BBC Developing MHEG-IC, HTML and Flash iPlayer Products for TV Platforms

--Beta Version of iPlayer for Freesat to Launch Later This Month

In a posting on the BBC Internet Blog earlier this week, Rahul Chakkara, controller of TV platforms for the corporation's Future Media & Technology arm, provided an overview of the work the BBC is doing to develop standard versions of its BBC iPlayer broadband VOD service for TV platforms (note: according to the corporation, since the iPlayer launched on the Virgin Media cable platform in June, 2008, that platform has accounted for 200 million iPlayer programs viewed--i.e. over a quarter of all iPlayer viewing). Among other things, he revealed that a beta deployment of the iPlayer is scheduled to take place on the UK's free-to-air satellite TV service, Freesat, by the end of November.

According to Chakkara, the BBC plans to make available standard iPlayer products for the MHEG-5 Interaction Channel, HTML and Flash. "Recently," he wrote, "the Digital Television Group, supported by BBC R&D, has extended the [MHEG-5 Interaction Channel] standard to use the Interaction Channel for handling Internet video. This standard has been adopted by Freesat and incorporated into the DBook 6.1 used in Freeview HD devices. We have been developing BBC iPlayer using this standard. I expect to start a beta deployment by the end of November using capable Freesat devices."

Meanwhile, on the HTML front, Chakkara wrote, developing a version of the iPlayer that would work with minimal alterations across HTML browser-based devices has been challenging. "While most devices claim to use HTML4-compliant browsers, we often find proprietary tags, plug-ins etc.," he wrote. "Although there is increasing support of HTML5 work and its standardization of audio and video interfaces, most devices have their own proprietary media players and interfaces. To maximize the availability of the BBC iPlayer to connected television and television devices, we have chosen to take the route of accepted standards mixing it with pragmatic use of API's where necessary." According to Chakkara, the BBC iPlayer HTML application will be written in HTML4.01/Javascript 1.5/CSS2.1, which means that devices that run standard HTML4 browsers should be able to run the iPlayer user interface. He added that the BBC plans to define a media-playback API that will enable third parties to play iPlayer media assets, and that will use ongoing work in the W3C HTML working group for playing video and audio. "Third parties can now use the API's to interface to their media players, he stated, adding that "if support is provided for the HTML5 audio and video elements, we expect these API's to work directly." Chakkara said that he is expecting a beta release of this product later this month. (Note: the BBC also offers a "Big Screen" implementation of the iPlayer at

Finally, Chakkara stated that the BBC is planning to make a standard iPlayer product available in Adobe Flash Lite 3.1, and that it expects a beta version to be ready by April. His blog posting concluded with an invitation to companies who "believe your product can carry any of the standard products" to contact the BBC at