BBC’s iPlayer The Latest To Join Microsoft’s Xbox Platform, Free And UK-Only For Now

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Another big content partner for Microsoft and its Xbox Live Platform, and another win for those in favor of all TV eventually going over-the-top rather than through a pay-TV provider: the BBC has now made its popular catch-up/on-demand TV and radio service, iPlayer, accessible via the Xbox console, free of charge.

Although we’ve seen the BBC make some moves to offer iPlayer in international markets as a paid service, for now it is only available in the UK. The BBC says it is the first broadcaster to join up with Xbox 360 to make its content free: other content providers have become part of the “Gold” service that requires an extra fee.

The deal announced today also marks another first for the BBC: as with other services that run on the Xbox, when you use it in connection with a Kinect, you can navigate the iPlayer with voice and gesture controls.

The BBC says that this will make iPlayer accessible to “millions” of new users on TVs: that, too, is an important milestone, because the service has always been accessible online via PCs, but going to other platforms like mobile and traditional old TV has been a longer road for the broadcaster.

As the BBC continues with its public service goal of making the iPlayer as accessible as possible (that was a controversial point when it first launched in December 2007: because a PC with broadband was the primary way to view it), it continues to focus on building out more TV deals.

That’s because despite the huge rise in tablets, smartphones and broadband usage among consumers, TV, the BBC says, remains one of the most popular ways to consume BBC content. In 2011, it had 433 million requests for content from TV devices in 2011, which works out to one in every four programs viewed being on TVs rather than mobiles, tablets or PCs. The BBC projects that with the addition of more services like the one announced today, by 2015, over half of all requests will be via TVs.

Although the BBC has been on cable-TV provider Virgin Media’s set-top-box since 2008, it was only last year that it became available on BT’s pay-TV service BT Vision.

But it has yet to go live on the UK’s biggest pay-TV provider, Sky, partly owned by News Corp. The BBC says it will have that live “later this year.” In all, it is now on over 450 platforms and devices, it says, including FreeSat, Freeview, Sony PlayStation, Nintendo Wii, and “hundreds” of mobile phones, tablets, and internet-connected TVs.

For its part, the Xbox 360, which was the best-selling console in the UK last year, already offers a range of other live and on-demand content, including a selection of channels from Sky, as well as Channel 4, Channel 5, Netflix, LOVEFiLM, Blinkbox, MSN and YouTube.

We have reached out to ask the BBC whether it plans to add the iPlayer to the Xbox outside the UK and will update the post as we learn more.