Broadband firms are restricting customers’ usage because of the unprecedented success of the BBC’s iPlayer, the online viewing service.
The news will raise fears that Britain’s broadband network is struggling to cope with the growing demand for TV programmes that can be viewed online after they have aired.
Thousands of broadband users face breaching their usage limits as a result and will have to fork out more for superior packages.
The iPlayer – which was launched in December and allows you to watch your favourite programmes on your computer – has attracted 17m people in its first three months. However, it has increased internet traffic by 66%, say some broadband providers.
They have a limited “bandwidth” so, with more people using high-speed services, are having to impose restrictions on speeds, and use download limits and “fair usage policies” to control traffic.
iPlayer programmes tend to be around 300 megabytes (MB) in size though longer one-hour shows like David Attenborough’s Life in Cold Blood can take up 600MB.
However, many low-end broadband packages have monthly download limits of one gigabyte (GB) – equal to about 1,000MB. Downloading just two iPlayer shows a month could therefore mean you use up your limit and have to pay extra for additional
The BBC is preparing to launch a new iPlayer version that will include both radio and television content and a personalised recommendation feature.
BBC's head of digital media technology Anthony Rose said: In a few weeks time, we are going live with an all new iPlayer that has radio and TV all in the same interface.
Work is also underway on a number of personalised facilities including a recommendation feature that will introduce new content to viewers based on their past choices. The recommendations will be based on genre clusters or "virtual
channels" that the BBC is identifying by studying usage patterns.
Rose said that different personalisation techniques will be tested over the next two to three months and will then "have a shoot-out" to decide which are adopted.
Individual users on shared computers will be able to protect and build on their own profile with a personal log in, possibly by selecting an avatar.
The BBC is to solve the online watershed conundrum by launching a children's version of the iPlayer.
The kids interface is expected to launch before Christmas and will allow users to access only a limited range of programmes, sidestepping the problem of children potentially accessing post-watershed content.
Presently, users tick a box to confirm they are old enough to watch certain content irrespective of the time of day.
A senior BBC source told Broadcast: [The kids iPlayer] creates a walled garden of content that's appropriate for children. This will also enable us to promote it on the children's TV channels and websites, which we haven't been able to do
The corporation is thrashing out the detail of the new service, including whether it will offer all pre-watershed content, just children's and family shows, or just those made specifically for the CBeebies and CBBC channels.
A new generation of internet-enabled set-top boxes that will deliver catchup services such as the BBC iPlayer to the television screen could be on sale as early as the beginning of next year, after the BBC formally asked its governing body for
permission to develop the new technology.
The proposal, known as Project Canvas, is a joint bid between the BBC, ITV, and BT to develop a shared set of parameters by which catchup and on-demand services such as the iPlayer and ITV Player would be delivered via Freeview and Freesat.
The new set-top boxes, which the BBC forecasts will cost between £100 and £200, could create a service in which viewers would be able to browse the iPlayer in the same way as they flick between television channels.
The three parties believe that the service could be achieved with a broadband connection of 1.6 Mbps. Although BT is the only internet service provider on board at the moment, others will be invited to join, and are likely to create special
Canvas tariffs for consumers to sign up to, with guarantees that they will get a connection that will allow a good service.
The broadcasters are adamant that, other than a broadband subscription and the initial outlay for a set-top box, there will be no subscription fees for features such as the iPlayer. However, other content providers, such as Love-Film, the DVD
rental company, could be invited to stream their service via the set-top box, rather than posting out DVDs.
The BBC Trust, the corporation's governing body, yesterday opened a consultation on the proposals, and will make a decision on the project by the end of July.
The BBC Trust has said that stringent parental controls should always be included on BBC iPlayer to ensure children do not watch inappropriate content. The BBC's governing body expressed concern yesterday that there is no direct equivalent
of the watershed online .
According to the Trust's latest review of BBC Editorial Guidelines, clearer labelling must be placed on the catch-up service to flag up strong or challenging content . When we make audio or visual content available on demand on BBC
platforms, and where appropriate, we must provide information to enable users to understand its context and to make informed choices about its suitability, both for themselves and for children, before they access, the organisation said.
The new editorial standards stipulate that any post-watershed programming should be flagged with a G For Guidance rating to highlight its potential unsuitability for younger audiences, with a system of content labels indicating
the relative strength.
More stringent parental controls must also be included on BBC iPlayer, involving a lock function for challenging content which can then only be accessed by inputting a password.
Both these functions are already in place on the catch-up service, but this is the first time that the editorial guidelines have factored in their provision.
The Trust is now holding a public consultation on the proposed guidelines, with licence fee payers able to have their say until December 24. When approved, the new editorial standards will come into force in summer 2010.
BBC television programmes will be available in a new paid download store shortly after first transmission, director general Mark Thompson has confirmed.
The iTunes-style store, codenamed Project Barcelona, will operate in addition to the existing BBC iPlayer and give users the option to pay for owned downloads of new and old TV shows.
Speaking at the Royal Television Society, Thompson said:
BBC iPlayer is the most successful and most intensively used catch-up service in the world but it's true that, after that seven day public service window, a large proportion of what the BBC makes and broadcast is never seen or heard of
On television, despite all of our existing forms of public service archival and commercial windowing, the overwhelming majority of what the BBC commissions and broadcasts becomes unavailable when that iPlayer window expires.
We want to change that and have started to talk to our partners, including the independent sector and PACT, about a proposal which we will formally submit to the BBC Trust later this year which - for reasons which escape me - we call
The idea behind Barcelona is simple. It is that, for as much of our content as possible, in addition to the existing BBC iPlayer window, another download-to-own window would open soon after transmission - so that if you wanted to purchase a
digital copy of a programme to own and keep, you could pay what would generally be a relatively modest charge for doing so.
The store's launch is contingent upon the BBC obtaining agreement from programme production companies and the BBC Trust.