iPlayer, Accessibility and Apple TV


With the launch today of the iPlayer iPad app (poor @geofftech) I thought it was a good time to write an update on using iPlayer in the wider iOS ecosystem. I promise that this is the last time I will write about iPlayer on the Apple TV…

A couple of months back Damon Rose left a detailed and touching comment on the previous post about popular search terms for this blog.

Please go and read it in it’s entirety. Go on, I’ll wait.

For those that didn’t go back and read it, I’ll pull out a couple of bits here. Speaking on the new Apple TV and it’s inbuilt screenreader, Voiceover: “I’m blind and it’s totally fantastic. It’s the first ever accessible set-top box I’ve had”, adding that Freeview “has taken 12 years to become accessible”.

Damon works at the BBC (he runs the BBC’s disability site, Ouch!), so he knows this area well. His concern is that it will take as long to see widespread adoption of an accessible video on demand set top box as it has for Freeview:

It would, of course, be excellent if BBC iPlayer were able to move onto this platform because, in theory, immediately up to 2 million blind and visually impaired licence fee payers could then acccess BBC on demand video if they bought the relatively inexpensive Apple TV box.

I guess the fear is that we won’t get the newly fashionable VOD services for another 12 years as with accessible DTT. Ther’es still no accessible PVR access incidentally … not any worth mentioning anyway.

Apple should be commended for their commitment to accessibility. The RNIB has gone as far as saying that Apple has “has set the standard” for device accessibility in recent years, changing the expectations of blind and partially sighted users as to what’s possible. And looking at the accessibility features on the iPhone it’s not hard to see why.

Anything the BBC can do to bring support for iPlayer to the Apple TV is not only a good thing for all licence fee payers, it’s a lifeline for those who rely on assistive technologies to watch BBC content.

Accessibility is an important subject to me. Those who know me might know that I’m blind in one eye. It’s not something that affects me on a day to day basis, but it does make me appreciate that sight is precious and it does occasionally make some things harder. It’s easy to forget that seven billion people means seven billion different experiences. We’re all unique. We all experience the same thing in a different way. It’s our responsibility as product managers, designers, developers, testers, content producers and business people to build things that are usable, accessible and magical for everyone. There is no one experience. We must be moldable to all of them.

And as for iPlayer on the Apple TV? Well, there’s potentially an answer for those who also own an iPad or an iPhone. The BBC could implement the AirPlay video APIs when they become available in iOS 4.3, which would let users stream video from an iPhone or iPad to their Apple TV. I really do hope the BBC does this, to not do would make no sense. I really do trust them to do the right thing.

And the iPad app released today? Well, apart from the lack of Nations and Local radio, it’s good. Really good. Though the BBC really does need to start treating national, nations and local content as equivalent. Thankfully this is a key part of the forthcoming changes to BBC Online. That’ll be a big step forward.

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7 Responses to “iPlayer, Accessibility and Apple TV”

  1. 1 frankieroberto

    Will a ‘download’ feature be added to the iPad app though, I wonder?

    (Given the closed nature of apps, surely it’d be possibly to implement a version of the 7-day-window DRM?)

  2. Sure hope so. Would be handy for watching things on the train/plane/tube/etc.

  3. 3 JulesLt

    I can only presume that given the technical simplicity of implementing Airplay, that it is down to the same rights restrictions around set top boxes (wasn’t that the whole driver for it being an opt-in flag anyway?)

    Shame really, as it seems there are more expensive set top boxes that can use iPlayer – it looks like they use a full web browser and Flash, so presumably at the BBC end they probably look exactly like a Linux PC.

    • I really hope it’s only because the app was released before the AirPlay APIs became available to third party developers. But, since then Channel 4 have also released their app without AirPlay, so who knows.

      If there is an issue I really hope it can be sorted soon. As you say, it’s not like it’s not available on TVs through many other means, including built in to many TVs themselves.

  4. 5 Peter Frost


    I have just purchased Apple TV and simply cannot understand why iPlayer is not accessible, as it is on other platforms. If it is too complex, why not adapt your plugin and just go with that? When I bought the kit I was convinced that before too long it would all be resolved but am no longer that confident. Great to see you campaigning and good luck with the new job!

    • Thanks! There are technical issues, as Apple does not officially support Apple TV “apps”. I think they might at some point though.

      What is possible now is enabling AirPlay on the iPad/iPhone app. The only potentially tricky thing there could be rights, but I’m sure something could be worked out. It’s not like the content isn’t available on Playstation, Wii, internet enabled TVs etc.

  5. 7 Chris Wright

    Jonathan, thanks for your post – do you have any idea if the BBC are even considering this? Given the small technical change required to implement it, I am concerned there are bigger reasons for its omittance. Like you have said, it seems absolutely ridiculous to restrict streaming it from my iPad when I could simply use my PS3 to achieve the self-same end. I hugely resent the BBC making me use the horrible PS3 iPlayer interface when I could be using my iPad!

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