BBC iPlayer is an internet streaming, catchup, television and radio service available to UK-based licence fee payers. The BBC says that it recognises open standards are fundamental to driving market innovation. And the iPlayer service works well on open source operating systems, such as Linux. Since late 2015, the iPlayer has been available using the HTML5 web language, at the expense of Adobe’s Flash player. A sage choice. But there are many things that need changing. I’ll highlight 6 issues that need urgent attention.
Before delving into the issues, I’ll make the following observations. There’s a huge selection of high quality TV and radio programmes to watch and listen on iPlayer and iPlayer Radio. So much fresh content is available, I’m a regular user. I’ve no issue with the annual license fee (currently standing at a princely sum of £147 for a colour TV licence). It’s good value considering the breadth of material available. Replacing the license fee with a subscription service would only damage the BBC in the long term. And I have no agenda against the BBC. That out of the way, let’s crack on with the first issue…
1. Mandatory Account
This issue already affects users, as sometimes the web site forces you to log into a personal account. And very soon it’ll be enforced vigorously. BBC say this is so they can make the service more relevant and personal. It’ll offer recommended programmes based on a user’s viewing history. In reality, the mandatory account is an unnecessary intrusion, and yet another password to remember. I don’t see why the BBC needs to know my gender or postcode. But more importantly, the benefits of having a BBC account for iPlayer streaming are (currently) negligible. They could make it useful e.g. by offering user preferences such as the ability to opt out of trailers.
In an article published on 27 September 2016 the BBC said it had no plans to use the account information to ensure the user has purchased a licence. But the BBC website says “We share some of your personal data with TV Licensing, to check if you are using BBC iPlayer and to keep their database to up date”.
Anyone foolish enough to seek evading the licence fee is simply going to enter bogus account information. What will TV licensing gather from a fictitious postcode and date of birth? And TV licensing already has a complete database of households which don’t have a license. Far more reliable information to pursue the few lawbreakers.
2. No Buffering on-demand content
Internet streaming is one of the finest advancements in web technology, at least when it comes to user experience. Other online streaming services have made great strides in improving the user experience, in part, by buffering the current stream. This means that if you experience a brief internet dropout or bandwidth congestion, your stream carries on playing uninterrupted. But the iPlayer doesn’t have, in practice, any buffering. Any blip to your net connection will invariably stop iPlayer in its tracks. Programmes can be downloaded locally, but this isn’t necessarily convenient.
3. Server congestion
Any internet streaming service succeeds or fails by the user experience. Whatever service I use, including fibre broadband, the iPlayer service suffers a surprising number of drop-outs when there is no issue with the net connection. This happens on all popular operating systems.
BBC iPlayer sometimes shows trailers to tell you about other programmes you might like. While the trailer may be 30 seconds, and you can press the “Skip” button, I find them, maybe unreasonably, excruciating. Remember the user experience! I’ve selected the programme to watch – that’s the focus of my attention – I don’t want or need, what constitutes, an advert for another programme. How about an option to opt out of trailers via the mandatory account?
Idents are very short clips or images that link TV shows. On the iPlayer service, they are not accompanied by a voiceover.
There is absolutely no reason to show idents on iPlayer. They serve no purpose whatsoever on a streaming service. I’d love to see an account option to remove idents. Maybe go the whole hog and remove the BBC logo in the top left hand corner? No, didn’t think so.
6. Rights issues
The BBC says it cannot always obtain iPlayer rights for every programme broadcasted on their TV channels. This can arise because of the cost of buying the license or for legal/contractual reasons. While I can understand there are complex issues, again the user experience really suffers, particularly as some of the best content is not available. The number of classic films and sports shows that aren’t shown on iPlayer bruises the user experience.
If a third party refuses to provide iPlayer rights at reasonable cost, maybe the BBC should simply avoid broadcasting the programme unless there are exceptional circumstances. For a good user experience, the iPlayer service should mirror the TV channels.
That’s it for my Friday rant and rave! If anyone at the BBC reads this post, do get in touch and let us know your plans to improve the user experience!
For everyone else, feel free to share your thoughts about iPlayer in the comments below.