BBC iPlayer Gets a New Beta Release, plus Some Thoughts on My Changing TV Habits

The last few weeks have just seemed crazy to me – lots of events, new folk to meet, some incredibly stimulating conversations and a seemingly incessant flow of announcements that might actually mean something coming in over the interwebs. Picking up email as I was leaving the OU last night, I spotted an invite to today’s launch of a reversioned BBC iPLayer. I couldn’t make it down/up to London today, but the press release, #iplayer twitter coverage, live blogs and BBC blogs [UPDATE: another here], as well as the thing itself – (or in mobile form, kept me more than entertained.

One thing that’s kept coming to mind over this period has been the changing nature of TV viewing. Considering my own TV viewing through the main “living room screen”, it’s now split pretty much into thirds:

  • one third live TV from the four analogue terrestrial channels we can receive (BBC1, BBC2, ITV1, Channel4);
  • one third DVD box sets;
  • one third iPLayer on Nintendo Wii, (which personally is to say: BBC1, BBC2, BBC3, BBC4 and BBC Parliament). NB my iPlayer on the Wii viewing tends not to be between 8pm and 9.15pm when for whatever reason buffering and dropouts disrupt viewing to such an extent that programmes are pretty much unwatchable. maybe it’s a local bandwidth problem, or maybe it’s a BBC problem…?

BBC iStats
[Source: BBC iStats]

(Thinking back a couple of years, the split used to be split 2/5 live TV, 2/5 HDD recordings, 1/5 video; but then the HDD broke and I replaced it with a cheap one with such an unusable interface we never bother with it anymore, except as a DVD player.)

I think it would be safe to say that if 4oD or the ITV Player were available on the Wii, we’d watch ITV and Channel 4 content on it… Same for Channel 5 (maybe?!).

The new iPlayer, whilst not providing a place to watch content from other providers, will apparently start providing a discovery service over content from other channels. As the press release puts it:

Later in the summer, audiences will also be able to find links to programmes from ITV Player, 4oD, Clic, Demand Five and SeeSaw – as a result of partnership deals with public service broadcasters ITV, Channel 4, S4C and Five, and communications infrastructure and media services company Arqiva.

These “metadata partnerships” mean that audiences looking for long-form programmes from other TV services will be directed to their websites: BBC iPlayer will link and drive traffic to them, without any sharing of technology or syndication of content.

But that’s for later? What’s for now…?

First up is a revamp of the iPlayer website:

New BBC iPlayer website

If you sign in with a BBC ID, you can get a range of personalisation options, including personal recommendations based on your previous viewing habits (I wonder if they use the Google Prediction API?!;-) and the ability to share recommendations with your friends from Facebook and/or Twitter who have also linked their social network account to their BBC ID:

BBC iPlayer friends

Unlike Recomendations, Favourites are private (though it could be handy to at least get hold of a private feed/one with an obfuscated URL, so that you could transport favourites elsewhere? Hmmm… I wonder if we’re going to start seeing personalised BBC iPlayer iGoogle gadgets, or wordpress widgets?!;-)

I assume that Personal Recommendations are based on Favourites and watched programmes? Linking iPlayer state to a BBC ID means that you can watch the content through any browser and link it back to your account, though I’m not sure how (if) the desktop iPlayer client also picks up BBC log in details? (Hmm, could it do this through a Flash cookie I wonder?)

iPlayer favourites

One problem for me is that a lot of my iPlayer viewing is done through the Wii, so unless that has been updated with personalisation features (I’ll check later today;-), the most useful data for making recommendations to me will be lost. (That said, the whole family watches iPlayer on the Wii, so the recommendations could go all over the place, cf. disrputed Amazon recommendations just after Christmas! (You’d think they’d be able to make the recommendations based on views between different windows of time?!) However, from the figures, it looks as though the WIi channel isn’t widely used…

BBC iStats report, UK only
[Data: BBC iStats]

(Hmmm, which reminds me… looking at the the Wii Shop last night, Nintendo we’re pushing a scheme giving out free Nintendo points if you could persuade someone else to hook their Wii up to the net. So maybe there are a lot of Wiis out there that aren’t networked, although they could be….?)

There look to be further personalisation options available in the Categories area (“My Categories”), although I’m not sure how this works…?

BBC iPlayer - My Categories

A second future announcement related to a tie-up with Windows Instant Messenger. Again from the press release:

A partnership with Microsoft allows Windows Live Messenger users to log in to their messaging service through BBC iPlayer, enabling them to invite other contacts to watch programmes at the same time and chat live. This is an experimental feature, which will be available in beta later in the Summer; if it proves successful, the BBC plans to extend it to other instant messaging services.

That is, users will be able to watch content on-demand, but synched with their remote friends, so they can chat along to it at the same time…. To me, this shouts out a great opportunity to capture programme synched tweets that can be fed into an evolving status updates caption feed (e.g. other Martin’s Twitter powered subtitles for BBC iPlayer, JISC10 Conference Keynotes with Twitter Subtitles or most recently Google I/O 2010 – Keynote Day 2 Android Demo with Twitter Subtitles).

(As to the deal with Microsoft, I can understand why the BBC feels it needs to partner with different corporates in a fair way, but from local experience in my household, most of the chat that used to be relayed by Instant Messenger now runs via Facebook chat…)

I’m not sure I fully grok what being able to watch content in synch with remotes friends actually means. YouTube piloted a feature like this several years ago (Youtube Streams?), where groups could gather around a video and chat around it, but I think they have since dropped it? (Maybe the timing wasn’t right a couple of years ago?) What this does mean, of course, is that small groups can start to reintroduce concurrent (“locally scheduled”) programming, that we have been moving away from through consumption of personal recordings and on-demand content?

Chatting to OU PR guru Paula Feery last week, it struck me that a lot of TV related PR activity (which we go in for at the OU because of our co-pro arrangement with the BBC) is aimed at getting previews of programmes into the press. But from my own viewing habits, a large part of my viewing (particularly over iPlayer content) is guided by post hoc reviews appearing in the weekend press of programmes broadcast over the previous seven days, as well as “last week’s” Radio Times, and (occasionally) social media comments from people I follow relating to programmes they have recently watched themselves. From a PR point of view, there may be an increasing benefit in considering “after-TX” PR opportunities to exploit the fact that content remains viewable over a 7 or 28 day period (or even longer for series linked content or content that is rebroadcast on other BBC channels).

The social features of iPlayer also means there are improved opportunities for promoting content though social media channels (so for example: maybe @open2 needs lots of Facebook and Twitter friends, a BBC ID, and someone tasked with recommending all the OU’s BBC output ;-)

PS I still can’t find an easy way of grabbing a list of OU/BBC programmes for a 7 day watch again service (which I have to admit, I haven’t maintained for over a year, so I’d be very surprised if it still works?! Same with the mobile version). I don’t think it’s possible to get a feed of recommendations or favorites out of iPlayer, but if it was possible, it would be handy to have one with a list of content in that list that was currently available on iPlayer ;-)

PPS So much for personalisation…. BBC ID registration requires an age; I set mine to well over 16 but still get this?

BBC iPlayer - personalisation only goes so far...?

I can appreciate why, but if this is supposed to be a personalised service….?

PPPS Reminds me, I still haven’t looked at the Google TV announcement yet… Here’s Liam’s take on it: Google TV: Your TV may never be the same again

PPPPS for more of my disconnected thoughts about status update captions, see eg:

Twitter Powered Subtitles for BBC iPlayer Content c/o the MASHe Blog;

Searching the Backchannel – Martin Bean, OU VC, Twitter Captioned at JISC10 (since implemented by @mhawksey).

For Martin’s development timeline, see MASHe tt-tweets category.

PPPPPS A comprehensive run down of the new features, plus commentary on the design philosophy, can be found in this blog post from Anthony Rose: Introducing the all new BBC iPlayer (This time it’s personal)

Author: Tony Hirst

I'm a Senior Lecturer at The Open University, with an interest in #opendata policy and practice, as well as general web tinkering...

4 thoughts on “BBC iPlayer Gets a New Beta Release, plus Some Thoughts on My Changing TV Habits”

  1. Great article – Thanks. I was part of the Beta for iPlayer pre going Public. I still use it. On PC, Wii, Portable devices and have just started to d/load wmv files – think I’ll dump desktop d/loads as I am using 50% CPU on start up to share using Kservice and while I didn’t mind for a while – I now need the speed back 24/7 for work. Yes – 8-9.30 is sometimes unusable on Wii but I thought that might be due to my proximity to a Busy RAF base. (They are also active a great deal at this time)Cheers @kiltedcomposer

  2. Paul: BBC stopped using the Kontiki Kservice for iPlayer 18 months ago – you need to uninstall the old BBC iPlayer Downloader and install the new(er) BBC iPlayer Desktop.

  3. I use the iplayer extensively in our family, since we dropped the NTL box due to the monthly cost of it. Our living room TV is near on redundant and we tend to use the big iMac in the family room for iplayer, DVD watching and which I just discovered you can now get a the majority of Freeview channels.

    I even sometimes use my iPhone for watching live TV with via 3G.

    The changing face of the CRT….

    Brad Middleton
    Tech follower

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