Published: 11.32 Europe/London, April 7, 2011

The BBC has begun to enforce rules under its new syndication policy that prevents platforms from creating their own versions of the BBC iPlayer. This week Virgin Media was forced to remove direct access to BBC content on its new TiVo service, replacing it with the new BBC-endorsed Flash-based version.

A new contract signed between the cableco and the BBC means that instead of being able to access BBC content through its backwards EPG, Virgin TiVo users must instead go through the Apps and Games area. Alternatively, Virgin customers can continue to press the Red Button from a BBC channel, as is the case with boxes running the Liberate/TV Navigator middleware that remains unaffected by the changes.

Although the BBC syndication policy is yet to be officially approved by the BBC Trust, the BBC told Broadband TV News that it was working within the guidelines of the draft policy.

Virgin’s own figures show that 80% of traffic for the iPlayer is currently running through its own servers rather than those of the BBC. Although the proportion could fall now that the iPlayer has been separated from the rest of Virgin’s on demand offer – a move against the cableco’s wishes – it is still early days for viewer usage patterns to emerge. Broadband TV News understands that the link between the iPlayer and TiVo may be restored later in the year.

A positive for Virgin is that the new format will allow an increase in the amount of programmes available that will increase from around 300 to 700 hours on average. This brings Virgin into line with the iPlayer on connected TV devices.

The BBC Syndication Policy has come in for criticism from platforms and regulators alike. BSkyB described it as “bizarre”, while Ofcom said it failed the consumer. The BBC says it will turn down requests for ‘bespoke’ versions of the iPlayer for use by single platforms or devices as a matter of course, only accepting them if the BBC’s costs for development and maintenance were fully reimbursed. Instead several standard versions of the iPlayer are being created, such as the current ‘big screen’ version.

The move comes as the BBC introduces a version of the iPlayer for connected TV based on the new MHEG Interaction Channel. It follows the publication of D-Book 6.2.1. The first product to be certified will be a Freeview+ HD PVR from Sony.

In a blogpost earlier this week Gideon Summerfield, product manager, BBC iPlayer on TV, said the BBC was encouraged by the adoption of HTML by device manufacturers, which allowed the build of rich IPTV apps, especially where standards for video control – such as HTML5 – were supported. The standard HTML version of BBC iPlayer for TV has been certified by the BBC in the last few days.

The BBC iPlayer is also being progressively rolled out on the BT Vision IPTV network. The deployment is likely to be completed by June.

Separately, Boxee users lost access to the iPlayer last month with a notice on the over-the-top service stating: “We’re working with the BBC to update the application, in the meantime you can access BBC video content from our TV Show library”. The iPlayer app – arguably one of the few attractions of Boxee in the UK – has for the time being been removed altogether.