BBC Opens Up - Or Does it?

by Ostatic Staff - Aug. 14, 2008

The BBC's iPlayer site has been a target of open source community ire since it started. Originally delivering content via Microsoft DRM-protected technologies, it was condemned by the FSF (among others) for dictating unfree technology choices on viewers. The technology behind the iPlayer has changed somewhat since then, but by and large it's been a proprietary stack that doesn't play well with free software.

A recent announcement from the BBC's Erik Huggers appears to offer some promise of relief:

...the BBC has always been a strong advocate and driver of open industry standards. Without these standards, TV and radio broadcasting would simply not function. I believe that the time has come for the BBC to start adopting open standards such as H.264 and AAC for our audio and video services on the web. 

But nice as this sounds, there still seems to be a disconnect between the BBC's announced ideals and their actions. As the very definition of open standards that the BBC itself linked to says, "Open Standards are free for all to implement, with no royalty or fee." The fact that both AAC and H.264 are encumbered with patent licenses that make their distribution under free licenses problematic flies in the face of this definition.

It's good to see a major organization like the BBC switching from closely held secretive codecs to more widespread and documented ones. But it would be even better to see them throw their considerable weight behind some truly open formats.