In Review: BBC iPlayer

In Review: BBC iPlayer

by November 8, 2011 0 comments

The BBC iPlayer launched in Australia in late September, 2011. The content is picked from the deep BBC archives, with a handful of programs offered from other UK sources (eg ITV’s series Primeval). Currently only available for use on the iPad, if successful, I’m sure this subscription service will be rolled out to other platforms and connected devices.

The Service
Subscriptions start at AU$9.49 per month, or there is also a one-off annual cost of AU$89.99. The library is healthy, but is by no means comprehensive. A general assortment of 239 shows were on offer at the time of compiling this article.

The Content
The programing feels very much like a standard BBC catalogue. The programs on offer are not all that different from the sort of UK shows you find our ABC using as filler on their schedule. Doctor Who, Bottom, Being Erica, Ab Fab, A Bit of Fry and Laurie, BBC Electric Poms, The Mighty Boosh, Michael McIntyre’s Comedy Roadshow, Monarch of The Glen, and Spooks are familiar to anyone who has spent some time watching the ABC in recent months.

For most of the series on the BBC iPlayer entire seasons are available, but not necessarily the entire series run. For example, while every TV episode of Yes Minister/Yes Prime Minister is available, Spooks has just the first 3 seasons of the show. For some series, there is a strange discrepency with only a handful of scattered episodes available. For example, Holby City (which has 500+ episodes across 14 seasons) has just one episode from season 6 and one from season 7, while also providing 5 specials.

It’s worth noting at this point that the application does refer to a run of shows as a ‘season’ and not ‘series’, as the Brits are often wont to do.

Some series stood out (for my tastes at least) as exceptionally exciting, with some shows that have not been screened here on FTA television, while others have not been seen or been available locally for some time. The early 90’s political thriller House of Cards (soon to be remade by Kevin Spacey for the US market), Edge of Darkness, Bodies, Shooting Stars, Two Pints of Lager & A Packet of Crisps, The Fall & Rise of Reginald Perrin, and Freefall enhanced the value of the app.

Generally, the mix of programs feels like they have encapsulated the essence of BBC television programing. It is a varied mix of lifestyle, panel shows, high end drama, documentaries, casual scripted shows, comedies, etc.

The Design/Function
This is a gorgeous looking application. Visually, it reminds me of the very funky looking Mubi with its bold colour choices, strong emphasis on bold typography, and prominent images utilised to great effect.

The home page offers a number of show recommendations from a variety of categories that demonstrate the breadth of the types of content available through the application.

Using its My Downloads feature, downloading shows for offline viewing is a very handy function. I could see this being invaluable for times of power outages and plane trips.

Navigation is quite simple. Along the bottom of the screen are buttons that offer the user the choice of searching by Genre, Just In, Most Popular, A-Z, and Free content. On the far right is a link to the My Downloads feature. The top of the screen has a Settings, Help, and Search function. To browse content, one just swipes their finger from right to left along the screen to sift through the options. It’s quite simple and elegant.

The Verdict
It’s a compelling product that’s worth a look. Visually, the design of the iPlayer is very handsome, with easy navigation and logical functionality. At first glance, the content is quite good. With 200+ different shows available, there is enough content to keep one occupied.

At $9.49 per month, the price point is reasonable and I’d find value in subscribing for a couple of months. It’s hard to gauge whether an annual subscription is worthwhile as we’re yet to see just how quickly the content will cycle. On that point, it would be nice to know when a series is set to expire. I’d hate to get invested in a series and find it disappear from the platform before I could finish watching it.

A complaint that I do have about the iPlayer is that it does not offer access to BBC Radio programs. Streams of classic radio productions would have been an invaluable addition.

The BBC iPlayer isn’t a dream product. It’s library is large, but only just skims the surface of the rich archive of content that the BBC have to offer. What it does offer is a cheap subscription price, just enough decent content, and an attractive interface.

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