Providing more content for people on the move, the BBC is today launching free mobile downloads. The programs can be kept for up to 30 days and watched over 7 days enabling viewers to see what they like even when they are not connected to the Internet.

The new feature is available on iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch devices and as ever, ‘will come to Android soon’. Why the wait for Android? Well there is often a delay for the opposing OS but in this case the BBC is working on issues relating to the Nexus 7 tablet which it seems has a few compatibility problems when it comes to using the iPlayer and Flash. “One of the things the team has been looking at is the way we work through that transition away from Flash. We’re working with Adobe and Google to do that, but it means to get on all the devices will take a bit longer,” explains Daniel Danker, General Manager of Programmes and On Demand.

The iPlayer has an impressive audience in the UK, but the development team is still trying to find ways to make the service even more accessible. A year ago, around 20% of the adult UK population would use the iPlayer in a given week, naturally the remaining 80% is the main target.

iplayerdownloading660 BBC iPlayer unleashes downloading for mobile devices. Now travelers can watch outside their authorized region

Danker feels that there are three areas that will improve viewing figures. “There is a general view that the iPlayer is just for the PC,” he says. “People think it is also just for catching up on programs. 60% of iPlayer use was on a PC last year but that is dropping and is now at 52% now. All devices have gone up a bit and our tablet viewers figures have grown by almost 300%.”

Part of the reason for the growth of the iPlayer is the apparent ease of use. The service launched its ‘Live Restart’ feature recently where viewers can effectively start from the beginning of a program if they miss the top of a show that is streamed live.

Indeed live streaming is also a big part of the viewing figures too. “We hit a new record in July this year,” says Danker. “18% of all viewing on the iPlayer was live and that’s not counting the Olympics. So around one out of five people viewing the iPlayer are just doing so to watch TV.”

Beyond the PC

Shifting the iPlayer’s reputation away from being a PC catch-up services means that more people will consider using the service on mobile devices. That said, many people prefer to watch on mobile devices at home where they can be guaranteed a cheaper and more reliable WiFi connection. The iPlayer team is working on releasing a 3G downloading service for mobile as well as WiFi but this rather depends on mobile operators, “We’ll do this when we are confident that the experience will be as good as it has been with the Olympics,” says Danker. “We are working with mobile operators to ensure the best experience.”

downloadinglist520 BBC iPlayer unleashes downloading for mobile devices. Now travelers can watch outside their authorized region

To guage the possible use of downloading BBC programs from the iPlayer app, you can get 50 hours of programs onto a 16G iPad (that’s if you’ve not already filled the device up with a truckload of other material). Users can download a selection of shows and then they can keep them for up to 30 days until they choose to watch. Once you start watching, you have seven days to complete. Programs are available as Standard Definition or High quality. Not the same as HD, but still looks pretty crisp on the tablet.

“User’s download libraries are manageable,” says Danker’s colleague, David Price, Head of BBC iPlayer, Programmes and On Demand, BBC Future Media  “If you choose to download a few programs at one time you can move the order around so that the one you want to see the most will be downloaded and ready to watch first. You can also stream and watch other programs while the others you have chosen are downloading. We’re estimating a typical download for a standard definition program an hour-long over a  5MB connection will take about 8 minutes.”

You’ve probably noticed that cramming your mobile device with BBC shows not only means you can watch these programs on the move but it also means you can watch them overseas. Once you have downloaded the shows, you can play them back without seeing everyone’s favourite Internet message, ‘This content is not available in your region’.

Image Credit: Dan Taylor