(UPDATE 7th Mar 2008: BBC iPlayer for iPhone and iPod Touch RELEASED)

Since the announcement that the BBC is contemplating making their iPlayer service available for the iPhone and iPod Touch, I’ve been giving some thought on what we can expect, and what’s required from Apple and The BBC to make it happen.

What is the BBC iPlayer

The BBC iPlayer is a FREE service that lets you watch/rewatch BBC TV shows aired in the last 7 days, on your PC. You can either stream and watch the shows or download and store them for 7 days using software provided by the BBC.

The BBC announced last week that they’re giving serious thought to making iPlayer available on the iPhone and iPod Touch. I’m convinced that the storage limitations of both devices are likely to mean that that we’ll be limited to using the streaming method of watching BBC TV shows from the last 7 days. We really don’t have enough space to download them to the devices. Typically, each 60 minute episode takes up about 150mb of storage space.

A Conflict of Interest?

Just a note… I can’t help thinking that the BBC’s announcement conflicts with recent activity between BBC Worldwide (the BBC’s commercial entity that’s responsible for making money from the BBC’s activities) and Apple iTunes.

Last week, BBC Worldwide released a number of popular TV series on iTunes UK. TV shows include Life on Mars, Ashes to Ashes, Little Britain, Spooks, Torchwood and Robin Hood. Each episode is charged at £1.89. Surely offering these shows via the free iPlayer service will have an impact on revenue for both parties?

Granted, the iPlayer service is limited to episodes aired in the last 7 days, while entire series’ of TV shows are available of iTunes and Apple TV, but surely the revenue from hard core iPhone and iPod Touch users will be missed?

The Biggest Barrier

Right now, anyone with a PC/Mac and an internet running the Flash Player (a free web browser plug-in) can stream TV shows via the BBC’s iPlayer. In fact at its very basic that’s all the iPlayer really is, a bunch of video files that can be watched using Flash.

The main failure of the Apple Safari browser that’s installed on the iPhone and iPod Touch is that it doesn’t use or allow use of the Flash Plug-in.

There are just 4 ways to over come this:
1. The Flash Player Plug-in is made available for the Safari browser on the iPhone and iPod Touch.
2. Apple/BBC opt for a similiar set up to the native YouTube offering on the iPhone and iPod Touch.
3. The BBC provide the shows to Apple in a format that works within iTunes, just as other TV shows are currently available.
4. The BBC provide the TV shows in Quicktime format, leaving Apple and iTunes completely out of the loop. (I’m betting on this one!)

Options 1 and 2 will require Safari on the iPhone and iPod Touch to be modified. If they opt for this method you can expect a firmware update for the iPhone and iPod Touch being made available via iTunes before we can use the BBC iPlayer service.

Option 3 is a Complicated Alternative

Of course, both parties could make the BBC shows available FREE via iTunes, similiar to how iTunes makes Podcast available, but the coding required to make this work in iTunes would make this commercial unviable. It would simply take too much time and money to take this route.

I’m Bettingon Option 4. BBC iplayer using QuickTime.

Option 4 has to be the easy option for both BBC and Apple. The BBC simply have to make the TV shows available in the QuickTime format. Apple need do nothing.

So will we iPhone and iPod Touch users be getting the BBC iPlayer anytime soon?

If they go the QuickTime route we could be just weeks, even days away. If BBC iPlayer requires the Flash player plug-in, I’ll be very surprised if I’m announcing the launch of the BBC iPlayer for iPhone and iPod Touch AFTER June 2008. We’ll have to wait and see.

See Also:
BBC Bringing iPlayer to iPod Touch and iPhone