Sunday, September 25, 2005

BBC's Internet TV trial ready to go

The Wall Street Journal is taking notice of the BBC's moves to mainstream the Internet and integrate it with its broadcast activities. Aaron Patrick of the WSJ points out the Beeb's trial, beginning later this month, to issue its iMP (interactive media player) to about 5,000 selected UK viewers to allow them to download and watch most of the BBC's television content for up to seven days. (This is apparently the same program as the MyBBC player Doctor Media previously referred to in blog entries here and here.) "No other broadcaster has made so many shows available for download to computers," notes Patrick. He goes on: "The BBC hopes its iMP software will become the iTunes of Internet television, allowing viewers to customize their TV schedules over the course of a week."

Amazingly, the iMP uses peer-to-peer file-sharing/networking software similar to that designed for Napster and Kazaa (software that triggered a "music-sharing free-for-all" on the Internet). In this form of peer-to-peer networking,

    iMP users will be required to share the downloads with each other. As programs spread from computer to computer, most iMP users will actually download them from other people instead of the BBC. That means the broadcaster won't have to buy Internet capacity to transmit large computer files to millions of people.

The BBC's move shows how far ahead it has moved from U.S. broadcasters in this regard. U.S. networks, fearful of what they've seen happen with musical downloads, have so far only toyed with internet television, and refused to make complete shows available for download (although of course countless TV shows are in any case illegally obtained off the Internet thanks to software such as BitTorrent). The BBC is trying to make the whole process legal and above board. Patrick quotes Nancy Cassutt, vice president of content at Internet Broadcasting Systems Inc.: "What the BBC is doing is what every network Web site here in America is trying to do -- discover what works online." It helps of course that the BBC doesn't have to worry about shareholders and making profits as it tries out this bold new experiment.

The trial should last for three months, and if it's successful (and why wouldn't it be!), Auntie "plans to make the iMP freely available in the U.K. next year, becoming the first TV network to show its entire schedule over the Internet."

But remember, you'll have to live in the UK to get this.


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