Today, the BBC launched an additional feature to its online live TV player. Live Restart allows for those situations where you join a programme midway through, only to wish you hadn’t missed the first ten minutes. With a single click on a large purple button, you can switch to a timeshifted replay of the programme from the start. If even that’s not good enough for you, you can ‘rewind’ up to two hours of television.
Live rewind is nothing new for users of Sky+ or other, similar devices — but generally their replay buffer only goes as far back as you have been watching a particular channel, or further if you’d already set the show to be recorded.The new BBC service doesn’t depend on you having watched a programme already, but instead relies on advances in internet transmission systems which make it a lot easier for the BBC to record its outgoing video data.
For the tech-heads amongst you (by which, I mean me and anyone else as nerdy as I am), the BBC’s Henry Webster goes into some of the details on the BBC Internet Blog:
The technology that allows us to offer this new functionality is part of a wider strategic move to embrace HTTP chunked streaming for delivering our online video.
Instead of using a point-to-point streaming protocol such as RTMP as we have done in the past, this method breaks up the H.264 video into chunks and delivers them as HTTP packets in much the same way as the we deliver our text rich web pages today.
… The live restart functionality that we are launching on the iPlayer today is typical of the cool new interactive features that we can drive using HTTP streaming.
As we can keep all the video chunks as we distribute them, we can offer them to be viewed again later, or even store them more permanently.
… To do this we have linked up the programme schedule data with a rewind-able live stream which means, where rights allow, that you should easily be able to navigate back to the start of the currently live programme, pause and resume a live stream or look back at anything that happened in the last two hours.
The key phrase in that last paragraph will, I suspect, turn out to be “where rights allow”. Live streaming of a current TV channel and iPlayer availability post-transmission do seem to often be subject to different contracts. That’s all well and good when watching live, or watching iPlayer, are two discrete operations by the viewer — but if the BBC’s new techniques catch on, there are all sorts of implications.
Not least of these is the implication for liability for paying the licence fee. As it stands, to watch live simulcasts of TV channels requires a valid TV Licence, whereas watching iPlayer does not. With this new hybrid system, where does the licence fee requirement kick in? The fact that this question can even be asked shows how outdated the licence fee system is becoming in the age of increased online watching.