Monday, May 23, 2011, 9:49 AM ET|Posted by Will RichmondThe BBC's announcement late last week of its new "Series Record" feature, which enables iPlayer users to subscribe to download future episodes of specific TV programs just as they might do with a DVR, caught my attention because it adds compelling new value to the current online video streaming model. That's because, as valuable as it is to have premium content available online, it still requires the user to actually be online and have a robust broadband connection (and soon enough to also be adhering to their ISP's usage cap).
For many, meeting these criteria isn't a problem. However, there are lots of others, particularly those of us who travel frequently, for whom these streaming prerequisites block many potential viewing opportunities (try streaming over a MiFi card or on a hotel's wireless network or on an airplane!). As a result, if we want to watch an episode of our favorite network TV program freely available online, or something from the Netflix streaming or Hulu Plus catalog, the only option is likely to have to pay to download it from iTunes or Amazon or another provider.
If however we could simply record what we want to our computer (or device or smartphone) for offline viewing, as the iPlayer offers, a whole new viewership model would open up. That's good not only for consumers, but also for content providers eager to drive consumption and build value. Other benefits are that downloading compressed video files (especially HD) during off-peak hours would help ease content providers' delivery costs and help users stay below their ISP's usage cap, both emerging issues. For mobile users in particular, being able to watch downloaded, instead of streamed content, would also offer a big savings on battery life.
Still, there are key challenges to the DVR/online video model. First is the client-side software. Today's typical video player (e.g. Brightcove, thePlatform, Ooyala, etc.) would need to be able to handle secure downloads as well as streams. As the iPlayer shows though, this shouldn't be that problematic. Content providers would also require enhanced security and rights to be in place to guard against rampant file sharing.
Then there's monetization. Streaming's dynamic video ad insertion wouldn't be available with offline viewing, so the ads would obviously need to be downloaded with the content, which raises issues of timeliness and relevance. A potential work around would be to have the ads refreshed whenever the user went back online. During these times, usage would be reported as well. One catch is that offline viewing would preempt some of the interactivity that online video ads allow, requiring more creativity in engaging users with ads.
Add it all up, and it sure feels like a easy-to-use DVR-style recording capability for viewing online video offline would be a really valuable enhancement to today's streaming experience. That makes me think that the iPlayer is in the vanguard and we're going to see this type of DVR feature roll out here in the U.S. as well.