Ashley Highfield & The BBC iPlayer PR Offensive

We’ve had a listen to the podcasted interview with Ashley Highfield, Director of BBC Future Media and Technology, put out by BBC Backstage and thought it was worth some comment.

It’s clearly part of a PR battle against those who are voicing disappointment at the BBC making the iPlayer only work on a Microsoft platform.

The interviewer (UPDATE: Matthew Cashmore, BBC Backstage) isn’t exactly ripping into Highfield in a Paxman-style, but there’s no surprise at that, as he’s effectively interviewing his boss.

It really is worth having a listen to it if you’ve been following the many twists and turns of the iPlayer situation.

We’ll ignore the attempts at quirky dismissal of the problem by referring to a “pact with the devil.”

We think the problems of this start by not frankly answering important questions that are put to Ashley, like “Is it built from top to bottom on Microsoft technology?” – which is not clearly answered. Instead, in a apparent New Labour spin fashion, the question isn’t answered, it’s obscured by mention on the Adobe deal.

Our reaction to this was Ashley, old thing, you’re treating the audience as idiots.

I saw the bones of the iPlayer (or iMP as it was then) in 2003, pre-alpha. There’s been 4 years in between – why wasn’t a cross platform solution found in this time?

The mention on a TV example is ridiculous – OK not all areas of the UK get digital TV, but at least all of the TVs can receive and show the programmes. This isn’t the same with the BBC iPlayer solution, as only computers running Microsoft technology will display it.

Linux Support – Too Expensive
Highfield brings up the point that “The cost of reaching them is restrictive.”

If the rumoured figures of £130m spent on the project are true, it would cost a tiny percentage of this to get it working on Linux.

When we hear comments like, “Will always be a small amount of people that cannot be economically reached,” we read this as saying that the BBC will never support Linux.

We think that it is good that streaming will be made available to all using the Adobe solution, but to us, the streaming solution feels like it’s a panic reaction to the huge outcry about the Microsoft-only solution they first brought out.

We nearly fell off our chair when we heard Ashley say that they’ve (the BBC) decided not to promise delivery of things until they know they can deliver it. This certainly is a change around. The past has been him saying that no TV programme would be commissioned unless it had new media elements – of course this was snake oil and never appeared.

That doesn’t address the fundamental question – what were they doing spending £130m pounds of license payers money creating an initial solution that only works on the Microsoft platform?

Ashley asks “How can you have DRM if it’s open source?” continuing that “open source people would be able to know how it works and get around it.”

Ashers is betraying is fundamental misunderstanding of cypher technology. If someone is this ignorant of the area that he heads up, should he really be heading up the Future Media & Technology wing of the BBC?

Let’s be clear – we think that if the BBC has spent £130m pounds – or even a fraction of that – on a platform for watching TV online that can only be viewed on Windows XP, using a Microsoft Web browser and the Windows media player – they have misspent the money that the UK TV license payer has entrusted them with. No amount of podcasts or PR attempts will change that.

We’re meeting with the Open Source Consortium this afternoon following their first meeting with the BBC technical staff (the write up & the podcast).

The Ashley Highfield iPlayer Backstage interview

We’ve seen that the Open Source Consortium has published a couple of responses to the Highfield interview too.