iPlayer for Macs is here, kind of, so what's the first reaction? Pretty good, but patchy,
I bounced over to the iPlayer website this afternoon, thrilled to take a chance to catch-up on one of my most unmissable shows (which I missed), the poetically titled and really most entertaining 'reality' (is there such these days?) show, Can Fat Teens Hunt?.
Essentially this show features a motley collection of teenage Brits with weight problems that have been stuck in the Borneo jungle to live a real back-to-basics sustainable agriculture kind of a life. It's proper life and death stuff, and apart from losing weight on account of their restricted diet (no fast food convenience here, no sugars, no crisps, no chips, no additive-full Turkey Twizzlers), it's an entertaining account of what culture shock's really about.
Frankly, this show's up there with Top Gear, Dog Borstal and To The Manor Bowen. Central to my (questionable taste in) TV viewing pleasure. Well, alongside the fantastic music presented by Jools Holland every week, and of course the truly zany phantasmagoria that's The Mighty Boosh.
Anyway, as I was saying, I was pretty happy that I'd get to watch - well, stream - that crucial missed episode of Can Fat Teens Hunt?. It's listed on the iPlayer website, so I hit the magic play button and waited for my convenience TV to begin. Only to be told the show's "not available to play here?".
So why's it listed on the front page, then?
There's a few other shows that are listed but just won't stream, another of which is also listed on the front page, Monarchy: The Royal Family. Many viewers might be pleased to be able to stream Nigella Lawson at will from the front page, though. Nigella on tap? That's progress, that is!
So that's the first thing that bugs me - missing content that's listed. These shows may be available for Windows users though, I use a Mac so I didn't check.
Next thing that got me down: The quality of streamed shows. Now, don't get me wrong - shows look lovely and crisp inside the browser window, but hit the Full Screen button and they're a little grainy, a little low-res.
(PC users seem to be quite positive about quality, but I've been spoilt by iTunes TV downloads, so know that it's not up to the same level.)
To be fair, the service is in beta, and I do think it's a compelling way to ensure UK TV addicts can stay connected to those shows they most enjoy.
There's no doubt Auntie Beeb will be able to rectify those show availability problems and should be able to beef up resolution in future, at least by the time the service launches properly on Christmas Day.
And while Mac (and Linux) users must wait until 2008 for the chance to download shows for offline viewing, we do at least now know it's on its way.
However, if there's one thing that needs tweaking in this service, the BBC should work to ensure that shows can be screened on other devices - there's got to be someone out there who wants Nigella on their iPod classic, and who am I to say they shouldn't?
Ultimately, I think the seven-day content limit needs to go, too. There's no point in it. All that's going to happen in future is that people will get hold of that content elsewhere, after all, be that from BitTorrent or simpy shifting formats using available technologies.
As such, the seven-day limit's unenforcable. No point wasting time or money maintaining it. And why seven days, anyway - why not make it available for a month? A week seems arbitrary.
I suspect (off the top of my head) that the time limit's also there so any residual payments to artists and creative crew don't need to be so high, and also to protect DVD sales.
Shamefully, most content providers these days do their level best to secure all the rights for content they publish, the idea being they pay for creative output once and then re-use it at will.
I'm not convinced many people will buy the DVD version of Can Fat Teens Hunt?. But left as an available download to keep forever, I think it may become a minor cult. And haunt those poor teens well into their old age.
So, in conclusion: the BBC's off to a promising start. A few teething problems need to be worked out. The general strategy to protect creative rights is correct, though any execution of that which relies on DRM is flawed.
I do hope the BBC can ink a deal with Apple and Adobe to make its content available on-demand to iPod touch and iPhone owners, perhaps as an application similar to the YouTube button on those devices. Seems churlish for any of those three firms to stand in the way of such a move. All it requires is the addition of Flash suppport and voila, you'll be able to watch those Borneo-stranded teens from anywhere, cossetted in the comfort of your WiFi-equipped urban jungle.