Download DRM-free BBC content in a Flash

The launch of the BBC’s long awaited iPlayer has been controversial due to their decision to support only Windows XP. Users of Apple Macs, Linux, or even Windows Vista are currently unable to use the service, which allows the last seven days of BBC programmes to be downloaded, and then watched at any time in the next month. This clip, from BBC News, explains what it’s about.

Today, it was announced that the BBC has signed a deal with Adobe to provide Flash versions of their video content, including the iPlayer. This will allow users of other operating systems to access the last week’s programmes, but only to watch it as live streams. It still won’t be possible to download the content to watch later. The BBC Trust quickly responded to say that the BBC must still provide the full download service on other platforms.

Flash on websites used to be nothing but a nuisance. Sites would have annoying intros, or even worse, the whole site navigation would be slow and virtually unusable. Happily, with the coming of Web 2.0, far more sites use standard HTML and realise the importance of search engine optimisation. Flash has been given a new lease of life as the technology behind sites such as YouTube. Flash is ideal for this. In the past, streaming video embedded in news sites often didn’t work on people’s computers as they would be lacking a plug-in or codec. But where a Flash player is used, all people need is the Flash plugin. It’s only since the invention of Flash-based video players that watching streamed video online has really taken off.

As some people will know, Flash-based video players actually play video that is streamed in FLV format. There are numerous websites and downloadable tools that allow users to download the FLV content, meaning the content can be watched while offline and kept for posterity. If the BBC use Flash on their website, this will most probably mean that the content can be downloaded – without Digital Rights Management to delete it after a month. Some video sites attempt to obfuscate the actual URL of the stream using multiple Javascript calls, but this is quickly figured out by hackers. A site as popular as the BBC will soon be cracked. But then, we are often told the BBC aren’t he ones who want the restrictive DRM: they don’t own most of the content, so are forced to add DRM by the programme makers.

The announcement suggests that Flash is to be offered for all video content in the future, including video clips on the BBC website. At present, these are offered in either RealPlayer or Windows Media format. There were nasty rumours a while ago that the BBC were planning to scrap RealPlayer, and move over to Windows Media-only. The addition of Flash will mean that, even if RealPlayer disappears, the content will be available to everyone. (Hopefully it won’t be too much harder to download the clips, should you want to, than it is at the moment.) In fact, Flash video on the BBC website isn’t a new thing. They have been trialling it on their technology pages for a while. If you watched the clip about the iPlayer above, you’ve already tried it! If you click through to the BBC website, there is a link to “Watch in the News Player”, which shows the same video in RealPlayer or Windows Media Player. This is the shape of things to come! From this clip about the $100 laptop, is also seems the quality isn’t bad. Now all we need is a decent size for the video…

P.S. You can download the video about the iPlayer in FLV format (yes, the streaming-only Flash video!)

11 responses to “Download DRM-free BBC content in a Flash”

  1. Kev

    Yes, but how do you actually do it? The FLV seems obfuscated. I know the beeb were working with adobe on the flash streaming, but I can’t work out where the

    My usual tool, “Moyea FLV downloader” doesn’t seem to work with it at all.

    Any tips?

  2. matt

    You can’t download content from the flash based iplayer. With sites like youtube, once you’ve finished watching the file, you just retreive it from the cache. This doesn’t work with iplayer.

  3. Jonathan

    It isn’t quite as straightforward as downloading from Youtube, etc., as it uses an RTMP stream. There’s quite a bit of info on the web at the moment. See for example:
    http://philwilson.org/blog/2007/12/downloading-from-the-bbc-streaming-iplayer-is-hard
    http://www.mail-archive.com/backstage@lists.bbc.co.uk/

    If I come up with a definitive method, I’ll post something new. At the moment I have operating system/firewall issues that are preventing me from trying things!

  4. Neil

    I have been downlaoding .FLV using OrbitDownloader http://www.orbitdownloader.com.

    It takes a little guesswork to get the correct stream, but usually quite obvious. Firefox downlaoder and other tools i have tried don’t recognise the streams on iPlayer

  5. bob

    Now what about the quality of the FLV themselves. THey seem to be nobbled and local playback is problematical at best.

    Sky & Channel4 (ITN/ITV) sourced FLV video is silky smooth and v good quality. BBC FLV’s can barely be played on anything without many problems, most obvious being audio glitches (strange as old school MP3).
    MPC has trouble playing and needs audio shifing too. VLC can be v sketchy. duration times never match and FLV Player (applian) also completely misrepsents file length (but doesn’t suffer audio glitches)
    As for trying to convert or open in editors forget it where Sky or Ch4 content has no problems even in oldschool VDub with FLV input filter. Avidemux the same and other tools tried too numerous to list.

    Does anyone know what is going on? Clearly the Beeb has succeeded in crippling the FLV’s to prevent archiving or local playback (to overcome network/internet issues)

  6. bob

    oh and as for stream capping, most downloaders are capable of defeating iplayers obfuscations. Where Applian WMrecorder used to work now just try their AVReplay series of progs from MediaCatcher upto the flagship product (which I had trouble with so sdon’t use).

    Hidownload, FLVrecorder adn numerous others are all supposed to work

  7. Terry

    Over the past week or so I have tried FLVdownloader, Hidownload without suceess.
    Orbit often detected, but would not download.
    Applian MediaCatcher seemed to work fine evertime.
    Little tip, with Iplayer, when collecting the streaming mode, select “high quality” which will automatically start playing and also sending the higher quality stream (I think about 30 to 50% larger file).
    Also BBC are currently having a variety of problems with Iplayer, also some of the glitches I have seen in the FLV were in the original broadcast !?
    (I have only 1 recorder and problems because BBC often start programmes upto 3 minutes before the scheduled times on evenings + some over run – so I can not rely on change over times onto different channels.)

  8. Marmy

    I am able to download .flv files from TV Espana using Orbit Downloader. This also used to work for the BBC sites, but stopped working a couple of months ago – gives a “Wait for retry(5S)”error. The most recent upgrade to Orbit flagged up as being virus infected in AVG anti-virus, although there are suggestions that this was probably a false positive (can anyone confirm?).
    Have reverted to an earlier version of Orbit which still works for TV Espana but am still unable to capture BBC.
    Any suggestions as how to overcome this, or any software that can?

  9. Nigel

    Interested in your postings about the stupid Iplayer 30day limit.

    I understand the 7day limit on download time, but once I’ve downloaded it, why cant I keep it? If I recorded it on old fasioned VHS I could keep it for ever.

    I’ve paid for the programme through my licence fee.

    Nigel

  10. kobe

    I share you a software-GetFLV, it can help you download BBC news videos/TV/movies/shows for free. You can download it fromhttp://www.superlogix.net/BBC_News-downloader/index.htm

  11. Jonathan

    Note that the above link appears to be to commercial software costing $80. Visitors should be cautious and make their own judgement about whether the software may contain malware.

    These days I use get_iplayer, which will download both iPlayer and BBC News Flash content. This is free, genuine and available from here for both Windows and Linux:
    http://www.infradead.org/get_iplayer/

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