Qu’ils regardent du Flash

(‘Let them watch Flash’, after the phrase often misattributed to Marie Antoinette.)

I wrote a while back about the misguidedness of the BBC’s decision to use Flash for getting the iPlayer onto Android phones, and we now have some numbers to prove it. Here’s what I said:

Flash won’t run on most of the Android phones currently out there. H.264 will, and it’s practically there today, except for the boneheaded platform strategy.

This is in the context of the fact that the iPhone version of the iPlayer would be a much better basis for an Android iPlayer than Flash could ever hope to be.

The BBC eventually released the Android iPlayer at the end of June. At that time, the only phone capable of running it was the Google Nexus One. On the 16th July, Google withdrew the Nexus One.

The only other phone available through normal channels in the UK that can run Android 2.2 (a.k.a. Froyo, the latest version of Android and the only one to support Flash) is, I believe, the HTC Desire. And the official release of 2.2 has only made its way to handset owners in the past few weeks.

Ben Griffiths submitted a Freedom of Information request about the take-up of the Android version of the iPlayer. As you might expect, it’s low.

Really low:

in July 2010 6,400 programmes were streamed from the BBC iPlayer to Android devices.

How does this compare to the iPhone version?

In July 2010 there were 5,272,464 programmes requested via the BBC iPlayer from Apple iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad devices.

OK, that includes iPads as well, but even so, it differs by 3 orders of magnitude!

I’m not surprised, though. The BBC chose to implement an Android iPlayer that almost no extant Android phones can use, either now or ever.

It’s almost as if they wanted it to fail. But no, I don’t think it’s a conspiracy. It’s a cock-up. And all because of the BBC’s insane requirement that all video on the internet must only be available via a closed platform.

(Added) One other fact that stands out is the disparity in the number of programmes watched on each platform:

Platform Visitors per week Programmes requested in July Programmes requested per week (adjusted) Programmes per visitor
Android 1,106 6,400 1,445 1.30
iOS 230,016 5,272,464 1,190,556 5.18

One possible interpretation is that Android viewers are less satisfied with the viewing experience. Another is that they are just trying it out, and haven’t worked out how to fit it into their lives yet. I’m not sure that any safe conclusions can be drawn from the difference alone.


  1. Ben

    Wrote at 2010-08-27 13:13 UTC using Safari 533.17.8 on Mac OS X:

    I think the timing of the launch matters.

    I remain convinced that the Flash solution for Android was launched in order to lessen the outrage that should have followed the forced removal of the BeebPlayer Android app.

    The numbers confirm what everyone knew – there was no market for the flash iPlayer on Android. Partly because flash has, to a rounding error, zero Android penetration.

    But also, because the primary use-case for mobile watching has to be download at home and then watch while you’re, you know, mobile. Not really hard to think that one through, I’d have thought.

    A streaming flash solution doesn’t support that as well as the HTTP solution used by the iPhone. In fact, flash streaming is forbidden on mobile networks – the BBC crippling the service via IP-address blocking.
  2. Paul Battley

    Wrote at 2010-08-27 14:31 UTC using Chrome 7.0.500.0 on Linux:

    I certainly agree about the primary use-case, but I’m not convinced that the iPhone version really supports offline viewing, or indeed any kind of on-the-hoof viewing: the mobile network ban applies to the iPhone version as well.

    One is, apparently, permitted to use the iPlayer over a mobile connection if it’s 3 or a Vodafone contract, but I’d have thought that it’s unlikely to be particularly satisfactory, given the variability of mobile reception and the limited data allowance and rapacious charges for exceeding those paltry limits.
  3. Lee

    Wrote at 2010-08-27 20:55 UTC using Safari 533.17.8 on Mac OS X:

    Having viewed live TV streams over 3G using TVCatchup with no issues, I can’t understand the restriction as it doesn’t appear to be a technological one.

    I doubt many people would consume media for an extended period over 3G as it eats battery power and most “unlimited” data plans would be used up in a matter of hours, but when you just want to check out a clip of something or see the news on the go it’s nice to be able to.

    I think most people understand that 3G coverage is far from ubiquitous in this country so stopping them from viewing over 3g when they have good 3G coverage is just an unwelcome frustration.
  4. Ben Hall

    Wrote at 2010-09-05 17:22 UTC using Safari 531.21.10 on Mac OS X:

    I’m finding the BBCs attitude towards flash and mobile OS generally confusing. On one hand they’ve found an almost foolproof way of protecting their video streams for the iPad iplayer, which presumably they could use for devices from other manufacturers. On the other hand, they still use flash for videos on the news web page, and (in my opinion) the news webpage has had a design making it less mobile friendly, whilst releasing a new iOS mobile app with videos and everything else. I worry that this might be their new way; everything available on supported platforms through a bespoke app, leaving less common devices to fend with less well designed web interfaces with patchy or suboptimal availability to things like videos.
  5. Zach Inglis

    Wrote at 2010-09-06 19:07 UTC using Safari 533.17.8 on Mac OS X:

    The fact that the iPlayer works on my iPad creates a lot more worth for my iPad to me. Not having the ability to stream TV shows would be a deal breaker for me.

    It annoys me that BBC are the only ones to offer this service (apart from tvcatchup but that is not quite the same) although I read somewhere that the other channels SHOULD be coming to the iPlayer soon.
  6. Tim

    Wrote at 2010-09-11 07:36 UTC using Firefox 3.6.8 on Linux:

    I think I’ve mentioned before that I have a usable iPlayer client on my Symbian phone. It supports downloading for offline viewing, but I much prefer to download using iplayer-dl and transcode in vlc since:
    a) It downloads to the PC more quickly.
    b) It’s better quality.
    c) It doesn’t expire – and that’s a biggy. I hate it when the last episode of a series just stops working before I get around to watching it.

    However, it does occasionally occur to me that’s one less regular Symbian iPlayer downloading and one more tally mark for the iPhone fan boys.

    Not to comment on the use of flash, or Android, but if I do get an Android phone I might well still end up downloading iPhone content for the reasons above.
  7. Nathan

    Wrote at 2010-11-09 16:28 UTC using Chrome 7.0.517.44 on Windows XP:

    I was very pleased to find this site.I wanted to thank you for this great read!! I definitely enjoying every little bit of it and I have you bookmarked to check out new stuff you post.
  8. Ian

    Wrote at 2010-12-06 17:46 UTC using Firefox 3.6.12 on Linux:

    Be interesting to know how many of the ‘iPhone’ requests were actually Apple kit and how many were things pretending to be in order to download radio programmes etc.