ABC iView is coming to the iPad, iPhone and other smartphones soon, the ABC has revealed.
Following my revelatory experience with Sony's iView-enabled BluRay player
yesterday, I spoke to Arul Baskaran, who is the Controller, Multiplatform for ABC TV, and asked him when iView would be expanding beyond its Flash shackles to other platforms such as the iPad.
I expected this to be some super top-secret kind of thing where it'd be impossible to get the head of iView development on the phone, but in fact Baskaran was easy to reach and happy to talk about the ABC's plans – what a welcome relief from talking to secrecy-obsessed companies like Apple.
Baskaran told me the ABC is working on an iPad implementation for iView with "no dates really yet – but later this year" – which means we'll be seeing iView on iPad within three months.
"The ABC put out an iPad app that integrates a lot of our content; news, weather and so on. We found out that there is a huge demand for iView on the iPad – a lot of people asked why iView isn't available," he said.
"Also, over the last two years, since we launched iView, we've had a lot of anecdotal feedback from people who love using iView on their laptop – using it in bed or in another room while someone is using the big living room TV. It's going to be a great experience – obviously video looks quite beautiful on the iPad."
Baskaran said the ABC had also done some experiments recently with outputting the video from the iPad directly to a TV, as another way to get iView onto TV screens. This capability would couple up well with Belkin's forthcoming iPod/iPhone/iPad HDMI cable, which will allow a full digital video connection between your iDevice and your TV.
The ABC is also looking at other touch OS platforms such as Android. "We've been working on ways of getting iView onto other platforms that don't depend on Flash – not just for iPad or Apple. The connected TV platforms, Sony Bravia or whatever, they don't use Flash either – we've already moved to H.264 video which places us in a good position to start building app versions for different platforms," he said.
Today's news that the patent body that controls the H.264 standard will not charge any royalties indefinitely for free internet video content will also bolster ABC's determination to provide iView via H.264.
"We'd like to be as ubiquitous as the web with iView – all devices that have browsers, that can run an internet site – right now it's flash, but eventually it might be HTML5, but the aim is to make it available on the least common denominator," he said.
"At the moment applications are a speedy way to get onto some of these devices. At the same time, we're a limited team with limited resources, so we do take into account the outlay in development money vs the penetration of those devices. So we have to pick the partners we would work with based on that."
"Will we have iView on absolutely everything out there one day? I don't think so – there's a new set top box just about every day, but we're working with all the large TV manufacturers and certainly iPhone and Android."
According to Baskaran, ABC iView usage is growing exponentially, up from 350,000 visits a year ago to over 2.3million in the last month alone, with 8-10% usage from non-PC devices at the moment. He said 6,000 visits had been logged from people using the latest iView-enabled Sony Bravia TVs so far.
He said the ABC wasn't too worried about increased piracy of iView content with H.264, as there are ways to secure streaming of that via HTTPS. He said there was little the ABC could do if people "straight up film what's on screen and put that up on YouTube," though. "I don't think people are downloading content off iView and selling and sharing it in any major way," he said.
When will we get unmetered ABC News 24?
One of the very popular aspects of iView is that with various ISPs including iiNet, Primus, Internode, Westnet and a bunch of smaller ones, it's unmetered due to peering arrangements those ISPs have to exchange data free of charge with the ABC's data centre.
Although it's less of an issue now with the bottom falling out of the broadband pricing market, and ISPs offering staggeringly large download allowances, it's still an issue for people who like to only buy as much data allowance as they really need, in order to save money.
ABC News 24's live streaming service has been very well received by users, but it's not unmetered – something that Baskaran says the ABC is working on.
"Keeping things unmetered is something we'd like to do – having partnerships wth ISPs is very important to us, and was very important to the first two years when we were trying to build an audience base," he said.
"With the News 24 one, it's a bit of a technical piece of work that needs to be done – it isn't out of the question that it'll be unmetered at some point, but the initial focus was on getting the channel up as news. It depends on the content distribution networks (CDNs) we use and the ISPs we partner with. "
ABC's plans for mobile devices
A few other interesting tidbits from the conversation with Baskaran:
- ABC News 24 on iPhone is a 650Kbit/s stream, with special infrastructure within the ABC designed for optimum mobile streaming (it handles bandwidth fluctuation much better than a standard 650Kbit/s stream.)
- The ABC thinks mobile will be a significant platform for content consumption – analysts like Gartner are predicting that page requests from mobile devices will outstrip those from computers by 2013.
- The tipping point in mobile phones is happening at the moment because they now have fast enough processors, big screens and easy-to-use web browsers.
- The ABC is investigating what the social aspects of iView might offer – following what your friends watched recently, for example, or chatting about a show while you watch it in different places with friends.