BBC iPlayer grows up

As if to prove the point I just made, along comes news that the BBC has done a deal to offer its services free via The Cloud wifi; and that we’ll be getting a Flash-based streaming version of the notoriously XP-only iPlayer ‘from the end of the year’. Here’s a specific story – more than one actually – which bloggers could really get their teeth into. Suck them all into a ‘virtual group blog’, and bob’s your uncle. But how did they possibly choose tonight to announce it??

In theory at least, a Flash-powered streaming iPlayer is a win-win all round, tackling at a stroke virtually all the concerns I expressed in my initial analysis. Instant access to the shows, with full-screen quality if we assume the latest version of the Flash player (with the H264 codec) will be mandatory. Cross-platform compatibility, instantly silencing iPlayer’s main criticism. Plus in all likelihood, a much nicer user interface… maybe even an AIR-based desktop client? And for Adobe, this gives them a terrific ‘poster child’. TechCrunch’s post last week about the precarious position of Joost suddenly seems extremely well-timed.

Of course, the tie-up with The Cloud will prove much more controversial. It’s probably the right thing to do, giving us widespread access to content we’ve already paid for, using the least bandwidth-intensive mechanism available. But if there are to be ‘a number of relationships with wifi operators’, surely it would have been more politically astute to announce deals with several networks at once? Instead it’ll just fuel more anticompetitive talk… and distract from the genuine step forward on iPlayer.

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