Archives for January 2008

Pic Of The Day: When's It Done?

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Nick Reynolds Nick Reynolds | 14:32 UK time, Thursday, 31 January 2008

Wandering around the Broadcast Centre today, I saw a number of signs and sticky notes on walls saying "Done" - including this one on the fifth floor.

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It's important to know when things are done. And reassuring to know that they are being done.

Nick Reynolds is editor, Internet Blog.

Do We Have The Backup?

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Bill Thompson Bill Thompson | 11:25 UK time, Thursday, 31 January 2008

Guest blogger Bill Thompson asks whether the BBC has a rôle in provision of broadband access

digital_divide_posts.pngAt the recent Oxford Media Convention, all the major broadcasters and newspapers were talking about their online plans, but it seemed to me that nobody was thinking seriously about how to ensure that everyone has access to the fast, affordable network connection they will need to download all this cool content.

When I first used the internet back in 1984, it was a publicly-funded computer network largely used by universities and government departments. I watched as it was privatised during the 1990s, and have seen commercial internet service providers create a market for network access that has brought us a long way from the slow, text-based network of my university days. Getting really fast broadband into every home seems beyond them, however - so perhaps it is time to go back to basics and consider public funding for tomorrow's network.

This article appears this week in Ariel, the BBC's in-house newspaper, but it's addressed at the whole media industry. It may even be of interest to new Culture Secretary Andy Burnham if he's looking for a high-profile policy to distinguish himself from his predecessor.

The BBC has big ideas, but does it have the backup?

Illustration by Chris DugganBBC THREE has just reinvented itself as a multiplatform channel, combining broadcast television, websites and other elements of its programmes (perhaps we should now call them "projects") into what controller Danny Cohen promises will be a "single, integrated offering".

The offering is based around what he calls a "new relationship between television and the internet", and it is clearly central to the BBC's long-term engagement with its audience as it seeks to fulfil its public purposes in the digital age. It is an admirable and well articulated vision, but one that only increases the BBC's dependence on the internet as the conduit for the web pages, video streams, emails and status updates that will build a relationship with the audience.

This dependence is rarely commented on, but it should worry anyone concerned with the long term viability of the BBC and other media organisations as we move from analogue to digital. The network may have coped with the launch of iPlayer, but large scale multimedia projects will only be supportable if there is massive investment in new high speed broadband services which today's internet providers may not be able or willing to deliver.

BT has warned that it may struggle

The few high profile efforts, like BT's proposal to put fibre-optic networks in a new town in Ebbsfleet or H2O's "broadband in a sewer" service, should not distract attention from the woeful inability of the existing systems to support high speed broadband and the unwillingness of the ISPs and telcos to make the necessary investment. Attempts to enhance the current patchwork of telephone and cable networks are stalling, and BT has already warned that it may struggle to pay for its own "next generation network". Virgin Media claims that it can re-engineer its existing network to offer connections up to 50 megabits per second, but this is only half the 100 megabits already on offer in Tokyo, Hong Kong and Seoul.

night_garden.pngThis leaves the BBC and the rest of the media in danger of creating fabulous offerings that nobody can access, and no real control over the network on which its future depends. Although the corporation sold off its transmitter network back in 1997 it does at least have a contractual relationship with National Grid Wireless, and it has a legal right to the bandwidth used on analogue and digital tv and radio networks. Online it has only a deal with its own ISP, and it in turn relies on peering relationships and internet technical standards to ensure that data from the In The Night Garden website arrives safely at young Timmy's computer.

It's rather like News International deciding to move production of The Times to Wapping and arranging for the papers to be printed while hoping that a fleet of trucks will be on hand to transport them to the newsagents in the morning.

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Digital Divide Discussion

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Nick Reynolds Nick Reynolds | 10:33 UK time, Thursday, 31 January 2008

Digital Divide posts so far:

Ashley Highfield has already blogged about what he calls "the digital divide" and about broadband take-up. Obviously, this is a important topic for the BBC and in particular for Future Media & Technology.

One of the BBC's public purposes as outlined in the current Charter is to help:

...to deliver to the public the benefit of emerging communications technologies and services.

And broadband take-up feels as though it's becoming as important as the switchover to digital television in achieving this. The more licence fee payers have broadband, the more we'll be able to create new, innovative public service products and services for them.

digital_divide_noposts.pngSo let's start a conversation about the "digital divide" on this blog. And to kick off, technology critic Bill Thompson has kindly allowed us to reprint the article he wrote for this week's Ariel (the BBC staff newspaper).

Is there a digital divide and does it matter? Or like Pete, do you think it's being exaggerated?

Is the real problem media literacy and poor web design (as Leyton Jay suggests)?

If there is a divide, what if anything should be done about it? And should the BBC do anything?

Like Bill, do you think that there's a role for government in building a broadband network?

I'm going to find some other guest bloggers to give us their thoughts. But yours are very welcome.

Nick Reynolds is editor, BBC Internet Blog.

The Digital Divide

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Ashley Highfield | 11:30 UK time, Wednesday, 30 January 2008

digital_divide_posts.pngThe digital divide is the increasingly gaping void between those who are "connected", with two-way, video-rich, on-demand media being pumped into their home (or mobile device) over IP ("Internet Protocol"), and those who aren't: of the 40% of adults in the UK who don't have internet access, we reckon half of them have very negative attitudes to new media and don't see the benefit of the internet, the red button and - to a certain extent - mobile phones.

A two-tier nation. Every bit as stark a divide as would be access to free health care for some and not others.

I believe this is what the BBC, the broadband and media industry, government and Ofcom could, and should, collectively begin to focus much more time and energy on. With that in mind, I thought much of the debate at the recent Oxford Media Convention was perhaps pointed in the wrong direction.

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James Purnell at the OMC. Image by Bill Thompson.

Lets start with Ofcom's idea of a new Public Service Publisher - "PSP".

The conference apparently rang out the "death knell" [see paragraph ten of the article linked to] for the idea of this new body (aka "Arts Council of the Air"), possibly funded from top-slicing the the Beeb's licence fee and creating a new alternative public service new media function.

I was on a lively panel at the conference with two of its strongest advocates, Tom Loosemore (previously of this parish), and Anthony Lilley (CEO Magic Lantern) - both working in some capacity at Ofcom.

I apparently upset Anthony, pointing out how his line had changed in a year, from "there could well be a central PSP service and site - in order to showcase projects for instance - [but] it is not envisaged that the PSP should be set up as a distribution platform in its own right" (quoted in full this time!) to a new softer line where he and Tom talked about merely "dropping stones in the water to cause ripples in government".

If I made a cheap shot, then I apologise. But the PSP was already holed below the water-line before my supposed broadside, when, at the RTS Cambridge Media Conference last year, those most likely to be in favour (Independent producers) called the idea of a new internet alternative to the BBC and Channel 4's offering a "balkanisation of commissioning". MPs later gave it a grilling, too.

So let's move on.

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Pic Of The Day: Ada Lovelace

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Alan Connor | 11:05 UK time, Wednesday, 30 January 2008

A new feature, with images from around the BBC or places where BBC people are going so we can talk about what we're doing.

We thought we'd start with a picture of the largest meeting room in the home of the BBC Internet Blog, the Broadcast Centre. It's at the top on the fifth floor and is known as Ada Lovelace.

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ada_lovelace.jpgIf you've seen the political comedy The Thick Of It, you'll be familiar with the open-plan nature of the Broadcast Centre, as some of it was filmed there. The meeting rooms dotted along the staircases are all named after pioneering figures in design, technology and innovation. So the unglamorously-named BC5C2 also bears the more striking name of Ada Lovelace.

Ada Lovelace (1815-1852) is important around these parts, not because she was the daughter of Lord Byron, but because of a love of numbers fostered by her mathematician mother which led to her work with Charles Babbage on his Analytical Engine - the forerunner of the modern computer.

aphex_twin.jpgBabbage himself didn't see as clearly as Lovelace the uses to which his imaginary machine could be put, including graphics and the composition of music. So as well as being possibly the first programmer, she also foresaw a world with Finding Nemo and the Aphex Twin [check out those artist pages!].

Lovelace gave her name to the programming language Ada, to a medal awarded by the British Computing Society, and to our meeting room, in which are born many of the projects discussed in this blog and where, if you wanted to, you can find an award for myBBC!

You can listen to audio on Ada Lovelace at the World Service's Learning English site, read the h2g2 entry or look at this news article on inventive women.

Alan Connor is co-editor, BBC Internet Blog.

Festival Of Technology: What's The Milk?

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Judy Parnall | 10:01 UK time, Tuesday, 29 January 2008

fot_logo.pngHave you noticed lately when you walk into your local supermarket that you almost always have to walk to the back corner to find the milk? And how annoying it is that when you only came in for a litre of semi-skimmed, you seem to walk out with a basketful? This is a trick that they use to get us away from the doors, to see more and to buy.

So when we sat down to plan the Festival of Technology [as mentioned earlier], a showcase for the work of BBC Research & Innovation being staged for the first time in Television Centre, the question we asked was “What’s the milk?”.

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Panoramic 4k display, as blogged by Ian Forrester

What would be the draw to pull in the nearly 1,000 visitors who would walk through the door of TC3 over the two days of the exhibition and to stop them crowding in the doorway but see all that was on display?

The choice was daunting, with 35 stands of fascinating and exciting developments on show, including one from Siemens.

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What about production? On the real-time 3D stand [PDF], you could see a young technologist moving his hands in front of a screen, and the graphics on the screen moving and even changing size with the motion of his hands. There was low cost tapeless production [PDF], which uses commodity PCs and has been trialled with EastEnders.

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freesat_freeview_playback.pngOr the work we are doing to support our latest and forthcoming services on digital tv - Freesat which launches in the spring [PDF]; Freeview Playback, standards for Freeview digital TV recorders [PDF]; interactive TV for the HD services, making the quality of the interactive content match the pictures [PDF] and support for all parts of digital switchover [PDF] including future options for Digital Terrestrial transmission to increase coverage and allow HD on Freeview and a simple Ceefax page so you know whether your aerial is good enough.

In the home, we could hear the possibilities for eight channel surround sound [PDF]. But there was also surround video, where, as you watched the programme, the rest of the room burst into life as your peripheral vision was filled with pictures being extended to be shown on the walls and ceiling [PDF]. And there was even 3D TV [PDF], without glasses at last.

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And there were so many more: if you joined us, then you can decide for yourself what the milk was. Or if you missed out, most of the demonstrations are written up here.

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More images in this blog's Flickr set

So what was the milk? In the end the size won out, and anyone who walked in the door would have seen the 24-foot-wide panoramic tv display [PDF] which dominated the far end of studio and realised that with the stunning pictures being shown, the future for public screens for the BBC to use is very exciting.

And did it work? Well, for the visitor who was heard to say "I only came in for 30 minutes and have been here for three hours", it obviously did!

If you were an guest at the festival: what did you think?

Judy Parnall is Principal Technologist, Kingswood Warren. This is an edited version of a piece in the BBC magazine Ariel.

Upstaged

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Martin Trickey | 11:46 UK time, Monday, 28 January 2008

upstaged_logo.pngI'm writing this on Sunday 27th January. I was supposed to write it earlier in the week, but we launched Upstaged on Tuesday and we’ve been ironing out a few issues since. To be honest, it has taken up a quite a lot of my time ever since I started my job as Multiplatform Commissioning Executive at the BBC last June - it was pretty much the first project to appear in my inbox.

It was an idea from Endemol (of Big Brother fame). When I first read the pitch, it scared the carp out of me (being a keen pescatarian).

The idea was to create a site which allowed the audience / users / acts / people / whomever to show off their talent - not to a panel of experts, but to the public. That in itself is not that new - we have been voting on talent competitions for decades. But the guiding hand of the TV producer was always there to find the cream of the crop. Teams of researchers scoured the country a hundred times over to give us a chance to vote for the next Will Young, Leona Lewis or Girls Aloud. In this instance, we chose to leave it up to the audience to decide who should have the chance of fame, notoriety or infamy.

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Hack Day 2008, Or: Shall We All Get Mashed?

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Matthew Cashmore | 10:54 UK time, Wednesday, 23 January 2008

hack_london.pngSo last year the BBC and Yahoo! ran the stunningly cool Hack Day London. It was a brilliant success, and frankly I’ve been biting at the bit to organise another one. Last week I got the nod from Ashley Highfield that the budget had been cleared and we could run another one!

Read more at the BBC Backstage Blog.

Matthew Cashmore is Development Producer, BBC Future Media & Technology, Research and Innovation.

BBC Festival Of Technology

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Nick Reynolds Nick Reynolds | 14:10 UK time, Tuesday, 22 January 2008

Update:Judy Parnall has written up the Festival in a new post.

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The poster outside the conference room in the bowels of TVC

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Oliver Grau, Lead Technologist at Kingswood Warren, discusses 3D content production for visual effects and interactive media

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A slide from Oliver's presentation

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Audio visualisation demo

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The crowds milling in TC3

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The open-source codec Dirac

Above are some photos taken at the BBC's Festival of Technology, which is happening today and tomorrow in Television Centre. There are more photos in our Flickr stream.

It's being run by the BBC's Research and Development team. There are lots of interesting sessions, projects, gadgets and big, big television screens.

Nick Reynolds is editor, BBC Internet Blog.

BBC THREE Everywhere

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Simon Nelson | 13:40 UK time, Tuesday, 22 January 2008

bbc_three_pipes.pngBBC THREE Controller Danny Cohen set out his plans for the future of the channel at a season press launch earlier today.

So as Controller of Multiplatform & Portfolio (basically, the person responsible for BBC television's digital media activities), I wanted to take this opportunity to explain why and how this relaunch is a flagship project for Vision's multiplatform strategy, which I laid out in September 2007.

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Lily The PinkDanny revealed that BBC THREE is to become the first BBC channel to change from a linear service to a fully joined-up multiplatform venture. This means that all the channel's programmes, content and experiences can be available on TV, online, mobile, and on-demand platforms - and that's just the start.

The relaunch is not just about a new logo. It's about a new behaviour and attitude for the channel, which has the habits and preferences of its key audience - the elusive 16 to 34s - at its heart.

BBC THREE will be simulcast live on the web for the first time. Programmes will be available on demand for seven days after first transmission and in some cases previewed on the site in advance. This will make the channel's content vastly more accessible to audiences who wouldn't necessarily seek out or stumble across its programmes on conventional TV.

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Interesting Stuff 18.01.08

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Nick Reynolds Nick Reynolds | 15:34 UK time, Friday, 18 January 2008

In the podcast/download we published just before Christmas Rory Cellan-Jones made a crafty reference to a new BBC blog on technology. Well now it's here, it's called dot.life and Rory and Darren Waters are blogging away like fury. Here Rory can't recall the clause in his contract which says he has to be nice to Bill Gates.

Mark Thompson and Zarin Patel (the BBC's Director of Finance) faced the Public Accounts Committee last week in the House of Commons, including some tough questions about the costs of the iPlayer. You can see the whole committee session here (iPlayer questioning starts about 12 minutes in). Open Rights Group blog and Boycott Novell have their take on what happened.

As a result of the Commitee the figure of £20 million has been quoted by some people (including me!) as the cost of the iPlayer. In fact I've been told that £5.7 million has been spent on iPlayer development to date (not including rights, operational and other technical costs). The BBC is forecasting 131 million as the total cost for its on-demand proposals (including the iPlayer) over five years (starting in 2006/07). This forecast includes rights costs and other operational and technical costs.

We should have made more of Peter Horrock's post about the value (or otherwise) of citizen journalism on the Editors Blog. There's some fascinating dilemmas for the BBC which are reflected in the comments. Charlie Beckett reacts to Peter's post here. And this BBC R&D project blogged by nodalpoints is relevant too.

Update 21.01.08. Groklaw have just blogged about the Select Committee meeting here. Also here's a link to the BBC Festival of Technology which is happening tommorow.

Nick Reynolds is editor, BBC Internet Blog.

IP To TV: Your Comments

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Ashley Highfield | 11:34 UK time, Wednesday, 16 January 2008

Thanks for your really interesting comments on my previous post.

Some things we're working on and other suggested solutions I've already followed up on (eg Neuros OSD).

The announcement from Macworld about the effective relaunch of the AppleTV (Jobs: "we tried with AppleTV, but its not what people wanted. So we're back with AppleTV take two - no computer is required") is encouraging.

This, coupled with Apple's (long anticipated) move to a rental model, means that we can look to getting BBC iPlayer onto this platform too, as we should be able to use the rental functionality to allow our programmes to be downloaded, free, but retained for a time window, and then erased, as our rightsholders currently insist.

Some of the solutions for getting IP to the TV set still fail the "can my mum do it?" test. One post asked "what is your problem?", but this misses the point. I want a solution that my mum can install (her "LAMP stack" takes 60 watt bulbs), and to this end, getting BBC iPlayer onto the Virgin cable TV platform in the spring will be an important step for us.

Working with, rather than against, the existing set-up in the typical home is probably the quickest route to mass market adoption of IP-delivered TV. So, a simple, open upgrade from your current TV to an IP enabled one (see CES announcement from Panasonic amongst others), or a simple upgrade from either analogue TV or your first generation DTT/Freeview box to an open hybrid DTT/IP box are forefront of our thinking right now. How the BBC can help make such an open market in the UK a reality (as we did with Freeview and DAB) is an important challenge.

Ashley Highfield is Director, BBC Future Media And Technology.

iPlayer Launch: First Indications

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Ashley Highfield | 11:25 UK time, Monday, 14 January 2008

Well, it's been three weeks since the BBC iPlayer launch on Christmas Day. Yesterday, we released some figures on its performance, showing that over 3.5m programmes have been streamed or downloaded on demand within a fortnight.

porridge_iplayer.jpgThe Observer has described the early figures as "remarkably promising". I'd agree. In the first week, we saw more users than we had tentatively expected in the first month; way more. Perhaps we underestimated, but I based forecasts on the known industry ratio of consumption of audio to video on iTunes and other sites. Given that we already have a very healthy audio podcasting and streaming service for BBC content (16m downloads last month), we applied the same industry ratio to estimate video demand from BBC iPlayer.

Except it now looks like demand for long-form video over the web may be much higher than iTunes has witnessed so far: It's too early to say, but I think we may be at the start of rewriting the rule book. So does The Guardian's Mark Lawson, who wrote that "iPlayer may represent the biggest step-change yet in the way television is seen".

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Editorial Content On The New Homepage

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James Price | 10:37 UK time, Monday, 14 January 2008

Hello, I look after the editorial side of things on the bbc.co.uk homepage.

Thanks to all who have given us feedback on the beta homepage. We've now received over 3,000 responses and among a host of useful suggestions, a couple of things stand out.

Firstly, many people have suggested that the main image is too big and that there isn't enough other content visible on the screen without scrolling down. Some suggested that this "main promo" should be removable, or at least movable.

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Secondly, there seems to be a common perception that this area is simply an ad for BBC content.

Your feedback is already having a direct effect on how the page will look when it launches. The design is being tweaked to slim it down to get more of the stuff you want - especially news and sport headlines and the weather forecast - higher up the page ("above the fold", to use the jargon) and the main promo area in particular will get quite a bit smaller.

And for those of you who wanted more widgets, we have a dozen new ones in the pipeline, covering topics such as: food, business/money, music and gardening.

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Is The Future Mobile In 2008?

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Nic Newman | 10:42 UK time, Friday, 11 January 2008

the_future_is_mobile.pngPeople have been predicting that mobile will be the next big thing for years, but finally some of the pieces seems to be falling into place. Devices like the iPhone are simplifying the consumer experience and creating real excitement; phone networks are offering all-you-can-eat tariffs; and content is being produced in ways that make it easy to reformat for small, medium and large mobile screens.

Meanwhile, at the Consumer electronics show (CES) in Las Vegas this week, there have been a host of new innovations in mobile, WiFi and handheld.

Back in London this week, we brought together some of the key players in the mobile industry - including Nokia, Vodafone, Apple, Microsoft, Yahoo and Blyk - for an event called The Future Is Mobile to share roadmaps and plans.

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And it was a fascinating day. I learned that there were over 800 devices in regular use and 3.5bn phones in existence. I learned that 90% of mobile phones can access the internet but most people don't because they don't know that mobile web services exist, or they are too frightened to use them because of complexity and cost.

pete_clifton_mobiles.jpgBut the key learning for me was that operators, handset manufactures, software providers and content providers are now all pulling in the same direction. Pretty much everyone agrees that the mobile web is going to take off over the next two years and is committed to make it happen.

And there were a few areas where we couldn't agree... in fact, we had some polarised views. And this is where I am hoping you can help. Here are four questions we really struggled with.

  • Do we need to produce different content for mobile - or is it just the same stuff reformatted for your device? Do you want stories to be shorter on a mobile or the same as the web?
  • Are you interested in different stories on the move - or would you want BBC News or Sport to be consistent across our different outlets?
  • What about audio and video? More and more phones are capable of playing this. Is this important to you on a handheld or a distraction? Does your answer change if you don't have to pay?
  • Would you ever watch live TV on a mobile or handheld?

We'd love your thoughts. Please do comment here.

Nic Newman is Controller, Journalism, BBC Future Media and Technology.

IP To TV: How?

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Ashley Highfield | 15:18 UK time, Thursday, 10 January 2008

All I want from CES or MacWorld is a solution to get my TV programmes from the web to my TV set: why is it still so difficult?

Bill Gates' keynote at this year's Vegas tech-fest, CES, spoke of the growing importance of in-home wireless connectivity, to ease moving your digital assets from device to device, room to room. Well, this is hardly new news. He's been saying pretty much the same for years.

The question that I have is: why it is still so hard to do, and so costly?

I've tried various solutions over the last few years to get content from my computer to my TV (first photos and music; more recently downloaded and streamed video). For a while, the media centre promised the answer.

But it's been an intensely frustrating piece of kit, with poorly executed and buggy software. And now, speculation is rife that the PC under your TV is not the solution to the "missing 10 yards of rail-road" between PC and TV, and is in fact fast approaching the end of the line (see active-tv blog for a good summary of the issues).

I thought last year that perhaps the solution lay in using a more inexpensive, simpler piece of kit (rather than a full blown PC) as a "media extender", a relatively simple box (with thin client) connected to my TV, that would pick up TV programmes from my server, wirelessly, and allow them to be watched on the TV.

Well, a year of frustration trying to use a couple of such solutions including an Xbox360 has proven that this doesn't currently work well either. At least, not well enough to be a mass market proposition.

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Of course, I may have just been using the wrong operating system, but AppleTVs have hardly been flying off the shelves either. When the boss describes one of his products as a "hobby", be warned.

The problem with the Apple solution is that it is geared around their business model of downloading and owning files via iTunes, not streaming A/V from a multitude of websites, or using other formats such as Divx, XviD, MPEG2, and WMV.

Going for the simplest possible solution, I have more recently tried connecting a VGA and audio cable from my laptop to my digital TV (how many TVs have VGA sockets though?), and simply hit Fn-F7; that worked until the laptop battery died and the screen saver kicked in. I know - both easily sorted - but still a hassle, and an untidy solution.

Of course, more and more laptops have decent High Definition screens now anyway, so perhaps some people might just decide to eschew their lounge plasma TV - but I enjoy the 40" screen, surround sound home cinema experience.

Mentioning this to a very tech savvy colleague this morning, he replied that he downloaded programmes through BBC iPlayer, stripped the DRM (hence his anonymity!), re-encoded the file, burned it to DVD from his PC, then took it to his DVD player connected to his TV in the lounge. Hardly a solution for my mum either.

The sorry truth is that all the solutions are currently suboptimal, to say the least. But I don't blame the manufacturers. I think the reason is that there's not been much demand from the audience for these gadgets, and hence the investment in R&D has not been worthwhile. And that's been because there's not been that much legit long-form television video content out there, easily, legally and cheaply available.

Well, there is now. Hundreds of hours a week in the UK. And I think consumer demand will rapidly drive solutions.

A simple, elegant, cheap, open standards box, that easily allows streamed or downloaded, free, rented, or bought programmes, direct from all vendor and other sites (from YouTube to iTunes to DailyMotion to BBC iPlayer) and from your hard drive, in all formats, is what the industry needs from either CES or MacWorld this month.

Can't wait to get my hands on one, and see whether it does the job.

Ashley Highfield is Director, BBC Future Media And Technology.

TV On IP For 2008

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Ashley Highfield | 12:54 UK time, Thursday, 10 January 2008

2007 was the year of short-form content, seeing 50% growth in the UK. 2008 will be more about long-form content, of full-length programmes available over the internet to mass audiences.

Many trends are driving this.

  • First, the rights clearance framework will enable full-length BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and Five content to be made available free (with or without ads) over the web.
  • Second, cheaper distribution costs, driven by falling prices for streaming from the content distribution networks, are making long-form streaming models viable.
  • Third, content owners' long-term technology projects to make this vast amount of content available over IP are now coming on-stream.
  • Fourth, audience-facing products are reaching maturity and the quality of the video they serve has improved enormously.
  • Finally, improved technologies from Adobe (Air) and Microsoft (Silverlight) will help drive ease of use, adoption and consumption.

I hope that Internet Service Providers ensure their "unlimited broadband" promises mean what they say on the tin and that we see a faster rollout of higher-speed services - hats off to Virgin's 50Mbps broadband service. The only thing missing is the final ten yards of railroad/ getting IP video to the large screen in the living room. 2008 will be the year when a decent range of devices - TV, Xbox Live Marketplace, BT Vision, Tiscali TV or just a simple VGA cable from laptop to TV - finally hit the mainstream.

Bebo's Kate Modern is just the beginning. Other sites like Constant Comedy and VideoJug are showing the way. Watch out TV: here comes IP.

N.B. A version of this post originally appeared in New Media Age [subscription may be required to access link]

Ashley Highfield is Director, BBC Future Media and Technology.

Erik Huggers At Cisco Conference

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Nick Reynolds Nick Reynolds | 10:06 UK time, Thursday, 10 January 2008

Thanks to a tip from Ian Forrester, I came across this YouTube video of Erik Huggers on a panel discussion at the Cisco C-Span Conference in December last year.

The sound quality isn't great. Erik starts about two minutes in, giving a preview of the changes to the iPlayer just before Christmas.

Nick Reynolds is editor, BBC Internet Blog.

iPlayer Doesn't Require A TV Licence... Yet

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Ashley Highfield | 15:20 UK time, Wednesday, 9 January 2008

A question I often get asked is whether you need a TV licence to watch BBC programmes over the internet.

At the moment, the legal position is that you don't need a licence to watch TV purely on-demand, but you do if you are watching TV live (through any receiving device in the home).

So a live simulcast over the web from the BBC - of, say, the Beijing Olympics - will require a TV licence, but watching an on-demand (non-live) stream or download through the BBC iPlayer will not.

The Help section for the iPlayer confirms the position under "Will I need a TV licence to watch programmes on BBC iPlayer?" It states that:

You do not need a television licence to watch television programmes on the current version of the BBC iPlayer. You will need to be covered by a TV licence if and when the BBC provides a feature that enables you to watch 'live' TV programmes on any later version of the BBC iPlayer which has this option... A 'live' TV programme is a programme which is watched or recorded at the same time (or virtually the same time) as it is being broadcast... [etc]

This raises the next question: "so is the iPlayer undermining the licence fee?".

broadcast_receiving_licence.png

Well, the number of homes that currently have no television licence, but that do have broadband subscription is currently estimated to be infinitesimally small. The chances are if you want to watch BBC TV programmes via catch-up over the web, you are also watching some BBC programmes at other times, live or time-shifted, via a TV set, and will already have a TV licence.

If we saw, over time, that some people stopped receiving live broadcasts at all, stopped paying their licence fee, but continued to consume televison programmes, solely on-demand through the iPlayer (or other players), then we might have to consider talking to the Government about Part 4 of the Communications Act 2003 and the Communications (Television Licensing) Regulations 2004, so that they can then consider whether on-demand tv viewing might be brought within its aegis.

See this document [pdf] for more details.

So it's an interesting point, but it's not causing our finance director sleepless nights.

Ashley Highfield is Director, BBC Future Media and Technology.

A Glimpse Of The Year To Come

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Erik Huggers Erik Huggers | 12:42 UK time, Wednesday, 9 January 2008

Just before the holiday break, I promised to come back with some more details of my C21 Media keynote. My apologies that it took a while to get back to you.

C21 was an important opportunity to share some of the exciting things that we are working on across PC, TV and Mobile services with the industry, and now I'd like to give you a glimpse of what the BBC will be doing in the next year. Let's start with our web activities, because 2008 will see nothing less than the complete reinvention of them...

bbc_homepage_logo.pngThe first glimpse of what the future holds has been available in beta since before Christmas in the form of our new homepage.

It's a major departure from the existing page and the design is new and fresh. The overall user experience can be best summed up as easy to use, yet functional and powerful. Over the next couple of months, we will be constantly refining and improving the new homepage. We want to make it simple for our users to find what they want and we want to help those users discover much more of the BBC's content that is relevant to their lives. Richard Titus has blogged about it here and here.

Our goal is to roll out the new look and feel across all services. One of the first areas where you will see this happen is with aggregation pages. It's an internal name for a project that aims to bring the best BBC content on any given topic together on one dynamically generated page. In the first quarter of '08, we will ship the first 500 of these pages and they will cover topics as countries and people. Let's say you are interested in a country like Italy. The plan is that the aggregation page on Italy pulls all the latest and greatest information from databases across our news, TV and radio divisions to provide one coherent view.

Read the rest of this entry

Private Eye

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Nick Reynolds Nick Reynolds | 10:30 UK time, Wednesday, 9 January 2008

Richard Titus in a previous post on this blog speaks warmly of the "wonderful, eccentric" place that England represented for him when he was growing up.

But I don't know how he feels about that great British institution Private Eye. And since he is in Las Vegas at a conference and probably asleep at the time I write this, I can't ask him.

Richard Titus

Any quote can sound odd taken out of context. And since I understand this one perfectly well, does that make me a Birtist? I've been called worse.

Still, it does show that someone is reading this blog.

Nick Reynolds is editor, BBC Internet Blog.

Missed Links

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Nick Reynolds Nick Reynolds | 21:25 UK time, Thursday, 3 January 2008

Since the BBC Internet Blog started on the 31st October last year, we've published over fifty posts and added more than two hundred links to our delicious stream.

Some of these may have got "lost in the shuffle". So here's a personal selection of links you might have missed.

I've no doubt the conversation about DRM, Microsoft and the iPlayer will rage on into 2008. So it's worth reminding you of Ashley Highfield's Groklaw interview where he tackles some of the wilder allegations and puts the BBC's side of the story. Anthony Rose's audio interview with Backstage about the improvements introduced to the iPlayer just before Christmas is also worth a listen.

On a completely different subject, I'm surprised that this post from Ashley Highfield in November didn't seem to provoke anyone. Ashley asks questions about how green digital technology is and how green it should be. Surely someone has some thoughts?

Martin Belam worked very hard guiding us through the ten year anniversary of bbc.co.uk. Martin has some personal thoughts on the experience of "guest blogging" on his own blog too. And if you want a roller coaster ride at the sharp end check out Brandon Butterworth's insider's view.


An early scene from BBC Technology

If that didn't keep him busy enough, Martin also wrote a series of posts on currybet.net on "Blogging At The BBC".

Do BBC web teams get enough credit? And if not where should they get it? Good questions triggered by the estimable James Cridland on his personal blog.

The ArchersYou want Archers visualisations? They're at the Radio Labs blog.

Tom Loosemore makes an intriguing and rather important point about embeddable video and BBC Parliament.

Finally, a personal note. It's no secret that I believe that the BBC should be more open and that blogging might be a way to achieve this. I said as much in the "Blogs As Accountability" podcast we published before Christmas. So I was pleased when I read this blog post. It made me think that we might be getting somewhere.

But there's still a way to go. We'll see how far we get as the new year progresses.

Nick Reynolds is editor, BBC Internet Blog.

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