BBC commits to ending Microsoft iPlayer monopoly

17 Dec 2007

After a meeting with the Open Source Consortium (OSC), the BBC Trust has restated its commitment to ending the BBC’s promotion of Microsoft through its Windows Media Player-dependent iPlayer catch-up service.

When iPlayer launched in July, viewers needed to have a Microsoft operating system to use the service. The BBC recently launched a seven-day streaming option that allows non-Windows owners to use the service.

The BBC Trust declared that it is committed to developing a platform-agnostic solution for the full TV catch-up service on BBC iPlayer.

“We are pleased that the BBC Trust continues to engage with us and take our concerns seriously,” said Mark Taylor, president of the Open Source Consortium. “The seven-day streaming service is elegant and attractive and, most importantly, can be used on any computer and most mobile devices without unnecessary concern with technology. Instead, consumers can choose on the more important criteria of price and performance.

“However, we remain concerned that the 30-day catch-up service is exclusively provided only for newer versions of Microsoft operating systems and are pleased that the BBC Trust continues to share our concern that iPlayer be made technology-agnostic at the earliest opportunity.”

The OSC met BBC management to outline how it could deliver an open iPlayer that would meet all rights holders’ concerns.

“We think it would be easily possible to use the BBC’s existing, world-leading Free Software solutions in an open iPlayer. We sincerely hope the BBC will take this further,” said Taylor.

“When we met the BBC Trust, we pointed to the European Court of First Instance judgment in September 2007, confirming that Microsoft has illegally tied Windows Media Player to its Windows operating system and that it should not use its dominant position in operating systems to leverage parallel markets, including circumventing this requirement through commercial arrangements.

“It is unfortunate that iPlayer has the effect of undermining that decision and we think it is important that the BBC moves away from a position that could be preventing competition in operating systems.

“The streaming iPlayer — together with the recent launch of fully featured, low-cost computers, based on the secure and stable Linux operating system — will provide an attractive contribution to overcoming the digital divide and providing a safe entry point to the knowledge economy.”

A statement from the BBC Trust read: “The BBC Trust is committed to a platform-agnostic solution for the TV catch-up service on BBC iPlayer, as specified in the On-demand Services PVT. The trust received a platform neutrality report from BBC management in November 2007. The trust is satisfied that progress has been made towards achieving platform-neutrality for the TV catch-up service.

“The trust notes that a streaming solution has been implemented, which will be a partial solution to the issues. The trust welcomes the addition of streaming functionality, but remains committed to the TV catch-up service being delivered as a platform-agnostic application within a reasonable timeframe. Management will present their next report to the trust in spring 2008.”

The Open Source Consortium said it had volunteered to share its view ahead of the April 2008 trust review on how platform neutrality for iPlayer might be implemented while meeting the BBC’s rights obligations.

By Niall Byrne