:
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In case you didn’t hate PowerPoint presentations enough already, here’s another reason. The native iPhone app for iPlayer – the BBC’s TV catchup service – was a mockup. It doesn’t actually exist outside of PowerPoint, reports Macworld UK.
BBC blogger Nick Reynolds has responded to speculation based on a press pack issued by the Beeb which appeared to feature images of the app by saying that “the images are old images and should not be taken to mean that anything is likely to happen soon. Since the images seem to have provoked unnecessary speculation we’ll probably update the pack later today and remove them.”
So there you have it, no iPlayer app for iPhone – yet.
Or presumably anytime soon.
It looks like a proper iPlayer app for the iPhone (and iPod touch) is on its way. A recent press pack issued by the BBC includes images of a dedicated iPhone app for the TV catchup service.
Of most interest is that unlike the current browser-based offering for Apple’s iconic smartphone it appears that the new app will support both streaming and downloads. This was thought to be near-impossible given the iPhone’s lack of support for any ‘standard’ form of copy-protection, a necessary evil given the way the Beeb licenses third-party content, and will bring it in-line with existing versions of iPlayer for Symbian and Windows Mobile.
As it stands, when asked to recommend a smartphone I usually try to ascertain if iPlayer support is a priority. If it is, and downloads are in particular (better battery life, off-line playback), I’ll more often than not point them towards a Nokia.
Soon that may no longer be the case.
The version of iPlayer optimized for the PlayStation 3 has been given a major update that delivers improved video quality and a User Interface designed for High Definition televisions that operate up to 1080p.
That explains why Sony’s recent advertising blitz for the games console is pushing the Beeb’s UK-only TV catch-up service pretty hard, along with the company’s own video download service that only recently launched this side of the pond.
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While the U.S. version launched all the way back in July 08, it’s been a long wait for users across the pond. Along with announcing a new slimmer version of the PS3 and a bunch of other service enhancements, yesterday Sony revealed that the PlayStation video store will be opening its doors to parts of Europe from November this year.
Film companies Lionsgate, Paramount, MGM, Walt Disney, Fox, Universal and Warner Bros have been signed up by Sony, which will result in the delivery of “hundreds of movies straight to your PS3 and PSP,” Sony’s Andrew House has confirmed at the Gamescom Sony press conference in Cologne. These films will be purchasable using the usual wallet system, and the store will be rolled out in other territories throughout 2010.
While Sony will get there in the end — the company was already playing catchup in the games console delivered online video space even in the U.S. — the hold up is likely to be the usual issue of content licensing. Striking deals in one territory doesn’t guarantee speedy success in another.
In related news, Sony also announced that in the UK, the version of the BBC’s iPlayer TV catchup service for the PlayStation 3 will be promoted through the console’s ‘What’s new’ section being introduced as part of a new firmware update.
BBC iPlayer on the Creative Zen X-Fi
Yesterday, I was out tech shopping with a friend and a simple brief. Purchase a 4-8 GB flash-based MP3 player, and one that wasn’t an iPod. What we came away with was the Creative Zen X-Fi, which isn’t the newest of players but has its fair share of iPod-trumping features nonetheless. Top of the list is the ability to ‘side load’ content downloaded from the BBC’s TV catch-up service, iPlayer. That’s because the Zen supports Windows Media DRM, needed because of the way the BBC licenses content for download so that it will only be playable seven days after broadcast. (Obviously, you’ll need to be a Windows user in the first place, which is far from ideal.) The advantage of downloading rather than streaming iPlayer, of course, is that you don’t need to be connected to the Internet while viewing the content.
A couple of other features that I really like about the Zen X-Fi is the external speaker for communal viewing, the SD card slot so that the storage capability can be expanded, and that music, pictures and videos can be drag ‘n’ dropped both ways – to and from a PC via USB – while in mass storage mode. Take that iPod/iTunes.
BBC iPlayer uncovered
Regular readers of this blog will know that I’m a huge fan of the BBC’s iPlayer; that’s why I named it as one of the top ten Digital Lifestyle products of 08.
And I’m not alone.
In a fascinating interview conducted by CNet UK’s Nate Lanxon, the BBC’s iPlayer head honcho Anthony Rose reveals that, at its peak, the service delivers 12.5 gigabytes per second of video, totaling about 7 petabytes of data transfer a month!
Other key stats…
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Live BBC TV and radio streaming (UK-only) is now available on Nokia’s flagship N96 and the all touch screen XpressMusic 5800 aka The Tube, reports All About Symbian.
The complete range of BBC television channels are accessible, including digital, along with the public broadcaster’s full radio lineup. AAS describes the picture quality as “not brilliant”, with a frame size of 176 by 144 pixels, although this can be scaled up to full screen in the S60 version of RealPlayer.
See also: Hands-on: BBC iPlayer for Nokia N96
Not a Nokia first
As readers may remember, last September, in a slightly controversial move, the BBC announced that it had developed a version of iPlayer for the Nokia N96 that supported both streaming and downloads – a first for mobile – despite the fact that the handset hadn’t yet been released in the UK and therefore had a market share of zero. This left the BBC open to criticism that it was favoring one commercial player over others. Instead, why hadn’t it chosen to support equivalent handsets that viewers already owned rather than one that was yet to hit the market?
Part of the reason was technology, the N96 has an updated version of RealPlayer and the necessary Digital Rights Management functionality, along with the BBC betting on the device selling well in the UK or at least being picked up by carriers (the latter is certainly true). The same criticism, however, can’t be levvied this time around. As we reported back in December, live BBC TV and radio streaming was introduced as part of an updated mobile iPlayer site compatible with the Samsung Omnia, Sony Ericsson Xperia X1 and C905.
It’s getting hard to keep up, with the BBC rolling out new versions of its UK-only seven day Internet TV catch-up service on what feels like an almost monthly basis. This time iPlayer support has been added to a whole bunch of recently released mobile phones.
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