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Ruhel Ali Ruhel Ali | 15:21 UK time, Wednesday, 23 July 2008

Many sports fans may have noticed a change to our digital text service on Sky, Virgin and Freeview. These changes were made to enable a more comprehensive sports area which enabled viewers to access all sport content, both text and video, from one location.

Here I'm going to write about the new service.

Sport Multiscreen

Previously viewers who wished to access sports content on the red button had two routes which were independent. The first route was via the text service which included all text stories and tables data but importantly no video content. The second route was via the red button on specific sporting events i.e. Wimbledon, World cup and the Olympics. The latter did not include any of the text areas which the text service had; it instead had its own manually-entered feed of stories updated by the production team.

In Rob's recent posting he mentioned the authoring tools we've built. One of these is Modcon (short for modular configurable), which publishes content and configuration from templates to Sky, Virgin and Freeview. Prior to this year's Wimbledon Modcon was used for all previous sport red button services, including the 2004 Olympics.

Modcon allowed us to be very flexible and fast in creating individual interactive applications for specific shows and events. The majority of BBC red button programmes use this product; however the sport requirements for the red button changed over the years, which has culminated with the launch of the Sport Multiscreen (Internal project name 'My Sport Now') which superseded Modcon.

Sport Multiscreen architecture

Technically we changed a number of systems which included:

  • Freeview: updated viewer UI (implemented in MHEG). As well as the combined text/video service mentioned above, this allows us to temporarily use BBC Parliament as an extra interactive stream for Olympics
  • Satellite: New OpenTV browser, implemented in C. This was initially developed by our colleagues in BBC Research and Innovation. The new browser improves the speed for the viewer when moving between different parts of the service. Content is delivered via a C# web service
  • Cable: New application (implemented in HTML and JavaScript), this is our first fullscreen text service for this platform
  • Production UI: New web-based production UI tools, implemented in Java using the Google Web Toolkit. The production team use this to control the service across multiple platforms, such as which video streams are accessible to viewers, and which items are on the blue menu
  • The platform-specific service builders were upgraded in order to feed data and configuration information to each platform (implemented mostly in Java, with some Perl)

Sport Multiscreen production system

Sport Multiscreen production system

Screenshots of our web-based production user interface using Google Web Toolkit

This has been a massive launch for the team as we have had to replace 5 years worth of development in 1 year. As you will appreciate such a radical overhaul will undoubtedly raise some issues, which we address as soon as possible.

We will have more on the implementation in future postings.

Ruhel Ali is Development Producer, TV Platforms Group, BBC FM&T


The following comments were originally posted on the BBCi Labs blog

At 5:32pm on 23 Jul 2008, trebor_mints wrote:

I was really impressed with the cable application - finally what I would consider to be a proper Digital Text service.

Hopefully there are plans for rest of the content to be available in this format :-)


There have been no comments made here yet.


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