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Photos: The six BBC tech projects to watch

The initiatives that could set Auntie's agenda for the next decade...

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Topic: Developer
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1 of 6 Tim Ferguson/ZDNet

The initiatives that could set Auntie's agenda for the next decade...

With IT and TV becoming increasingly intertwined, broadcasters are embracing new technology developments like never before.

With the BBC no exception, silicon.com has rounded up the six tech projects likely to prove important for the future of the corporation and the UK's broadcasting industry as a whole.

BBC iPlayer

The BBC's on-demand service iPlayer was launched in 2007 and has quickly become a broadcasting heavyweight, averaging more than 100 million streams per month.

Indeed, such has been its success that iPlayer has raised questions about how the UK's broadband infrastructure will cope with the demands of a projected increase in online TV consumption, as well as how the take-up of iPlayer could affect the way the TV licence is structured.

Meanwhile, the BBC is already preparing to add extra functionality to the service - the addition of online apps and linking up with Twitter are all in the pipeline.

An international version is also on the cards and despite some early setbacks, the BBC is likely to end up sharing its iPlayer tech with other terrestrial broadcasters.

iPlayer could also see its influence grow if and when the Project Canvas IPTV initiative comes to fruition (more of this later) - potentially becoming the broadcasting standard for TVs as well as PCs. It's a road that iPlayer has already started on, with the recent announcement of a deal that will see the BBC's catch-up service made available through Freesat digiboxes.

Picture credit: Tim Ferguson/silicon.com

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2 of 6 Tim Ferguson/ZDNet

Project Canvas

Canvas is a joint effort between BT, the BBC, Five, ITV and Channel 4. The project aims to create an IPTV standard that will essentially make internet telly as accessible to UK audiences as Freeview did with digital TV.

The idea is to create a platform which will allow people to buy a set-top box, plug it into the internet and have instant IPTV.

Creating such a standard would mean TV via broadband would become an option for the majority of UK viewers rather than just the minority who go to the trouble of linking their TV up to their computers.

With non-subscription, on-demand telly from big name broadcasters piped straight to the nation's TVs - potentially along with web apps - Canvas is shaping up to be a significant development in broadcasting.

Picture credit: Tim Ferguson/silicon.com

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3 of 6 Tim Ferguson/ZDNet

Moving to Manchester

The move of several of the BBC's major departments up to Salford's Media City in Manchester (pictured above) is as much a technology project as a relocation.

The move, to be completed by 2012, will be particularly relevant to the BBC's tech strategy as many of the staff to move will be part of the corporation's Future Media and Technology division, including the IPTV team.

BBC CTO John Linwood told silicon.com that the move represents a chance to revamp the way the corporation works, with new production technology, flexible working and shared infrastructure all being ushered in at the Beeb's new Salford home.

The implications of the lessons learned will spread beyond Manchester, feeding into all BBC facility upgrades that follow.

Picture credit: Peel Media

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4 of 6 Tim Ferguson/ZDNet

The move to tapeless production

Not only is the BBC bringing new technology to bear on its content distribution, it's also using tech to revamp the way content is recorded and distributed throughout the corporation.

Tapeless tech is already being tested in the production of some programmes such as Dragon's Den (set pictured above) and the plan is to eventually make the whole production side of the BBC run on the tapeless system.

For the tapeless production process, the BBC has developed a suite of software applications, Ingex, and a file server, MediaHarmony, that has been made available under an open source licence.

While tapeless production is still very much an experimental tech project, its potential to cut costs and make content distribution easier could see the technology taken up by other broadcasters as well as the BBC.

Picture credit: BBC

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5 of 6 Tim Ferguson/ZDNet

Making the BBC archive digital

According to BBC R&D boss Matthew Postgate, working out how to preserve the BBC's huge archive and improve access to the material is important not just for the BBC but for the preservation of the UK's cultural heritage.

"When I'm talking about the archive I'm really talking about that much larger challenge, which is about a society being able to retain its collective memory and hopefully benefit from it more than it has in the past," Postgate told silicon.com.

Work is still at an early stage with this and the scale of the project is so significant that it may be some years before the entire archive, or even a large tranche of it, can be made available through the web.

Nevertheless, content is being added to the BBC Archive website all the time with recent additions including Neville Chamberlain's 1939 radio broadcast informing the nation it was at war with Germany, as well as some early episodes of technology and science programme, Tomorrow's World.

Picture credit: Tim Ferguson/silicon.com

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6 of 6 Tim Ferguson/ZDNet

Semantic web

The BBC has been working on semantic web technology for a while now and it looks like it will become an increasingly important technology area for BBC Online.

Semantic web technology is about adding extra layers of context to information on websites through metadata tagging. This essentially links data in a more understandable way and helps users get more out of the information they encounter on websites.

The BBC Music website, which went public in April 2009, uses metadata from open source online music resource MusicBrainz to add information around artists and their music.

The site represents a new way of thinking about online content - where the priority is publishing meaningful data rather than simply publishing web pages. Discussions have been taking place between other editorial departments about how to aggregate and usefully link data, suggesting it's only a matter of time before semantic tech filters through to other parts of the BBC.

Picture credit: Tim Ferguson/silicon.com

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