I’ve written quite a lot recently about the iPlayer and the other related catch-up services offered by ITV, Channel 4 and to a MUCH lesser extend five and SKY.
These are all great concepts, giving me the chance to watch almost any show broadcast on that channel for up to a week after broadcast – I’ve used the BBC, ITV and Channel 4 offerings quite a lot – mainly when I forget to Sky+ something or when my wife already has two shows lined up for that time.
But these solutions are never really going to hit mainstream – ok so they’re getting really good numbers – more than a million viewers since Christmas watching around 3.5 million shows – but that doesn’t mean it will hit mainstream.
I’ve spoken to a number of people who have said they’ll never use the iPlayer because they don’t want to sit in front of a small screen watching TV when they’ve got a big screen in their living room for doing that on.
I know a number of people that HAVE already used the service – mainly people bored in an office needing a lunchtime fix – after all it is pretty easy to use – select a show and press play! But I think there are more people out there that would like to use a catch-up service but can’t get their head around it.
These people might have WiFi at home (after all most ISPs offer it as a default set-up option now) but don’t have the computer skills to get the streaming services working OR don’t want to watch on a small screen.
Enter the set-top-box idea.
Basically for the iPlayer and all related products to reach mass appeal it needs to be as easy to use as Freeview or Sky+ – it really needs to be on a set-top-box that plugs into the scart socket of the TV and just works when you turn it on.
But I don’t think for a second the BBC, ITV or any broadcaster should think about building their own box – but if BBC, ITV and Channel 4 released an SDK or similar for their catch-up services to hardware manufacturers it would mean we could start to see boxes with iPlayer streaming built in.
On such box is the newly revamped Apple TV – it would fit the bill (even if it is a bit costly) as it already plays streamed video from You Tube, lets you download directly from the iTunes store and has podcast download support.
An iPlayer menu on the Apple TV could give you access to the iPlayer streaming service, could eventually include the iPlayer download service (maybe with Fairplay DRM) and give you access to all the BBC audio podcasts (and video podcasts when they re-launch them).
To me this would be the real missing link – it would mean I could comfortably sit on the sofa and watch anything from the iPlayer without having to get up to my computer and click on a new video everytime one finishes (I already have video from my computer displayed on the TV but it isn’t ideal).
It’s also probably the only thing that would cause me to spend £200 on the device. But it doesn’t have to be limited to the Apple TV – there’s no reason why the XBox 360 shouldn’t support iPlayer streaming or any other third party device that might come out in future.
In fact there’s no reason why a Freeview box manufacturer couldn’t add WiFi and build in an on-demand menu.