Save the BBC from Windows DRM! - Update

The BBC has a long and glorious past as a technological innovator. Throughout the history of broadcasting, it has often been the first to develop and promote new technologies. Sadly, it seems now to be teetering on the brink of making technical choices that will not only damage its own reputation as a world-class institution, but which will also have serious knock-on consequences for free software.

As the worlds of computing and media began increasingly to overlap, it was inevitable that the BBC would need to make decisions about which formats and licensing schemes it would adopt for digital versions of its content that were delivered over the Internet.

To begin with, it offered RealMedia streams for its Audio on Demand service, which meant that GNU/Linux users were on an equal footing with those running Windows. Even more promising was the BBC's participation in the Creative Archive project. This was set up in April 2005 by the BBC and several other major UK institutions to make archive video and audio material available under the Creative Archive licence, which was based on the Creative Commons licences. As well as offering liberal licensing terms, the Creative Archive also chose to release the material in a variety of formats - Quicktime, Windows Media and MPEG1 - to promote the widest possible use.

Against this background, then, the hopes were obviously high that the BBC's latest foray into Internet broadcasting, its on-demand service that would allow people to download television and radio programmes after they were broadcast, would continue this even-handed approach and support all computer platforms.

But the current recommendations contain a real shocker, a consequence of the fact that the BBC has decided to use DRM in its new iPlayer software to control how on-demand material is viewed. That's bad enough, if understandable given the hideously complicated situation concerning the rights to the material that the BBC wants to make available. But worse is how it has decided to implement this approach. As the report explains:

the files would require DRM to ensure that they were appropriately restricted in terms of time and geographic consumption. The only system that currently provides this security is Windows Media 10 and above. Further, the only comprehensively deployed operating system that currently supports Windows Media Player 10 and above is the Windows XP operating system. As a result of these DRM requirements the proposed BBC iPlayer download manager element therefore requires Windows Media Player 10 and Windows XP.

Only those running Windows XP (or Vista) and Windows Media Player 10 will be able to access the BBC's proposed on-demand service. Users of GNU/Linux (and the Apple Macintosh for that matter) are to be cast into the outer darkness. That's around 25% of the potential audience according to this BBC podcast, which contains a fascinating discussion of many of the key issues around this decision. From this it also emerges that the reason that the BBC felt obliged to take this route was because “doing something is better than doing nothing



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DRM is evil

Katee's picture

It's money is made by selling content to other broadcasters or on DVD etc. And more importantly, by a compulsory license paid by everyone who has a TV set or equipment capable of receiving a broadcast TV signal. It doesn't have to make a profit, and if required, it could decide to only show BBC produced content on this new service, and set the terms of allowing others to use the service. The purpose of a DRM like system in this case, is not to keep the content producers happy, but to avoid competing with DVD sales and the like. Ya, that's true

Any Surprise?

Free Games's picture

Living in the UK, I'm not surprised by BBC's choices at all. Frankly, the company is just living on past glory. I've long moved away from their broadcasts...

Save the BBC from Windows DRM!

Cody's picture

25% is alot of viewership to be losing out on. I think the BBC should rethink their decision on not including GNU/Linux and Mac users in their business plan.


Anonymous's picture

DRM is here and will not go away. What's needed is open DRM. The fact that it's open will probably mean it will be stronger, not weaker.
The BBC could insist on an open DRM technology - even fund one.

BBC once streamed in OGG Vorbis

Tom M.'s picture

I remember when the BBC was offering their streams of the BBC World Service, Radio 4 and others in Ogg Vorbis format. Sadly, I was informed by the guy who ran the project that political pressures made him abandon it.

It's a real shame. The BBC should be doing all its streams in Ogg Vorbis. RealAudio/RealVideo is hideous and proprietary.

Maybe the BBC are in danger

Rob's picture

Maybe the BBC are in danger of breaching their own Fair Trade Guidelines:

In particular 1.14, 3.47, 3.48, 3.50 & 4.4

We're working on it

Political Penguin's picture

To be fair to the BBC they are still consulting on this issue and there's a good movement on the left of politics in UK campaigning for a non-DRM approach to the BBC's new on demand system.
It's widely considered that the BBC was just trying to be lazy because hooking up with a Microsoft DRM system was easy to do.
There is however a fundamental problem with this approach as it excludes those who do not use a particular proprietary operating system and as the BBC is a public sector and public service broadcasting organisation they have a duty to serve everyone.
Personally I won't be too happy given I pay £130 a year to fund them is they do go down the line with Microsoft, but as I said, we're working on it.

What happens when we are

A BBC FAN's picture

What happens when we are tied into solution and then the BBC are asked to pay a huge fee, my licence fee will go up. Sorry what am I thinking, for a moment I thought that if a company had cornered the market it may be tempted to get every last penny for it, silly me. Imagine it’d be like UK Freeview TV channels going under the Sky Satellite system only to find that the rules change once you’re tied in.

The US has a better chance of winning the World Cup

xtd's picture

The BBC has a very poor track record of following its own mission of using open standards and supporting them.

Its hard for anyone to believe "BBC Executive aspires to offer an alternative DRM framework, which would enable Apple and Linux users to access the service, but has yet to identify a satisfactory solution. In either case, we will expect this to have been addressed within 24 months."

This statement is rubbish. 24 months just to address the issue? How much longer will it take to roll out the solution? Another 24 months?
Those of us whom work with mixed/different platforms we have had this 24 month smoke screen blown up our ars.. for years and we expect better from corporations like the BBC.

Most of us feel that the US has a better chance of winning a World Cup before the BBC identifies a satisfactory solution and rolls out the solution.

We know that there are many solutions to this problem and they could be rolled out at the same time as the Microsoft solution. With this in mind its not hard for one to conclude there is a 24 month lock-in between the BBC and Microsoft.

Using DRM is pointless

Richard's picture

Using DRM is pointless because it can be easily circumvented. Anyone who thinks there is more to the argument than this is an idiot.

DRM is nonsense, but,...

Anonymous's picture

DRM is nonsense, yes,... technically.
MS does not care.
Looking on P2P nets or TiVo examples:
whatever we (tech) say,
lawyers continue users harassment.
Just curious: what islands' taxpayers think about corporation
they are sponsoring?

Where they get "blocking out

Anonymous's picture

Where they get "blocking out 25% of the audience" from I've no Idea windows is on 90%+ of all the worlds desktops. 25% is complete fiction.

The BBC has to use DRM because they don't exclusively own the material that they are making available which has resulted in lots of use restrictions being imposed which they originally did not intend to do. They have limited resources and have to spend their money on what will cater to the largest market share primarily.

What they have said is that they will support apple/linux if there is a demand for it.

However the results of ANY servey they are taking have been massively skewed as the rally calls for people to take the survey have appeared mostly on apple or linux sites and in doing so they have pushed a larger segment of apple/linux users to complete the form. This has skewed the results and makes the market segment look larger than it is. Personally I have an apple and a vista media centre PC and my vista PC knocks spots off my apple for that matter Windows Media Centre does as well.

Don't knock the BBC for using MS DRM to start with they are going to support everyone it will just take time. And if you have to support someone out of the box who is going to be the best partner to develop a service like this??? Yeah thats right the biggest company in the world that's who......

Oh and for all you apple fanboys out there, apple didn't ....

A develope widgets it was first done on the PC and then ported to the apple using konfabulator which APPLE COPIED (konfabulator is owned now by Yahoo which you can still download for free)

The flash graphics in OSX where inspired by guess what? the original Vista Spec (apple having a much smaller user base got to market quicker).

For that matter they didn't even design the ipod gui they paid someone else.

And the iPhone is a brick and not even a good phone by all the reviews i've read.

Apple the great innovators..... hmmm

I hate telling people I use an apple most apple users and pios biggoted and opinionated......

I really feel sorry for you.

bjmc's picture

The subject line says it all.

Well i assumed the statistic

Gemma K's picture

Well i assumed the statistic was not of all computers, it makes sense that the "tech-savy" computer world would have a far higher incidence of Mac and Linux based computers, since we like reliable computers. Therefore of the people who will commonly use this service (or wish to use this), will be probably split at least 25% non-windows users

As far as innovation, yes apple is not some leonardo da vinci, some great force of absolutely shiny new ideas, however what apple is good at is taking a concept, and using their real talent of usability engineering produces a very workable and useful product. Spotlight, Automator and Expose are all examples of this.

If you are opposed to the iPhone that is your perogative, imho i haven't seen anything usability wise that comes close and so i eagarly await it (and the resulting competitors efforts).

Also what was vista's (sorry longhorns, sorry windows 2003s) spec... "ARRRGH Apple came up with something pretty, stable, secure and very cool, Beat it"? after all OS X has had many releases with big changes since before Windows XP came out...:P

Microsoft are going to have

Anonymous's picture

Microsoft are going to have to employ some better astroturfers.

25% Locked out is right...

Anonymous's picture

Not every version of Windows is XP or later. So 25% including Macs, Linux, Windows 2000, Windows Earlier sounds about right.

It will be WAY over 50% that gets locked out

Anonymous's picture

Whatever the proportion of desktop/laptop computers running other than Windows now, and forgetting that we don't really know what will happen in the future, there is a whole lot more devices than personal computers that might be used to watch BBC media.

There's set-top boxes, media centers for the living room of different kinds, mobile telephones, web pads, ipods and portable media players, games consoles and all sorts of nascent media playing devices which are becoming more common by the day. These devices, riding in your shirt pocket or on top of the TV set may be far more appropriate for viewing media than computers, their number may greatly OUTNUMBER that of computers running XP, and the proportion of these running Windows DRM is very, very low.

If you want to watch the *liberated* (ha!) BBC media in the train, the beach, the couch or the loo, the personal computer is far from the ideal device, with or without XP. So it is a great mistake to reduce BBC media viewing to those people sitting on a chair with a desktop or laptop computer running XP or later.

I really don’t understand

A BBC FAN's picture

I really don’t understand what is going on at the BBC, maybe it’s true that the accountants have taken over or worse external incentives are directing the BBC. Where is the pioneering spirit that takes our compulsory subscriptions into new places? BBC internet via Microsoft or BBC Freeview via a low quality SkyMedia box, yes OK, you can watch using terrestrial in some areas or on a Free to air Satellite box if you don’t require more than the next two programs EPG, VDR or interactive functions. It really is a shame that the pioneers have failed to bring a hybrid satellite and internet based media into the home, especially since the open source community have all ready completed most of the work needed. Weren’t the BBC saying last month that they where still pioneers?

You obviously haven't read

Anonymous's picture

You obviously haven't read any of the info about this they have had to choose to do this for LEGAL NOT TECHNICAL reasons.......

And have you seen the software running for this???? search for MIX06 in google and watch bill gates keynote.

It's awesome.....

Tried MIX06 but pages

Anonymous's picture

Tried MIX06 but pages wouldn't display properly on my *NIX system. Says it all, eh?

Really..... the perhaps you

A BBC FAN's picture

Really..... then perhaps you could point out the law that states which technical solution out of many possible solutions; they have had to choose this one.

Warning - careful about the BBC structure!

Chris Samuel's picture

You need to realise that the consultation exercise is being run by the BBC Trust, who have replaced the Board of Govenors as overseers, about a proposal being made by the BBC Executive.

My reading is that the Trust want to do the right thing, but have some misconceptions about DRM, and need constructive criticism of the BBC Executives proposal. As a friend of mine wrote:

The BBC Trustees are pushing to the Executive to drop the Microsoft requirement and go platform-agnostic. I recommend we all support them in this.

Blair gov't

cprise's picture

Isn't the BBC Trust what the Blair government replaced the Board of Governors with as punishment for BBC's critical attitude toward Blair's lying over Iraq?

From what I've seen, the idea of dropping the Dirac research and leaping in the direction of Microsoft came soon after the BBC's pro-American restructuring.

Having DRM for dinner, darling?

Marko Kettunen's picture

Now, this is nice. I really love it. I do!!!!!!1one

DRM? No thank you!

Hans Bezemer's picture

If the BBC's only option is to offer DRM infested files, I'll take the same stance as I did with copy protected CD's: I'll take my business elsewhere. Just now Steve Jobs has spoken out against DRM and EMI have decided to refrain from DRM, the BBC thinks it needs DRM.

I consider the inability of my Linux to play BBC's DRM infested files a FEATURE, not a flaw. It protects and warns me against those practices.

My Linux box has proven to extract tracks from DRM infested CD's quite successfully, however, you can only hit those people where it hurts: in their wallets. If nobody uses it, it will disappear by itself.

So I suggest you find some other site that shows that material. Even if it is hacked, I don't care. I've proven several times that institutions that want "ethical" behavior of their users don't behave ethical themselves. Picking a hacked file is a petty crime by comparison.

Steve jobs has spoken out

Anonymous's picture

Steve jobs has spoken out not because he's against DRM HE LOVES IT but because in Eroupe he's just about to get spanked in several european courts for unfair business practices related to itunes........

These rulings will probably result in iTunes being shut down in many eroupean countries we'll see how many ipods he sells when that happens shall we.... Get a grip he's not interested in fair play or fair use he's interested in apple's bottom line.

Most people don't understand DRM it's not a bad thing in this case. It allows the BBC to make 50 years of tv available from FREE in high quality how can people moan at that.....

DRM is losing momentum

Hans Bezemer's picture

I don't think either Jobs is crying foul for ethical reasons. It is just another sign that DRM is losing momentum.


Poots's picture

What business is it that you'll be taking elsewhere?
BBC watch again/listen again stuff is provided freely for a limited time
There's no money being made, it's part of their fulfilment of their public service broadcasting responsibility


Ispytux's picture

I pay the same license fee as everyone else. If the BBC make it impossible for me to use a substantial part of their service I presume that I would be able to expect a substantial reduction in that fee!

So what's the problem???

Hans Bezemer's picture

If there is no money to be made, why don't they offer it freely? Dutch broadcasting is doing it, no problem. The only reason you CAN have to offer stuff with DRM is that you don't want it to spread because there is money to be made somewhere or it is classified for some reason or another.

If both reasons don't apply, there is no reason for DRM. It can't be any simpler than that.

Where's the time...

Anonymous's picture

Where's the time that BBC offered Ogg Vorbis streaming...

Linus was correct about DRM

Anonymous's picture

Sad as it may be, we need an open DRM scheme. To counter the Microsofts of this world who go to media companies and claim that only they can protect the preeesssiiiooouuusss IP, an open source DRM is a necessity. We can't wait till the media companies learn that DRM is a huge mistake that both hurts their profits and DOESN'T WORK. By then Microsoft will have their usual data format lock-in in place and the real cost of conversion to open formats will be so big that nobdy will bother.

OpenDRM is out there, all it needs is support.

A properly-done DRM scheme

Anonymous's picture

A properly-done DRM scheme will never happen because anyone bright enough to implement it will stop halfway through and say: "Oh wait this isn't going to work at all."

Microsoft haven't gone to

Anonymous's picture

Microsoft haven't gone to the media companies it's the other way round. MS were fighting to get HD-DVD to be open and portable, to allow you to buy a HD-DVD drop it into your media centre PC and watch it on any media device be it a games console, your phone, laptop or portable media device it's the media companies that have put pressure on MS to do this not the other way around.

MS has had to make consessions to get support from these companies to push forward innovations......

MS have been fighting for fair use and have been stopped by the content owners. If they hadn't agreed to do stuff like this then the next gen hardware would of been prevented from appearing on PC's and consoles.....

Yeah right!

Anonymous's picture

The last time i've checked Microsoft owned 90% of the home computers, you want to tell me that the media companies can afford ignoring this market?

of course they can

Anonymous's picture

I'd expect the vast majority of people with PCs to also have a DVD player. Therefore the media companies can ignore the PC, because they'll make the sale based on the DVD player.

I Started It All.

SJobs's picture

I was the one who went to media companies and claim that only Apple can protect their precious IP, please stop giving credit to Microsoft.

Not a chance in Hades my

Anonymous's picture

Not a chance in Hades my friend.

What you propose is the ghetto mentality. Find someone in our own community to oppress us so that M$ doesn't have to.



Anonymous's picture

Too right. No DRM in Linux!! For any reason! And for the record, I'm in favor of using binary blobs where needed, and have no problem with closed source commercial software running on Linux. So I'm hardly a wild eyed idealistic open source or death kind of Linux user.

The BBC don't actually have a choice as far as I can see it. They have been ordered to find a solution that is platform agnostic within a couple of years, or they don't get to offer this service. Demand doesn't come into it. Otherwise, there wouldn't be half the programming that the BBC regularly broadcasts. And the service isn't competing with anybody, so first mover status is irrelevant to the issue. They are not the first to offer this service, as several other UK broadcasters are already offering something similar.

Please remember that the BBC is a service, not a business. So not like any other broadcasting company. Its publicly funded, and not for profit. No shareholders to keep happy, no advertising, no government breathing down it's neck threatening cutbacks if the Beeb annoys whoever is in power.

It's money is made by selling content to other broadcasters or on DVD etc. And more importantly, by a compulsory license paid by everyone who has a TV set or equipment capable of receiving a broadcast TV signal. It doesn't have to make a profit, and if required, it could decide to only show BBC produced content on this new service, and set the terms of allowing others to use the service. The purpose of a DRM like system in this case, is not to keep the content producers happy, but to avoid competing with DVD sales and the like.

Because the programs are required to become unwatchable within a given amount of time,(Its a time shifting system, not a video download service) they have to find some DRM like system which will render the downloads inactive as soon as time runs out. Or again, they will loose the option to offer the service. It doesn't have to be bulletproof, just good enough to satisfy their remit. I'm sure they already know that DRM is not going to stay secure for very long. They just need to cover their backsides in the case of any accusations of trying to force the smaller commercial broadcasters out of the market. by offering a free service to their customers.

If you want to offer your comments to the consultation, which closes in March I think, then do so. Read the PDF explaining the whole thing first though, or you will not be able to answer the questionnaire. But please be constructive. Screeching about Linux always being an afterthought is not going to get us anywhere. Showing that there is a significant amount of users for a platform agnostic system, and how important the existence of such a system is to their policy is much more valuable.

Hang on I've already paid for this!

Anonymous's picture

But why even time expire content?
I've paid my TV license and I've paid for the content - why take it away from me?

Because if they didn't, they

John Bailey's picture

Because if they didn't, they wouldn't be able to sell you the DVD. I think they have to be extra careful in how much they compete with other media providers because they are publicly funded.

[QUOTE]Because the programs

G Fernandes's picture

[QUOTE]Because the programs are required to become unwatchable within a given amount of time,(Its a time shifting system, not a video download service) they have to find some DRM[/QUOTE]

If thats what they want, then they just want a properly designed, content-managed system (with specific links "expiring" when their "time-to-live" is up) - not DRM.

Seems to me like a wrong (and more complicated) problem is being applied to a simple problem - as opposed to applying a solution, for example.

RE: [QUOTE]Because the programs

Wibbit's picture

[QUOTE]Because the programs are required to become unwatchable within a given amount of time,(Its a time shifting system, not a video download service) they have to find some DRM[/QUOTE]

If thats what they want, then they just want a properly designed, content-managed system (with specific links "expiring" when their "time-to-live" is up) - not DRM.

Seems to me like a wrong (and more complicated) problem is being applied to a simple problem - as opposed to applying a solution, for example.

I think you may be missing the point of the problem, and what DRM brings to the table.

I believe you are suggesting making the files non-downloadable over the internet after a given amount of time.

This does not deal with the thousands if not millians of people that have already downloaded the content, and have it sitting on their hard drive.

It is THIS content that DRM is intended to govern. The whole point of DRM is that it allows corporations to decide what you can do with the data ONCE YOU HAVE GOT IT, it has very little to do with publishing data online.