Access Denied by the BBC

Last updated: March 31, 2008, 9 p.m.

Why has the BBC decided to deny listeners access to their listen again feature recently? Until fairly recently it was possible to listen to radio shows fairly easily, now it seems that only a small set of users who are running the BBC's idea of the average hardware and software are able to listen.

If you cannot or will not install Real Player you can not use the BBC's listen again feature, this is stated unapologetically in their so called help section. Furthermore it would appear that you need Real Player 10.5 to get the Firefox browser plug-in, however it is not possible to install this on any version of Windows previous to Windows XP Service Pack 2, so users of Windows 2000 (machines of which vintage are still quite capable of playing streamed media and are plentiful enough to be equipped with a Wi-Fi attachment and used as an internet radio very cheaply) have to pay out for an XP upgrade or not use listen again.

You will also notice that I have not yet mentioned Linux in this as it seems that users of Linux and the Xine browser plug-in (which is theoretically capable of playing Real Media streams, and is installed by default by the install of Ubuntu version of Firefox) are also similarly barred from listening.

When the BBC Radio Player was first implemented it seemed quite reasonable and indeed inclusive to use the Real Player plug-in as this was well supported across the three major platforms at the time. However the support for Real Player has not improved on Linux as much as the general user experience has improved, and I think that things like the EeePC and the Ubuntu versions of Dell's laptops mean that it is no longer reasonable to assume Linux users are any more capable of messing around with installing third party browser plug-ins than users of older versions of Windows are.

Why then, when the BBC is able to provide a version of their iPlayer TV viewing service to British users via a flash application which requires only an install of Adobe Flash Player which is simple and straight forward, even automated on nearly all platforms, can they not do this for radio? In fact, I believe that they did do this as I'm almost certain that shortly after the release of the Flash based streaming client for video content I used the radio player without having to install a Real Player plug-in. It is possible that I had already installed the Real Player plug-in on that computer in the past but I seem to recall that it worked on a new install of Firefox on some platform with only Flash installed.

In conclusion then, the BBC have made another exclusive decision regarding who of their license-fee-payers can access certain services which is arbitrarily decided with utter disregard for the founding principals of the BBC, and even common sense for what is in effect a subscriber service.

Update 3 - Apr - 2008

Not content to just moan about the situation, and fairly resigned to the fact that the BBC won't do anything in the short term at least I have managed to get around the requirement for Real Player on both Windows 2000 and Linux. On Linux, the solution simply involved select the MPlayer plugin instead ofthe Xine Plugin, which works great and very easily.

On Windows 2000 a little more trickery was required. I downloaded the Real Alternative software from one of the hits on Google. However this needed DirectX 8.0 or above (which is greater than the default version on Windows 2000). To get the latest version from Microsoft you have to validate your version of Windows, however in true Microsoft style the validation tool crashed and so the ligitimate route was unavailable. I managed to find a freeware download site offering DirectX download (not necessarily the safest place to get software from but I didn't have much choice.) Once that was installed (with the obligatory reboot) the Real Alternative installed smoothly installing a Firefox plugin automatically.



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