BBC iPlayer 2.0: Sneak Preview
BBC iPlayer launched officially on Christmas Day, on PC, Mac and Linux.
First, in January, we "pimped up" the iPlayer site by adding Most Popular, Just In, Last Chance and More Like This zones.
So... what's next? It's time to let the cat out of the bag and tell you about the next big thing that we're working on: an all-new iPlayer website.
The existing iPlayer website works really well, and has proven hugely successful. However, in Internet Land nothing stays still for long and the iPlayer site that you see now is based on a somewhat inflexible static-page-rendering platform that's now over a year old.
That technology platform has proven robust and reliable, but we've pushed it to the limit in terms of features that we can add using the existing site architecture. It's now time to move onto an all-new dynamic-page-rendering architecture which will give us with a platform that can provide a personalised TV and radio experience, can adapt itself to different display sizes - and a whole lot more.
(N.B. Editor's note: The beta for the new BBC iPlayer is now available here)
First up, we think it's gorgeous - thanks to the brilliant work of our in-house User Experience & Design (UXD) team - with a visual theme that matches the new bbc.co.uk site "house style":
The most important change is that we combined TV and Radio in the same iPlayer interface, which means that you when you go to, say, Comedy, you'll find your favourite TV and radio comedy programmes all in the same page, like this:
I'll say immediately that combining TV and radio in the same interface was a much-debated design decision.
One of the attractions of the current iPlayer site is that it's brilliantly simple, and we don't want to lose that simplicity. However, we felt that if we could provide a way to let you find your favourite TV and radio programmes in one place, that would be a major win.
But, for those who want to see TV only, or Radio only, you can easily do that by clicking the "TV", "Radio" or "TV and Radio" links.
Of course, you can also go directly to your favourite TV channel or national radio network:
Next, the first of many personalisation additions that we'll be adding over the coming months: the iPlayer site will now remember which programmes you last played and where you got up to in each programme.
If you don't have time to finish a programme, no problem: when you next go back to the iPlayer site, it will be right there on the homepage, ready to resume from where you last left off with just a single click:
Not only will iPlayer remember which shows you've recently played, but when new episodes of those programmes become available they'll automatically show up in the Last Played widget for you. So, if you're a Torchwood fan, when you come back next week, your new Torchwood episode should be ready for you to play directly from the homepage.
As people begin using iPlayer more, it's clear that they're deciding to not watch programmes on TV, expecting to be able to watch them on iPlayer later. But how do you know if a programme will be available in iPlayer?
One of our most common feature requests is for an indication of whether a given programme is scheduled to appear in iPlayer or not, so we have provided a full schedule view that shows all programmes that were on TV and radio, with an indication of which are available for viewing in iPlayer now, which are coming soon, and which (usually for content licensing reasons) are not scheduled for iPlayer.
And, for those who want to use iPlayer to catch up on last night's TV - a common use case - we made that easier with a dedicated widget on the homepage:
One thing conspicuously missing from the current iPlayer site is the provision of RSS feeds. For those who want to consume our content via their RSS reader, or who want to create mashups of the iPlayer site - good news - every page has an RSS feed.
You can even subscribe to a feed of an arbitrary search query, allowing you to use third party feed readers to alert you when your favourite programmes arrive:
Finally (we kept the best bit for last), we're making huge improvements to the quality of both TV and radio within iPlayer.
For TV, we have an all-new playback experience with a larger playback window (640 pixels wide, up from the previous 512 pixels - that's a 25% size increase), and a new More Like This widget at the bottom of the page (now also available in full-screen mode!) which will form a key element in our personalisation roadmap over the coming months:
For radio, we're starting to making huge improvements to the radio quality. Elsewhere in this blog you'll have seen some discussion of the changes to streaming radio online; watch out for a post from Mark Friend (from BBC Audio & Music) soon with the full details, but as a listener to BBC Radio 3, let's just say I'm particularly pleased with the changes... ;)
And if you're an existing iPlayer For Radio user, you'll spot an all-new popup radio console - a sleek new design with a built-in More Like This widget which will, in due course, grow to provide you with your own personalised radio station.
As you can guess, we've got a huge amount of work to do to pull this all together. iPlayer gets five million page views per day now, which we think will double when we add radio, and then double again over the next few months, so our plan is to "dual run" the new site alongside the old for a few weeks while we make sure the server can handle the load, listen to and act on your feedback, iron out bugs, etc.
Many of the iPlayer 2.0 enhancements are based on user testing and your feedback. We love to get ideas and comments, so let me know which things you'd like to see that haven't made it into our iPlayer 2.0 release and - who knows - they may show up in a future site update.
Anthony Rose is Head of Digital Media Technology, BBC Future Media and Technology.