BBC makes 500 hours of TV and radio available in latest download trial.
The BBC is to recruit 5,000 homes in the UK to participate in the first trial of its Interactive Media Player or iMP. The only stipulation will be that recipients have high speed internet access.
The corporation calls its service the ‘iTunes for the broadcast industry’ as it allows viewers to download any show from the previous week that they may have missed. Unlike PVRs like Sky+, viewers will not have to signal their chosen programmes in advance, allowing critically acclaimed shows to benefit retrospectively from favourable publicity or word of mouth.
Even more excitingly, the BBC is developing the service alongside the Creative Archive, which aims to make the corporation’s huge library of classic shows available for download. It will plans to keep costs down by taking advantage of peer to peer technology to distribute the content. Instead of storing the material itself, those who sign up will share the weight of the downloads among themselves. Inbuilt digital rights management software ensured that users cannot keep the programmes for longer than seven days, transfer them to disk or send them to friends. It remains to be seen how hacker-proof this will be.
The BBC’s interactive radio player is already live and adds millions to the radio division’s listening figures. Some shows, such as Radio 1′s Essential Selection, have as many ‘catch up’ listeners online as they do broadcast live.
The BBC was burned earlier this year by the trend for illegally downloading shows when the first episode of Doctor Who became available on Bittorrent. Conspiracy theorists suggest that the leak was a deliberate attempt to build hype and credibility for the show.
While live sporting events, popular reality tv shows (though clearly not Celebrity Love Island) and soaps still attract big audiences, broadcasters are expecting viewers to ‘time shift’ more and more programmes and watch them on demand.
There are currently over seven million UK homes with broadband whilst companies such as Microsoft are developing new devices that merge home computers with plasma screen TVs. This would solve the problem of viewers desiring HDTV versions of programming.
BBC executives are already terming the IMP service ‘martini media’ in that it gives the audience the opportunity to consume content ‘any time, any place, anywhere’. It is also perfectly fulfills the BBC’s remit as a public service broadcaster and may well see it yet survive in the age of media convergence.