Those of us with suspicions about BBC’s iPlayer project have been proven correct. The corporation has once again shown its properly out of touch with those who are forced to pay for it by first pushing everyone on to using iPlayer, and then discontinuing the support for it on the most widely installed platform in the country.
When the BBC obtained the funding for BBC3 and BBC4, part of the justification was to allow re-screening of significant programmes that were difficult to watch live in the multi-channel environment. This worked for a while, and then they stopped doing this and filled the airwaves with complete garbage, citing iPlayer as the way to catch up on everything you couldn’t see at the broadcast time. A lot of us were suspicious that this was more to plug iPlayer than anything else. Fortunately in 2009 the corporation released iPlayer for the most popular games console – the one that more households had installed than anyone else – the Nintendo Wii.
Although they had questionable motives, it worked well enough until late last year, then they messed with it. Then it didn’t work. And a few days ago it became apparent that they were dropping the service with the jaw-droppingly arrogant excuse that it was five years old and they wanted to concentrate their efforts on newer platforms.
This is complete nonsense, of course. The Wii platform remains the most widely available, by far. The Wii is tried and trusted, appreciated by families if not hard-core games fanatics, and is hardly an obsolete product. It’s still on sale, and at a reasonable price. As a platform for iPlayer it’s an obvious choice.
So what’s the BBC thinking? Are they stymied by simple technical incompetence, having no one available to working on the Wii code base following an “upgrade” to a new iPlayer version? Quite possibly, and they’re so out-of-touch that they don’t see a problem with this.
A feeble note the BBC web site says they are concentrating efforts on producing a new player for the Wii U – the console no one wants. Hell is going to freeze over before this platform gets anywhere near the installed base of 100,000,000+ of the standard Wii consoles (worldwide, as at late 2014, based on Nintendo’s quarterly consolidated regional sales reports).
So what does this tell is about the BBC? If iPlayer is part of an important future broadcasting strategy, they’re not supporting it very well at all. All the house advertising suggests it’s important to the corporation. It’s a strange outfit – some of its R+D has always been groundbreaking whereas recently a lot of it has been laughable, and the management is notoriously well insulated from the real world. Their failure to support common platforms in the arbitrary manner makes the whole concept unstable.
In the old days you could invest in a TV set in confidence knowing that your license fee was going to keep it supplied with content for as long as was reasonably possible. The BBC acted very honorably when it came to the switch from VHF to UHF; a bit less so with DVB-T – and they’ve used the extra channels to provide constant re-runs of their lowest quality output. Dropping iPlayer now, just as families were trusting that the could invest in the equipment needed to receive the service is a continuation of a worrying trend.