BBC to open iPlayer technology to third parties

The BBC will open the iPlayer to third-party broadcasters to allow them to create their own versions of the video-on-demand platform, the Corporation has announced.

BBC iPlayer
BBC iPlayer

Speaking at media technology conference IBC 2009 in Amsterdam, BBC director of future media & technology Eric Huggers said the BBC was looking at how it could work with international broadcasters.

Until now the iPlayer has been exclusively for BBC content. However, according to Huggers, searches on iPlayer for non-BBC content were prominent, so working with external partners made sense.

“We’ve had a lot of requests from domestic and international broadcasters to open out iPlayer technology and we’re responding to that,” he said. “We have a lot of people searching for Coronation Street on our sites and if ITV were to come on board we could redirect them.”

The Open iPlayer initiative marks the official launch of the project formerly known internally to the BBC as Marquee and is intended to encourage a write-once, publish-anywhere specification for the iPlayer.

“The concept of opening up our investment and technology infrastructure, user experience and design is central for us in helping other broadcasters achieve their goals of continuing to have a direct relationship with users rather than being disintermediated by third-party aggregators,” Huggers said.

Sharing the software behind iPlayer with third parties may also bring additional revenues for the BBC. The mechanics have yet to be worked out, said Huggers, but could potentially involve a licensing arragement.

“The iPlayer isn’t something you can stick on a DVD, install and run,” he said. “We can offer other free-to-air broadcasters a chance to share in our investment and get into on-demand.”

There are currently 23 versions of the iPlayer, he revealed, adding that the cost of formatting different versions is becoming “problematic”.

“The industry should rise to the occasion and solve this. How can it be that as broadcasters we’re in a position where the tuner decides how we broadcast content?”

Huggers also revealed that in the week since the relaunch of the iPlayer on the Sony PS3, it had receieved 10% of total iPlayer views delivered by the internet.

“That’s stunning,” he said. “Whether it stays at that level or it’s a fad, I don’t know, but that’s exciting,” he said.

Earlier this month the BBC was urged by Five CEO Dawn Airey to consider charging viewers for iPlayer and online content to avoid crippling commercial rivals (nma 1 September 2009).

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