BBC swaps Flash for Air on Android and mobile iPlayer

The BBC has started rolling out an Adobe Air version of its web player, designed to work across all platforms as it moves away from Adobe Flash Player for its Android endeavours.

The BBC has started rolling out a new version of the iPlayer that doesn't use Flash, ensuring a way for Android phone and tablet users to keep using the streaming service after the Flash player app is removed from the Android store.

BBC Media Player
The new BBC Media Player swaps Flash Player for Adobe Air. Image: BBC

Adobe said in June that it was discontinuing development of Flash for Android and that it would be removed from the Google Play app store in mid-August. However, at the end of August Adobe reinstated it in the store due to requests from strategic partners, of which the BBC is one. (An Adobe spokeswoman was unable to tell ZDNet on Wednesday when the Flash app would be removed from the Android store again.)

"Adobe's strategic decision to remove support for the Flash Player plug-in meant that we had to change the way that we play back this content," Chris Yanda, an executive product manager in the BBC's Future Media, Programming and On-Demand unit, said in a BBC blog post on Wednesday.

Using Flash as the media format to stream to Android devices had "provided us with a number of cross-platform efficiencies as the same infrastructure can be used for delivery on PCs, Android phones, and set-top boxes," he added.

Alternatives to Flash

The BBC said it considered a number of technical implementations as an alternative to Flash, bearing in mind considerations including finding a system that would work with multiple builds of Android as well as the BBC's own websites. Yanda also said the system needed to meet the security obligations of rights holders.

"No technology is perfect. We've seen some of the challenges that other Adobe Air-based apps have had in the marketplace" — Chris Yanda

HTTP Live Streaming (HLS) was also considered as a Flash alternative, with the BBC already using it to stream its programmes to other platforms. The broadcaster decided against HLS however, as Android OS builds prior to Honeycomb don't support it.

Ultimately, the BBC has opted for Adobe Air for its new platform, which is packaged in a new app called BBC Media Player. The BBC said Adobe has been instrumental in helping to develop the new app, and that it was aware of the shortcomings of Air as a platform.

"We are making this change with our eyes open. No technology is perfect. We've seen some of the challenges that other Adobe Air-based apps have had in the marketplace and so we have worked hard, both internally and with our technology partners, to build the best application we can," Yanda said.

The mobile BBC iPlayer website is now starting to use Air instead of Flash, and the Android app will follow next week, the organisation said.