Category: OBU

Wanted: 17-24 yr olds…

Yesterday (err, Tuesday) I took part in a very enjoyable OU/BBC brainstorming session on “multiplatform ideas for a younger audience (17-24 yr olds)…as a new way of working for the future”.

(I asked: multiplatform is pretty much everything that is not “linear TV”, where “linear TV” is, err, scheduled, traditionally delivered (and scheduled) TV content, I think…?! I’m not sure if it’s still linear if you’ve timeshifted it or are watching it through iPlayer, though… err…? Web stuff, events, and so on are all classed as ‘multiplatform’.)

The session involved several time constrained (15 minute or so) sessions on set topics, in three groups of 8 so, with sharing back to the other groups after each session.

A particularly entertaining part of the session was a pop quiz/bar quiz on what the kids are into…(even with the BBC Controller of Knowledge on our table, we still didn’t win…!)

It struck me that the day beforwe the w/s I should have trawled the web to find out some of this stuf…

For example, the most popular channels are the ones that most people can get with the most popular soaps (and also follow the BARB reported trends), the most popular websites are guessable, (search, IM, social networking, a surprising one, online videos), big event shows are popular (as you can work out by looking back over BARB weekly viewing – the demographic probably skews things but just use a bit of nous when deciding whether it’s your dad or your daughter who’s likely to be watching…), most kids have a mobile phone, most of them send umpteen text messages a day, hardly any of them ever look at a newspaper.

Something that wasn’t mentioned was that “younger viewers are particularly fond of going online while watching TV – over 20% of 16-24 year olds said this was something they always did.” (70% of TV audience goes online while viewing).

(There’s some more old data/insights on the BBC commissioning site for this demographic too – BBC Commissioning (16-24 year olds, youth). Everything there is probably more true now…)

Not surprisingly, none of us knew what the favourite OU courses were among 18-24 year olds, though I think the VC mentioned what percentage of our student population as a whole fell into that category. I also realised that I wouldn’t know how to even find out which courses in our Faculty, say, were most popular in terms of: a) raw numbers; and b) percentage of the overall course demographic. Any OU readers know the answer, or how to find out the answer?

Something else I picked up – any TV programme that lasts an hour was not made for the audience’s benefit (or something like that ;-) Even getting people to hang around for half an hour is an achievement, apparently…;-)

One of the desired outcomes of the meeting was that we should have definite things to build on… One clear statement was that future co-pros should be commissioned as multi-platform plays. I’m hopefully going to be working on some Digital Planet co-pros for BBC World service, so it’ll be interesting how far we can push the web stuff under that banner on, especially as the World Service don’t really push web adjuncts to radio at all…

Another outcome was that we should use blogs and wikis to keep the conversation going… I have to admit, I sighed… the we need blogs’n’wikis and then it’ll be alright phrase always makes me sigh… I was going to suggest that if we followed each other on twitter it’d probably be more useful, but I guess I’d have needed someone like James Cridland in the room to back me up that such a service existed and might in fact be useful…;-)

Now, if someone had said “and the discussion tag we should use is…” I’d have probably fallen off my chair, but until that becomes the norm (and people know what it means in practical terms), using “blogs’n’wikis” is not going to be the answer… IMVHO, of course;-)

(That said, I can see that maybe people would want the conversation/related info kept to some private backchannel… But I reckon every layer of privacy makes it harder to access, and therefore harder to engage with? And we’d be looking for a private backchannel that could cross two institutional boundaries – OU and BBC… Sigh…)

PS having a quick scout around, the only blogs I’ve found so far from others who were at the event are these occasional affairs: Mark Brandon (, Richard Williams, BBC Internet blog, Dan Gluckman. I have no idea whether anyone there twitters, or whether there are any others still (actively) blogging…?

PPS in the bar the evening before the brainstorm, we had an interesting chat about the extent to which the iPlayer is, or could become, a device independent channel in its own right. This is a note to self to post more about that another day…

PPPS looking the the OU presence on youtube just now, it looks like they’re gearing up for the full OU on Youtube release…

Or as Ian Roddis, who looks after the OU web team, put it:

It seems that as an institution, we are starting to get a bit of momentum up… and then it’ll be hard to stop, like turning a supertanker round… Methinks we could be in for a fun year or two :-)

P…PS on the topic of Youtube, anyone know of OU courses other than T184 that are embedding 3rd party Youtube movies?

The End of Linear TV Schedules?

Just back from a proper holiday (i.e. off the interweb), though still on a sort of holiday, so here’s a quick rag tag of a post, to follow on from the previous BBC dominated post, with a couple more BBC related things that caught my eye when in catch-up mode earlier today…

First up, it seems that someone’s picking at the linear schedule scab and looking for new ways to promote cross-channel content: When’s the sailing on? Introducing genre schedules….

The schedules can be accessed in a variety of formats (HTML, XML, JSON, iCal, etc) and also “by genre, by channel” (e.g. allowing you to tunnel into drama on Radio 4, for example) using an oh so lovely, hackable URL format – check out Tom Scott’s linked to post above for more info…

I’d say that was a “notable” step, but then, I’m not much of a media pundit…

I fired off the obligatory email to OBU/open2, of course, asking whether we’d be able to get something like this URL working:

so it’ll be interesting to see whether our agreement with the beeb goes so far as to allow OU co-pros to be defined as a genre in their own right!

What else was there…? Oh yes, this was interesting: Martin Belam spotted that the Beeb are experimenting with ‘in-line text links’ (BBC News in-line text links trial out in the wild).

I’ve been arguing for ages that we should be using the rather sleeker lightbox progressive enhancement for certain sorts of links, such as links to ‘optional’ Youtube videos, within our course materials… I guess I really should try to make a formal case, identifying the conditions under which we might want to open a link in an ‘overlayed’ frame, rather than the same window or a new tab, but that’s always for another day…! (That said, I have been using the approach “informally – e.g. follow the “Cheswick/Burch Map of the Internet” link on this page….

And finally, I’ve been dipping in and out of a report from Ofcom on The Communications Market 2008 (August) all day, and learning all sorts of interesting stuff, as well as finding little bits of evidence for stuff I’ve heard spoken of elsewhere…

Like this for example – a stat showing how TV fails to completely hold anyone’s attention any more!

(I’ll pull out some more graphs in a later post…)

And finally, finally, for anyone who still thinks that 360 plays are not the way forward, you should probably check out the Britain from Above website first…

I’d love to have seen a general interest short course pulled together around this programme, but I don’t think it was a co-pro…. (err, “so what?”, maybe????)

Embedding Youtube Videos on the BBC Website

Although I managed to get third party Youtube movies embedded in an online OU course earlier this year, mentioning the use of embedded Youtube resources in our course materials still causes moments of tension in course team meetings (“what about the rights?”, “can we trust the video will stay at that URL?” and so on), so I keep an eye out for the appearance of embedded Youtube movies on other sites that I can use as examples of how other publishers are happy to make use of embedded resources from other sites…

…like this one for example – embedded Youtube music videos on the domain:


What’s On Open2…

Chatting with Stuart over a pint last week, he mentioned that the Open2 folks had started publishing a programme announcement feed on Twitter that lets you know when a TV programme the OU’s been involved with is about to be shown on one of the BBC channels: open2 programme announcements on Twitter.

By subscribing to the RSS feed from the Open2 twitter account, it’s easy enough to get yourself an alert for upcoming BBC/OU programmes.

The link goes through to the programme page on the open2 website, which is probably a Good Thing, but it strikes me that there’s no obvious way to watch the programme from the Open2 page?

That is, there’s no link to an iplayer or BBC programmes view, such as BBC Programmes > Coast:

If I’m reading the BBC Programmes Developers’ Guide correctly, not all the URL goodness has been switched on for these URLs yet? For example, here’s the guidance:



To access these add .xml, .json or .yaml to the end of the url.

Whilst works as I expect, requires a branch into a year –, and I can’t get the upcoming or format extensions to work at all?

As well as the BBC Programmes page, we can also find iPlayer links from a search on the iPlayer site: Search for “coast” on iPlayer:

Going back to the twitter feed, I wonder whether there’s any point in having a second twitter account that alerts people as to when a programme is available on iplayer? A second alert could give you a day’s notice that a programme is about to disappear from iPlayer?

Just by the by, here are a couple more BBC related things I spotted over the last few days: BBC Top Gear channel on Youtube; and BBC’s Tomorrow’s World to be revived (Telegraph).

Now if the “popular science magazine show” referred to is the one that was mentioned at the BBC/OU science programming brainstorming session I posted about a couple of weeks ago, I’m pretty sure the producer said it wasn’t going to be like Tomorrow’s World… Which I guess means it is – in that it is going to be like Tomorrow’s World in terms of positioning and format, but it isn’t going to be exactly like it in terms of content and delivery… (I have to admit that I got the impression is was going to be more like *** **** for Science… ;-)

iTunes in Your Pocket… Almost…

Having been tipped off about about a Netvibes page that the Library folks are pulling together about how to discover video resources (Finding and reusing video – 21st century librarianship in action, methinks? ;-) I thought I’d have a look at pulling together an OU iTunes OPML bundle that could be used to provide access to OU iTunes content in a Grazr widget (or my old RadiOBU OpenU ‘broadcast’ widget ;-) and maybe also act as a nice little container for viewing/listening to iTunes content on an iPhone/iPod Touch.

To find the RSS feed for a particular content area in iTunesU, navigate to the appropriate page (one with lists of actual downloadable content showing in the bottom panel), make sure you have the right tab selected, then right click on the “Subscribe” button and copy the feed/subscription URL (or is there an easier way? I’m not much of an iTunes user?):

You’ll notice in the above case that as well as the iPod video (mp4v format?), there is a straight video option (.mov???) and a transcript. I haven’t started to think about how to make hackable use of the transcripts yet, but in my dreams I’d imagine something like these Visual Interfaces for Audio/Visual Transcripts! ;-) In addition, some of the OU iTunesU content areas offer straight audio content.

Because finding the feeds is quite a chore (at least in the way I’ve described it above), I’ve put together an OU on iTunesU OPML file, that bundles together all the separate RSS from the OU on iTunesU area (to view this file in an OPML widget, try here: OU iTunesU content in a Grazr widget).

The Grazr widget lets you browse through all the feeds, and if you click on an actual content item link, iit should launch a player (most likely Quicktime). Although the Grazr widget has a nice embedded player for MP3 files, it doesn’t seem to offer an embedded player for iTunes content (or maybe I’m missing something?)

You can listen to the audio tracks well enough in an iPod Touch (so the same is presumably true for an iPhone?) using the Grazr iphone widget – but for some reason I can’t get the iPod videos to play? I’m wondering if this might be a mime-type issue? or maybe there’s some other reason?

(By the by, it looks like the content is being served from an Amazon S3 server… so has the OU bought into using S3 I wonder? :-)

For completeness, I also started to produce a handcrafted OPML bundle of OU Learn Youtube playlists, but then discovered I’d put together a little script ages ago that will create one of these automatically, and route each playlist feed through a feed augmentation pipe that adds a link to each video as a video enclosure:

Why would you want to do this? Because if there’s a video payload as an enclosure, Grazr will provide an embedded player for you… as you can see in this screenshot of Portable OUlearn Youtube playlists widget (click through the image to play with the actual widget):

These videos will play in an iPod Touch, although the interaction is a bit clunky, and actually slight cleaner using the handcrafted OPML: OUlearn youtube widget for iphone.

PS it’s also worth remembering that Grazr can embed Slideshare presentations, though I’m pretty sure these won’t work on the iPhone…

Recent OU Programmes on the BBC, via iPlayer

As @liamgh will tell you, Coast is getting a quite a few airings at the moment on various BBC channels. And how does @liamgh know this? Because he’s following the open2 openuniversity twitter feed, which sends out alerts when an OU programme is about to be aired on a broadcast BBC channel.

(As well as the feed from the open2 twitter account, you can also find out what’s on from the OU/BBC schedule feed (, via the schedule page; iCal feeds appear not to be available…)

So to make it easier for him to catch up on any episodes he missed, here’s a quick hack that mines the open2 twitter feed to create a “7 day catch up” site for broadcast OU TV programmes (the page also links through to several video playlists from the OU’s Youtube site).

The page actually displays links to programmes that are currently viewable on BBC iPlayer (either via a desktop web browser, or via a mobile browser – which means you can view this stuff on your iPhone ;-), and a short description of the programme, as pulled from the programme episode‘s web page on the BBC website. You’ll note that the original twitter feed just mentions the programme title; the TinyURLd link goes back to the series web page on the Open2 website.

Thinking about it, I could probably have done the hackery required to get iPlayer URLs from with in the page; but I didn’t… Given the clue that page is put together using a JQuery script I stole from this post on Parsing Yahoo Pipes JSON Feeds with jQuery, you can maybe guess where the glue logic for this site lives?;-)

There are three pipes involved in the hackery – the JSON that is pulled into the page comes from this OU Recent programmes (via BBC iPlayer) pipe.

THe first part grabs the feed, identifies the programme title, and then searches for that programme on the BBC iPlayer site.

The nested BBC Search Results scrape pipe searches the BBC programmes site and filters results that point to an actual iPlayer page (so we can we can watch the result on iPlayer).

Back in the main pipe, we take the list of recently tweeted OU programmes that are available on iPlayer, grab the programme ID (which is used as a key in all manner of BBC URLs :-), and then call another nested pipe that gets the programme description from the actual programme web page.

This second nested pipe just gets the programme description, creates a title and builds the iPlayer URL:

(The logic is all a bit hacked – and could be tidied up – but I was playing through my fingertips and didn’t feel like ‘rearchitecting’ the system once I knew what I wanted it to do… which it is what it does do…;-)

As an afterthought, the items in the main pipe are annotated with a link to the mobile iPlayer version of each programme:

So there you have it: a “7 day catch up” site for broadcast OU TV programmes, with replay via iPlayer or mobile iPlayer.

[18/11/08 – the site that the app runs on is down at the moment, as network security update is carried out; sorry about that – maybe I should use a cloud server?]

iPhone 7 Day OU Programme CatchUp, via BBC iPlayer

Somewhen last week, I posted about a Recent OU Programmes on the BBC, via iPlayer hack that uses an Open2 twitter feed to identify recently broadcast OU programmes on the BBC, to create a feed of links to watchable versions of those programmes via BBC iPlayer.

So yesterday I had a little play and put an iPhone/iPod Touch web front end onto the pipe.

Here’s the front page (captured using an old version of iPhoney) – I’ve given myself the option of adding more than just the seven day catchup service…

The 7 day Catchup Link takes you through to a listing of the programmes that should, according to the BBC search results (but sometimes don’t always?) link to a watchable version of the programme on iPlayer.

Clicking on the programme link takes you to the programme description – and a link to the programme on mobile iPlayer itself:

Clicking through the programme link take you to the appropriate iPlayer page – where you can (hopefully) watch the programme… :-)

As is the way of these things, I gave myself half an hour to do the app, expecting it to take maybe 90 mins or so. The interface uses the iUI library, which I used previously to build iTwitterous/serendiptwitterous, (various bits of which broke ages ago when Twitter switched off the friends RSS feeds, and which I haven’t tried to work around:-( so all I expected to do was hack around that…

…which was okay, but then the final link out to the iPlayer site didn’t work… Hmmm… now the URLs to the iPlayer mobile programme pages look like′, and the way that the iUI pages work is to display various parts of a single HTML page using anchor/name tags of the form So my guess was that the interface library was doing something different to normal whenever it saw a # (which I later refined to the assumption that it was intercepting the onclick event whenever that sort of link was clicked on).

My first thought at a fix was to just add another bit of pipework that would create a TinyURL to the mobile link (and so hide the # from iUI). I found an pipe and cloned it, but it didn’t work… it looked like had actually followed the link, got an error page back (“we don’t support that mobile device”) and shortened the iPlayer error page URL. V early hours of the morning now, so I wasn’t tempted to build a TinyURL shortener peipe and went to bed…

Next morning, and in the OU pipes wasn’t working for me very well over the guest network… so I thought I’d set up an Apache RewriteRule that would take a BBC programme ID and generate the mobile iPlayer URL. Nope – the # got encoded and the link didn’t work (I used something like RewriteRule ^ipm/.*$1, but couldn’t get # rewritten as #??? Any ideas???)

Next thought – a PHP header redirect – didn’t work… a PHP page that returns some Javascript to reset the page location? Nope… (I later realised I was using the wrong mobile iPlayer URL pattern – I’d transposed mobile and iplayer, but I don’t think that was the only problem ;-)

A short walk to a meeting on ********************* (super secret censored project – I even used an arbitrary number of *’s there; and can’t even tell you who was at the meeting) gave me the crib – use javascript to reset the location in the link (<a href=”javascript:window.location.href=’″&gt;).

Still no…. hmmm, maybe I need to add that to the onclick too? Success!:-)

So there we have it, multiple failure and blind hackery, little or no understanding of what’s not working or why, but always the option to try to find another way of doing it; not pretty, not clever, but not beholden to a particular way of doing it. Come across a problem, and route around it… just do it the internet way;-)

OU Programme 7 day catchup, iPlayer’n’iPhone app. Seen anything interesting lately?;-)

PS see also OpenLearn ebooks, for free, (and readable on iPhone) courtesy of OpenLearn RSS and Feedbooks…

[18/11/08 – the site that the app runs on is down at the moment, as network security update is carried out; sorry about that – maybe I should use a cloud server?]