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BBC May Build Its Own CDN to Support iPlayer

The BBC may build its own content delivery network (CDN) to lessen the bandwidth impact of its iPlayer service on UK ISPs.

The BBC may build its own content delivery network (CDN) to lessen the bandwidth impact of its iPlayer service on UK Internet service providers, according to The Register. The iPlayer, a Flash app which delivers full-length streaming video of BBC programs, has resulted in a huge increase in streaming bandwidth for British ISPs since its introduction in December. Early reports found that costs for streaming video had tripled at one provider, raising concerns that the iPlayer's popularity would break the business models of ISPs. There are also a growing number of reports of end users exceeding their bandwidth caps and incurring fees for surplus bandwidth.

After initially insisting the iPlayer was having a negligible impact on UK Internet infrastructure, the BBC now says it is exploring whether to build its own CDN network. "Content delivery networks are one of many solutions we're considering to give consumers a better experience," the BBC's Anthony Rose told The Reg. ""The closer you can get the content to the edge of the network the better for everyone." The BBC is reportedly considering working with Velocix (formerly CacheLogic), which uses a hybrid CDN approach integrating peer-to-peer (P2P) technology.

The BBC's situation is interesting for two reasons:

  • It's an example of a major content publisher being forced to reckon with its impact on downstream infrastructure. I'm not sure I've seen a similar example of this.
  • It's an early case study in the benefits of different approaches to P2P technology for delivering commercial video content at scale.

The Register calls the CDN option a "radical solution" but notes that the bandwidth pressures UK ISPs are experiencing from iPlayer traffic could lead to tiered pricing based on usage, which would in turn force many iPlayer users into a higher-priced plan. "An emerging stratified broadband customer profile is obviously at odds with (the BBC's) public service obligation to deliver TV to every licence fee payer," the Register writes. "In turn, that means the gamble over investing in an iPlayer delivery infrastructure, such as a CDN, is even more pressured."

American TV networks, while unencumbered by the BBC's public service mandates, will nonetheless be watching closely.

The BBC's initial approach to online video featured peer-to-peer downloads via a desktop application backed by VeriSign's Kontiki P2P technology. The streaming Flash player has proven far more popular. If Velocix were chosen to support content delivery for the BBC, it could offer P2P-based streaming technology to ease the traffic burden on ISPs.