Media Lifeline: BBC iPlayer

After deals with Virgin Media and BT Vision, and a Freesat launch, the iPlayer turns its attentions to social networks.

December 2007: The BBC's iPlayer was hardly a revelation. BSkyB was the first UK broadcaster to launch an internet-delivered catch-up service, called Sky by Broadband (it is now called Sky Player), in January 2006; the 4oD service from Channel 4 came along in November 2006; and even ITV.com announced a streaming and catch-up service in May 2007. But it's the launch of the iPlayer towards the end of the year that galvanises the market.

May 2008: The BBC signs deals with Virgin Media and BT Vision for cut-down versions of the iPlayer to be made available on their digital video-on-demand platforms. Virgin soon accounts for one-third of iPlayer viewing. In June 2008, an upgraded iPlayer 2.0 launches.

April 2009: Now the iPlayer launches a high-definition offering - and it announces that it will not only roll out HD to partner platforms such as Virgin Media but will also begin offering a cut-down iPlayer on games consoles such as PlayStation3 and Wii. In May, the Freeview managing director, Ilse Howling, announces that iPlayer will also be available via the free-to-air digital terrestrial platform.

November 2009: The Freeview launch is delayed but the iPlayer is available via a dedicated Wii channel. Talks with Xbox are deadlocked because of Microsoft's insistence on charging for content - contrary to the BBC's remit. But a launch on Freesat is announced in December.

May 2010: As the BBC gears up to make the iPlayer more accessible via social networking franchises such as Twitter and Facebook, it also reveals that it will offer links to shows on other video-on-demand sites, such as ITV's, Channels 4's and SeeSaw. This enrages BSkyB, which argues that the BBC is now overstepping its remit and acting as a third-party aggregator, without the appropriate regulatory permissions.

Fast forward ...

June 2012: With analogue switch-off complete, and a BBC-dominated Project Canvas growing rapidly and with the BBC now almost a monopoly UK news provider, the corporation has a major presence on the web. So it's no surprise when its new director-general, its former technology boss, Erik Huggers, announces that all of the UK's commercial broadcasters are to merge their web operations into a generic, industry-standard iPlayer.

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