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BBC iPlayer: series stacking

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Troy | 13:00 UK time, Wednesday, 17 September 2008

Our catch-up TV offer just got a whole lot smarter, thanks to the introduction of the series stacking feature on BBC iPlayer and programme sites on bbc.co.uk.

We first announced this during last month's Edinburgh TV Festival [see earlier post], where we also talked about plans for live streaming of the BBC's TV channels - all part of making our programmes and channels available when, where and how audiences want them.

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Series stacking, which starts rolling out this week, extends the availability window of selected series from the standard seven days to the lifetime of the series while on air, up to 13 weeks after transmission of the first episode.

It might seem like a difficult concept to get your head around but the reality is altogether more simple: you can now feast on multiple episodes from the same series for longer.

Unlike a PVR, which requires viewers to know what they want to record in advance of it being shown, stacking lets you join a series part way through its run and catch up not just on the most recent episode, but on earlier ones too.

We expect that this will appeal most to viewers who've heard about a series from friends or colleagues, or read about it in the papers, and can now go back to the start and see it all the way through.

We also expect that many of the programmes already available for seven-day catch-up on iPlayer will prove as popular when offered for longer as a series stack. While viewers can look forward to stacked episodes of their favourite comedies, dramas and factual programmes, we're also hoping they'll be able to enjoy a broader range from across our channels and genres. Imagine, for example, being able to watch a series helping you to learn a new language or skill, at your own pace.

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Not everything will be stacked: the offer is restricted to 15% of all content offered on demand, something the BBC Trust determined in its permissions and approvals, granted in April 2007.

We'll be stacking just first-run series and we've also taken the decision not to include soaps, news bulletins, review-based programmes and single events - because of the types of programmes these are and, for the first two categories, the number of times they're on every week. We'll also be excluding programmes containing material of a legal nature, such as Crimewatch - in case this could prejudice court proceedings.

Series stacking will initially be available for streamed programmes on BBC iPlayer and via bbc.co.uk programme sites. My colleague Dan Taylor discusses more about what we're doing on these here.

We're working on extending this to downloadable programmes and the iPlayer for TV platforms (currently available to all Virgin Media customers). I'll post again when these are ready to go.

This isn't a true Long Tail offer, as we're merely extending the availability of stacked series for slightly longer than the standard seven-day catch-up window.

But it will be interesting to see how this stretched availability window resonates with audiences and helps them discover not only programmes they might otherwise have missed, but also more episodes of both what they already enjoy and those hidden gems.

We're always keen to hear about what you think of the BBC's evolving TV on-demand offer, so please use the comment box below.

Troy is Business Manager, Multiplatform & Portfolio, BBC Vision and the editorial architect of series stacking.

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