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BBC's iPlayer getting Mac version in 2008, Web version continues to dominate usage

Is the BBC's iPlayer service even necessary with the Web version available? The BBC seems to think so, and is planning to release a Mac version later this year.

If there are lessons to be learned about the need for big companies to create platform-agnostic services, the BBC's iPlayer project may be one of the most shining examples.

Since the launch of the iPlayer, the BBC has been under fire not only from its viewers, but also members of the British Parliament. Parliament members have come down on the broadcasting corporation for its lack of support for open standards, and soaring costs in the development of the Windows-only software whose cost is estimated to be close to £6 million pounds (nearly $11 million dollars).

We've blogged about the service before, although haven't been able to test it because of the application's use of geo-IP tracking to (rightfully) limit viewing to the tax-paying UK citizens who fund it. Many users say the clunky interface and tough DRM make the software anything but user friendly.

The iPlayer software continues to be a Windows-only application, which has led to the controversy of those paying citizens using Mac or Linux who were unable to use the program to catch up on BBC programming without the need for a television. The iPlayer software uses Windows Media Player-based DRM that requires users to have the latest versions of Windows XP or Vista, leaving Mac and Linux users out of the picture.

UK residents can access a variety of BBC programming on the Web via streaming. Windows users can also download the programs to watch while offline. CNET Networks

In mid-December, the BBC responded by releasing a streaming version of the player that runs in Web browsers using Adobe Flash. Already the service has been a runaway success. According to a blog post earlier today from the BBC's director general, Mark Thompson, 90 percent of the users of the streaming service are running Windows, while 9 percent are using mac, and 0.8 percent are using Linux. Despite the 9-to-1 user ratio, Thompson again confirmed that the BBC was still working on a Mac version, scheduled to be released by the end of the year. He also said the initial rush to make the service available had led to the single-platform offerings.

Based on the early success of TV on demand service in the states, and the recent roll out of Apple's timed-DRM, it's worth wondering if a standalone software version of the service is even worth the headache. The trade off of course is that the software users can "stack" episodes of their favorite shows and watch them without having to be tethered to the internet (except to connect to servers for the DRM). Time will tell.