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App Review: BBC iPlayer

by on December 6th, 2011

Oh, the BBC. Depending on your age and how you grew up, it can mean one of many different things. For some, it means Coronation Street and Little Britain, and for others, it means Doctor Who or Red Dwarf. And yet, for some, it means Top Gear and the Grand Prix. Surprisingly, the BBC has done what few other broadcasters have done – be something for everyone. With this in mind, and with whatever the BBC means to you, there really should be something you’ll like in the BBC iPlayer that was launched last week.

Similar to the original iPlayer app that was originally launched in the UK, the BBC Canada version of the iPlayer sounds pretty much the same as Canadian (think CBC and Global TV) apps offer. Shows can be either streamed or downloaded directly to your iPad for offline viewing, and AirPlay is supported. However, this is where the similarities end.

Unlike native Canadian apps where recently aired episodes are available, the iPlayer draws from its vast video collection across various genres, hits and eras. What you end up with is a proverbial mishmash of shows that exemplifies BBC as one of the oldest and most renowned broadcasters in the world. Where else can you find vintage Doctor Who episodes side by side with Michael Palin documentaries and early Hugh Laurie sketch shows? (Netflix comes close, but more on that later.)

Unfortunately, this approach has its significant drawbacks. If you’re expecting the latest and greatest episodes and series, then you would be sorely out of luck. The latest series I recognize in the collection was a series on the Royal Wedding from earlier in the year. However, if you’re looking for the latest Doctor Who or Coronation Street, you’re better off waiting for them to air on CBC or Space.

There are a few other roadblocks from making the app one of my favourite streaming services. Firstly, the price. Yes. Unlike, say, the CBC or Global app, the iPlayer is a subscription service at $8.99 per month (with a discount on an annual subscription). On par with Netflix, it’s certainly not exorbitant, but it definitely isn’t free. The second is selection. The app offers a pretty good selection of shows, but it’s not the complete BBC library, and it easily falls short of Netflix’s thousands of titles. (And yes, there are definitely a few overlaps between the two.) The app also doesn’t offer live streaming, which is a significant drawback.

Lastly, there’s the actual app interface. As an iPad only app that was already released overseas, I was expecting a fully polished user experience. They were close, but it’s not perfect. Oftentimes, the show or series title got truncated, effectively forcing me to wonder which season of a specific show I clicked on. Also, AirPlay compatibility isn’t complete. Between various sittings, I wasn’t able to get AirPlay to activate consistently.

I’m disappointed to say that my initial experience with the iPlayer left me somewhat disheartened. There’s a lot of potential in the iPlayer, but it’s diminished either by design or by copyright. The video collection could be better suited for North American consumption, but it’s sufficient for an initial release. At its current price and noticeable overlap in available shows, I still feel that Netflix is a better choice for most people. However, if you’re looking for those obscure or vintage BBC shows, then it may be worthwhile to subscribe monthly and cancel when you’ve had your fill.

Let us know what you think of the iPlayer. Love it or hate it? Leave a note in the comments below.

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Posted under: Reviews

  • Guest

    For the record, Coronation Street is not a BBC show

  • Marsdust

    I waited a long time for this app to appear and I am thrilled with it.  $8.99 is nothing to pay for superior programming, the documentaries themselves worth more than that.  So, yes I love the app and the service.

  • Stevep420

    Exactly! Coronation Street is NOT a BBC show

  • Anonymous

    I use a VPN with Safari and access iPlayer that way. I won’t pay for this app when the Safari interface is better.

  • Allan

    A big BIG MASSIVE fail for not including Match of the Day on this. Shocking exclusion!

  • Cbat65

    Why not just use your VPN, a UK iTunes account, and the free UK BBC iPlayer app. Includes live streaming too.

    This app is a rip-off. $5 monthly VPN gets you the UK BBC iPlayer and the ITV iPlayer (with Coronation Street).

  • Pontcanna

    I think the MOTD shocking exclusion is almost definitely down to rights issues. I wouldn’t expect to see any sports on it, except for documentaries and the like. The model is archive-only anyway, would you be satisfied with MOTD from 2003?