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BBC unveils iPlayer 3.0 with chat, social networking functionality

Automated downloads and BBC iD also feature in Auntie's online TV revamp
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Written by Tim Ferguson on

Automated downloads and BBC iD also feature in Auntie's online TV revamp

The BBC has unveiled the latest version of its online TV service iPlayer, incorporating new features such as social networking and chat functionality, automated downloads and the BBC's new sign-in system.

The third generation of iPlayer, launched today, now includes the option for users to personalise its interface through the use of the BBC's iD sign-in technology, allowing individuals to access their iPlayer settings from a variety of devices.

BBC iPlayer homepage

The latest version of BBC iPlayer includes social networking functionality and chat tools
(Screenshot: bbc.co.uk/iPlayer by silicon.com)

When users sign in to the new iPlayer, as well as the Featured and Most Popular sections they will now also see For You and Friends sections.

The For You section recommends content based on what a user has viewed previously, while the Friends section allows users to share their iPlayer recommendations with friends on Facebook and Twitter.

Another addition to iPlayer is the integration of a Windows Live Messenger chat facility, which is set to appear in the next few weeks.

The chat function syncs with iPlayer so users can see what friends who are logged into iPlayer are currently viewing, then chat about the programme.

The BBC will follow uptake of the service and, if it proves successful, will look to integrate chat applications from other companies in the future.

There is also a new Favourites section that users can add radio or TV programmes to by clicking a button located next to the content. iPlayer will add new episodes of programmes in the favourites section as soon as they become available. Users can also select categories - such as science and nature or sport - as favourites.

New download functionality has also been added, with the iPlayer...

...upgraded to allow a user's computer to download programmes while they're online without having to be in the iPlayer interface. Users can also pre-book programmes to be downloaded as soon as they become available.

In addition, the third-generation iPlayer will use adaptive bit rate technology to constantly scan bandwidth when programmes are being streamed to ensure the best quality playback at all times. While the previous version would drop playback quality if bandwidth was limited, the new version will now also increase it once greater bandwidth is available.

According to Erik Huggers, BBC director of future media and technology, the iPlayer will soon include links to on-demand content from other content providers including ITV Player, 4OD, Demand Five and Kangaroo successor, SeeSaw.

There will be no sharing of technology or syndication of content though, with iPlayer just showing what content is available elsewhere via a customisable electronic programme guide and then directing viewers to watch it on the respective platform.

The move is part of BBC Online's aim to double traffic going to other UK websites from its own online presence. Although Sky has yet to get on board, the option to do so is open to the company according to Huggers.

"This is literally about the BBC driving traffic to the on-demand ecosystem out there," he said.

He added that an international version of iPlayer is "still very high on the agenda and is something we're working very closely with BBC Worldwide on".

The full version of the new iPlayer will be launched later this year but the beta version can be accessed through a promotional banner on the iPlayer homepage. Users of the beta version are encouraged to provide their feedback via Twitter using the #bbciplayerfeedback hash tag.

iPlayer, which got its beta launch in July 2007, recorded more than 123 million stream requests for radio and TV content last month.

A second generation of the service emerged in July 2008 which featured a new download manager and radio content, and was subsequently upgraded in 2009 with the addition of HD.

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