BBC consultation about on-demand services

This post is instigated by an article in Linux Journal called “Save the BBC from Windows DRM!”. The article raises few very reasonable concerns about BBC independance if media publisher decides to go Microsoft route to protect its on-demand content. Since I am currently living in UK and as such paying the TV License tax, I just could not miss the chance to say what I think about this issue, especially taking into account the money I must pay for the license (at the moment it is about 131.50 pounds for colour TV set per year). I am sure there are much better ways BBC could spent my money than just giving them away to a company known for abusing its monopoly to stifling inovations and smashing competition. I would rather prefer to see my money invested in improving the quality of the content and making it more accessible to the public.

As advised at the end of Linux Journal article I visited BBC Consultation page and filled out the questionaire. I also decided to publish it on my blog, to make sure my concerns will not dissapear buried under the usual bureaucracy typical for large organizations. Below are the questions and my answers.

Question 1
Do you agree with the BBC Trust’s proposal to approve the new BBC on-demand services, subject to the modifications outlined in the Trust’s report of its provisional conclusions?

Yes, I agree. However I would like to be able to access these services without being limited to single vendor operating system or media players thus restricting my personal choice and limit the options I am entitled to.

Question 2
In a market in which most broadcasters are expected to be offering on-demand services, would you agree that it is a priority for the BBC to be investing in this area?

Yes, I certainly would like to see BBC not only to follow, but leads the wave of new on-demand services. It will be so much more convenient for me and my family to access BBC content and feel that the tax I pay is really well worth paying for.

Question 3
The BBC Trust has proposed setting a limit of 30 days as the amount of time that programmes can be stored on a computer before being viewed. As this is an emerging market, there is currently no clear standard on the length of the storage window. On balance, the Trust thinks 30 days is the right length of time. How long do you think consumers should be able to store BBC programmes on their computers before viewing them?

I would rather prefer to have permament copy of the content since I have already paid for producing it. When I buy DVD, I own it, without limitation on how many times I could watch it. However I understand that may not be always achievable, but BBC should take every effort to avoid making content which need technical measure protections (also known as DRM) which actually prohibits users for watching the content they already have paid for.

Question 4
The BBC Trust concluded that public value would be created by allowing series stacking. This would allow viewers to catch-up with all episodes of a series for the duration of its run. The Trust recognised that although it would provide increased opportunities to view BBC programmes, it could also deter people from buying DVDs or using commercial video-on-demand services. Do you consider series stacking to be a useful feature? What kind of series would you expect to be included? Should there be any limitation on the number of episodes of a series made available for catch-up or the length of time for which they can be viewed?

It is reasonable to expect people would like to see the whole season if they missed first few episodes while watching an episode in the middle of the series. However the whole point of having on-demand service is just that – having it ON DEMAND, no matter when or where the people are. So while I agree with convenience of a feature like “series stacking” I don’t see much value in it if BBC would really like to dedicate itself to on-demand service market. With regard to what series I would expect to be included – all educational programs for kids, all nature and science series and probably some news. As for the limitations – to re-iterate again: why should you put limitations on taxpayers for content created with their money?

Question 5
How important is it that the proposed seven-day catch-up service over the internet is available to consumers who are not using Microsoft software?

As I am using non-Microsoft software I don’t want to see BBC commiting itself to Microsoft only software (or any other single-vendor software in that matter). The idea of the content is to be UNIVERSALLY accessible and locking out even potential users is neither acceptable for organization like BBC, nor market wise – if BBC lock-out non-Microsoft customers, then someone else will fill the gap. And at the end of the day why should BBC impose restrictions to what software THEIR viewers are using, especially considering that these viewers have paid for making BBC productions in a first place? Also I would like to question the reason for choosing Microsoft, US based company sued for monopolistic methods both in US and EU and known to use vendor lock-in techniques? Doesn’t this undermine BBC independence and doesn’t it lower the confidence in UK’s own Information Technology capabilities?

Question 6
Should the BBC be allowed to offer book readings from its radio services as audio downloads over the internet?

As long as BBC holds the copyrights or the books are already in public domain, I don’t see any reason not to. In other cases BBC could ask copyright holders to license their writings under Creative Commons Licenses whenever possible.

Question 7
The BBC Trust concluded there was fine balance between public value and market impact in deciding whether to allow the BBC to offer audio downloads of classical music. While such downloads could help introduce new listeners to classical music, they could also deter purchases of commercial recordings. What is your view on whether – and to what extent – the BBC should be allowed to offer radio broadcasts of classical music as audio downloads over the internet?

If the classic music listeners are in decline, then the music should be promoted more. The easiest way to achieve this is to allow more classic music downloads. This in turn will attract more people who will eventually want more music, buy some of it, seek to attend live classical perfomances and thus will revive the market and benefit musicians. On the other hand if the people have no interest in classic music, even free downloads would have no effect on the market – they will just ignore this music alltogether.

Question 8
How important is it to you that the BBC provides some means for parents to control which of its programmes are accessible on-demand to children? Is such a facility necessary or is it more a matter for parents to exercise controls over how children use the internet?

I reckon this kind of control will be major help for parents, but if the Internet has taught us something, this is that any kind of censorship will eventually be overcome. This does not, however, belittle the ability of parents to choose what their kids can watch.

Question 9
What are your views on whether the BBC should offer content from non-BBC providers on the on-demand service on its website?

I don’t mind having access to non-BBC content. I assume BBC have to charge additional charge its subscribers for this content and if this is clearly labelled and the viewer can watch the content without being forced to use single-vendor software, operating system or hardware I am happy with this.

Question 10
What are your views on whether and how the BBC should make available on-demand content on services run by other providers – such as multi-channel services or internet-based audio and video downloading services?

As with the previous question – I don’t mind having additional content providers on BBC site as long as they do not force me what software or hardware I must use to access their content.

Question 11
Do the revisions proposed to BBC Service Licences to allow the new services to go ahead seem appropriate?

I haven’t read the licenses in details, so I can not comment this at the moment. I only wish the licenses are not written as such, that I need a lawyer to translate them for me.

Question 12
Are there any other issues you would like the BBC Trust to consider in relation to the proposed services?

Please use open technologies and open standards whenever possible. BBC is public institution and as such should serve in public interests. This means providing the content the public has paid for without imposing heavy handed restrictions, without locking out users, avoiding single vendor lock-in, adapting to new Internet realities and ultimately – maintaining the trust public has in BBC. I’ll be happy to know that my taxes are well spent and make my children’s life better with more content accessible to them than I had a chance to have.

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