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New CBBC iPlayer designed just for kids

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Marc Goodchild | 11:53 UK time, Friday, 19 December 2008

So the big news today for children across Britain is that we're quietly rolling out their very own customised version of BBC iPlayer for CBBC shows - just in time for Christmas. CBBC fans can now watch their favourite programmes on-demand just like Mum or Dad.

cbbciplayer

But why this alternative look player just for CBBC?

Well, although the BBC iPlayer has been carrying children's shows since the beginning (with quite significant take up) we've intentionally been cautious about promoting the service directly to children during this first year of the service.

If you take a look at the main BBC iPlayer homepage which is designed to showcase the full range of BBC programme content, you can guess some of the potential pitfalls.

One of the downsides of must-have web 2.0 features, like "most popular", is that you can't always ensure what shows will rise to the surface. (One week it could be Dr Who but the next it's Little Britain).

Therefore, it's impossible to guarantee that the collective viewing preferences of the older BBC iPlayer fan base will always be suitable for the 6-12 year olds CBBC serves. But neither should we compromise the service for the vast number of adults who increasingly use BBC iPlayer to catch up on their favourite shows.

So instead we've focused on coming up with a bespoke version of the BBC iPlayer just for children.

At this stage, it's important to point out that post-watershed shows like Little Britain already carry Guidance labelling and a Parental Guidance Lock option.

(In fact, the BBC has been a trailblazer amongst the UK terrestrial broadcasters in developing digital methods for signalling when post-watershed TV shows appear online and parents are given the option to set a password protection accordingly. It's an approach that has now been adopted elsewhere and is well supported by the likes of Ofcom, ATVOD and the BSG).

But as Dr Byron reported in her review of children's online safety for the Prime Minister earlier this year, not all parents are completely au fait with what is now possible online and some are oblivious to the benefits of using these safety features.

Whilst it isn't our role at CBBC to intervene in those parental decisions, we do have a duty of care for any child who comes to our site - whether or not their parents are actively involved in what they're consuming.

And from the child's point of view, being encouraged to visit a site where a lot of the "must see" content is out of bounds must feel a bit like going to a digital sweetshop where all the prize candy is visible on the top shelf but just out of reach.

Our solution has been to take a more carrot than stick approach with the new player, with the added incentive that this version is tailored specifically with children in mind.

As of today, we can now direct the CBBC audience to a semi-ring fenced area of BBC iPlayer which shows all their favourite programmes in a specialised interface, without them inadvertently tripping over less suitable content.

We're not actively encouraging children to navigate from CBBC version to the main BBC iPlayer site itself (just as we avoid promoting BBC3 shows on the CBBC channel) but we do want them to enjoy the compelling CBBC content the BBC iPlayer has on offer in a space specifically designed for that age group - with all the best functionality and features the mother brand has to offer.

The "look and feel" is also designed specifically to speak directly to children and dissipate any desire to navigate off piste.

And the overriding response of our user testing with 6-12 year olds backs this up. More than anything, they want safe familiar environments where they can get more of what they like when they want it - without the distractions of grown-up content that they either don't like or is blocked to them.

By customising the designs around their specific needs (with navigation that is more visual than text driven, buttons that are more playful and with new cross-linking across CBBC to other areas like games etc) we hope that this semi-walled garden proposition feels 'optimised' to what kids want rather than a restricted sub-set.

For any new parents who discover this version of BBC iPlayer through their children, we've also added extra notes explaining how to get the most from those all-important Parental Guidance lock features.

Anyone who claims that they can police what children do online with absolute certainty is probably misguided, but we believe that through a combination of increased parental involvement, 'user-centred' solutions like this and good media literacy in schools, children will generally take the sensible option and gravitate to the sites that put their needs first.

As they grow-up, some children will inevitably test these boundaries and find clever ways to subvert the system. That's not a symptom of the technology itself but an age-old dilemma about how much we should intervene when children decide to push the limits of what's allowed.

That point tends to come later as children hit secondary school and, as parents, we tend to be more confident about how to deal with such matters in both the real and virtual worlds.

So the crucial thing for us today at CBBC, and one of the primary aims of the new player, is to make sure that when the younger users amongst our audience go online, they aren't confronted or inadvertently trip over content that isn't age-appropriate, when they're least expecting it and before they're genuinely ready.

Marc Goodchild is Head of Interactive and On Demand, BBC Childrens.

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