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BBC iPlayer – Don’t Hold Your Breath

Posted by Daniel on July 29, 2007

BBC iPlayerOn 27th July, the BBC iPlayer was finally launched, after a series of rumours, blunders and false starts dating back to 2003, when the project was first announced. Except, actually, it hasn’t launched. Again.

The iPlayer is currently in another beta stage, meaning that the previous 1000-user beta which launched on 15th November last year simply wasn’t good enough and nor was the beta before that of 5000 users from October 2005. So, cue a mad rush of those ‘in-the-know’ to start toying with the new technology, as soon as the floodgates opened last Friday. However, those who got to the site were welcomed by a friendly piece of text, stating that memberships are to be handed out on an application basis. You apply, wait to be accepted and then the fun allegedly starts.

With disappointment comes a sense of reasoning, initially, where the frustration subsides and one realises that, maybe the BBC do need to tinker around with it one last time to get things right before a full public launch. However, after taking a look at the beta myself, there is a lot left for them to develop.

When you’re approved to enter the program, you’re given a username and password which consists of randomly generated letters and numbers respectively (therefore difficult to remember). But then, to use the iPlayer, you have to enter in a second, and separate, username and password which is the normal one you use to log into the BBC’s forums. So far, so bad, with two different logins required. After deciding I wanted to take a look at the last Doctor Who episode which I unfortunately missed, I was asked to install the iPlayer onto my computer, which I did right away… after being asked to sign in again. Upon installation, I refreshed the page as instructed but clicking ‘download’ just brought up the same request to install the iPlayer, despite having it open and in front of me.

As it demanded, I was in Windows, I had the recent Media Player and I opened the site in Internet Explorer. Do you think Mark Thompson and Bill Gates are having an affair behind our backs? iPlayer won’t work on Macs or Linux and it won’t work on Firefox or, in fact, any other browser, operating system or media player. This, the BBC says, is set to be in development by the autumn but knowing their regard for deadlines, who actually knows?

4oDIn fact, there already exists a very simple program which downloads popular programmes legally and with just a couple of clicks. 4 on Demand (or 4oD as it’s fashionably known) has been delivering programmes quite successfully, with a minimum amount of problems since last November. The worst bit is, they use the same technology as the iPlayer but the BBC still can’t pull it off, despite the gargantuan development time. Sure, 4oD is not perfect – it only runs in Windows and they don’t have further plans to extend it and some programmes cost money to view – but it actually works. As does ITV’s offering and Five’s odd CSI-only service – in fact the BBC run a report on their news site which seems to trounce the iPlayer in all ways. It seems the new application is losing popularity already.

Audience apathy isn’t the only problem, however. This beta (or gamma or even delta) test is extremely buggy, with users experiencing system crashes, delivery errors, failed logins, program conflicts, security problems… a cabbage could probably download BBC programming better than iPlayer. It desperately begs the question:

What the hell have the BBC been doing for the past four years?!

Let’s hope that by the full launch in the autumn, it actually works for everyone. For a look at the iPlayer from someone who did get it to work, have a look at the Guardian’s review. At the moment though, as far as I’m concerned, those re-runs of Chucklevision will have to wait.

-Daniel

Does the iPlayer work well for you? Is it a disastrous overinvestment of time and money or is it a godsend to audiences in the UK? What should we see from on demand television services in the future, in order to make them more accessible to audiences? Drop me a comment and tell me what you think.

Posted in BBC, iPlayer, On Demand, Online, Television | Leave a Comment »

Citizen Journalism

Posted by Daniel on June 11, 2007

Citizen journalists have a large impact on the way we view the media.In a very obvious and public way, citizen journalism has taken hold of all forms of media in the past few years. Whether it was the Virginia Tech student’s eerie mobile phone clip depicting the gunshots of a mass murderer or the hanging of Saddam Hussein, one short clip on a consumer camera or mobile can change the world’s view of a single event and, consequently, the way the world documents the event as history itself.

Mentioning Saddam Hussein, a new clip has surfaced on the internet which depicts the recently-executed (at the time of filming) former leader of Iraq, or his body at least, laying in the back of a van, accompanied by the singing and cheering of a crowd hoping to catch a glimpse of his body. According to the post on video website LiveLeak.com Chief Prosecutor Munqith Al-Faroun is depicted in the video, which was filmed outside an Iraqi Ministers’ HQ. Sorry for the lack of details but after a cursory search on Google for further information there seems to be little about.

However, it’s images like these which make real events all the more pertinant to the viewers at home. Showing a clip which someone has shot on their own camera, with its shaky and unprofessional style, often lends an essential bite of realism to any correspondant’s report, be it on the 24-hour news channels, relevant audio on the radio or the stills in a newspaper. Certainly even more crucial, is the fact that this is shot by an eyewitness at the time of the event, and as most news broadcasters’ and newspapers’ skills end ahead of clairvoyancy, getting the story from the scene recorded as it’s happening is a real boon.

Not all news is good news, though. This very blog counts as citizen journalism and what if I were to make wild accusations of a celebrity in sordid affairs with a head of state, including fuzzy pictures of some lookalikes? Not only would it be snapped up by the Daily Mirror (sorry, that was a cheap shot) but those who did pick up the story could find themselves in big trouble had I been a hoaxer. By the time news sources can verify claims to one thing or another, it’s likely the real hacks are on the scene/story by now, dampening the effect the citizen reporter has on the media.

Even killers can be citizen journalists - reporting for the world on their own crimes.

Citizen journos have the power to provide real insight and many of the media giants have recently grasped that as the future in news broadcasting. In the case of the Virginia Tech killer, Seung-Hui Cho, he was himself a citizen journalist – describing to the world the reasons he decided to commit the crimes, something which no other person, let alone broadcaster, would be able to do.

However, there seems to be continually more to citizen journalism than first meets the eye. The constraints of BBC, Sky (et al) and newspaper output mean that the reporting on the story has to end somewhere, obviously in order to be able to report other events going on in the world. This is where news made by the people, for the people, really comes into its own.

Take Alive in Baghdad as one example. These self-made, ‘semi-pro’ (they don’t work for furnishing their pockets but the editing, camera work and generally effort put in is similar to that of a professional) and all-round good eggs gave cameras to ordinary Iraqis and ask them to film daily life. When the news cameras have stopped rolling, you really get to see life for what it is there, especially as conversations with interviewees are long and detailed, meaning the viewer really connects with the person, as opposed to hearing a soundbyte dubbed over by more Western-friendly tones.

This is the future of participatory journalism. Ordinary people deciding to set up their own ventures to report. This provides way more coverage and scope than CNN and the BBC can provide – not through some bias, promotion of ambiguity or general ignorance – it simply would make no sense for broadcasters to spend all their resources and effort on constantly monitoring the world yet further than they already do, when they can buy it from the Joe Bloggs who was there at the time.

The whole issue of citizen journalists and their payment would make a whole other post but either way, I hope I’ve outlined some of the importances and impact citizen journalism doesn’t just have on media in the UK, but on a global scale. One day, a one minute clip taken on your mobile just because you were at the scene of something, could be broadcast to literally billions of people in a matter of minutes. That’s the seed of citizen journalism but it has the potential to be so much more.

 -Daniel

Posted in Alive in Baghdad, Baghdad, Citizen Journalism, Iraq, Journalism, Mobile, News, News Events, Online, Saddam Hussein | Leave a Comment »