BBC iPlayer: Gizmodo Goes Hands-On

BBC iPlayer: Gizmodo Goes Hands-On

The BBC’s VOD iPlayer App went live overnight. There’s a lot to like — and a lot of value on offer at least for the first month. I’m a little concerned about its long term value, though.

The embargo lifted overnight at the same time as the app went live in the local iTunes store, so the first thing I did this morning was download the free BBC iPlayer App. That’s free in the same way that most subscription-based apps are; you’re not paying for the container but the contents.

Having used iPlayer in the UK, I was used to what the interface would look like. Navigation is smooth both on an iPad 2 and an original iPad, although the subscription ties to a single iPad.

The range of free content is actually surprisingly decent; I’m way too used to subscription apps offering only a smidgen of content. In this case that’s true, but that smidgen would take you several hours to work through.

There’s some content notably not present. Sorry, sports fans; there’s none on offer. Likewise, while the BBC schedules are replete with plenty of panel shows, they’re notably absent. No Have I Got News For You. No Never Mind The Buzzcocks. No QI, although that’s perhaps understandable given the ABC has the local broadcast rights.

The closest you’ll get to some QI action is a very young Stephen Fry in ‘A Bit Of Fry & Laurie’ or ‘Blackadder’

It supports downloading episodes, and you can queue up multiple downloads, but you can’t download and watch simultaneously. Downloads work offline, as long as your subscription is current.

The whole thing is in pilot stage, and it shows in a couple of odd ways. I’m a huge Doctor Who junkie, so that was what I sought out first. Searching by genre finds the not terribly good Dreamland and The Infinite Quest, as well as most of David Tennant’s episodes, save the final two specials. If you search for classic Who, there’s a selection of William Hartnell and Patrick Troughton episodes.

Use the search function for “Tom Baker” and it won’t find anything Who-related, but there’s also a special feature on the Daleks which includes Destiny Of The Daleks… starring Tom Baker. In other words, a little digging may unearth treasures, or the search function needs streamlining. Probably both.

So is it worth the money? It’s certainly worth downloading the free app and checking out the sample content, as they’re full programs and some of them are excellent; you really can’t lose. As for whether the subscription pricing is worth it, that’ll depend on a couple of conditions. Personally, I dumped Foxtel a number of years back because I’d honestly seen everything they had that interested me (read: I’m not very interested in live sports), but I can see that if you’re a current Foxtel subscriber, the cross-correlation between the App and UKTV might make it slightly less compelling.

For a single month’s subscription, I’d say it’s a bargain, and I say that with a shelf bulging with BBC DVDs sitting just behind me. There’s easily enough here to justify 10 bucks (less than a movie ticket, after all) of my money. As to the question of ongoing subscription, though, that’ll depend on both the retention and rotation issue. If programs vanish too quickly it could be annoying; this is something that’s clearly flagged on the UK iPlayer site but not in the App as yet. Likewise, if it’s stuck with just the current content (the way Crackle has been for ages), then the value of the subscription drops markedly. The BBC’s got plenty of content in its archives, and it’ll be fascinating to see how they handle the content they’ve got.