Opinion: BBC iPlayer's platform restrictions are a joke

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stu-mugshot2.jpgStuart Dredge writes…

I was going to write a proper in-depth review of the BBC’s new iPlayer catch-up TV service, which launched in beta on Friday. But then I found out my PC is too new. Yeah, I know. I can finally run Second Life and play Football Manager with a few leagues running at once, but I can’t use iPlayer.

Why? Well, my PC came with Windows Vista as its operating system, which iPlayer doesn’t support. And in any case, I use the Firefox browser, which iPlayer doesn’t support. Oh, and it also requires Windows Media Player.

I’m not one for BBC-bashing, but Christ, how on earth did four years of development and heaven knows how much money result in a service that’s so narrow in terms of the software it’ll run on?

On one level, Windows XP / Internet Explorer / Windows Media Player isn’t exactly a niche of users, but it does leave out anyone who’s bought a new PC in recent months, anyone who’s ditched IE for other browsers, and a comparatively small but mouthy base of Mac and Linux users.

Without getting all Daily Mail and banging on about WHY IS MY LICENCE FEE BEING SPENT ON THIS RUBBISH, the Beeb’s status as a public service broadcaster means it’s duty-bound to make its content – whether TV, radio or internet – available to as wide a segment of the population as possible. It’s done great work with Freeview for digital TV, for example, while its internet sites are a model for design usability, whatever browser or device you’re using to access them.

So what went wrong with iPlayer? Is it the DRM required to ensure we can’t cheat and continue to watch Eastenders downloads after we’re supposed to? Why are you restricted to a single web browser AND media player – shouldn’t the restriction extend to one or the other? And all this is before I get purple-faced about not being able to watch these shows on my iPod or PSP.

To be fair, the iPlayer is in beta, and it’s early days for the service – it’ll work with more software and devices as time goes on. Hopefully. But after all the build-up, and the genuine interest and excitement about how the Beeb is going to tackle this Telly 2.0 lark, to discover that I can’t use it because I’ve just bought a new computer is frankly enraging.

I don’t care if the reason I never won a Blue Peter badge is because they were fixing the phone votes. And as far as I’m concerned, the BBC can call the Queen a grumpy old bat as much as it likes. But launch a whizzy Web 2.0 service that I can’t use? Ooh, I’m fuming

Stuart Dredge is editor-in-chief of Tech Digest, and always preferred Joost anyway. Bah.

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Stuart Dredge