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24 September 2014
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Ashley Highfield


Ashley Highfield

Director, Future Media and Technology

Speech given at the IPTV World Forum

Monday 5 March 2007
Printable version

In the UK, digital TV is now in 70% of all households. Some 16 million homes. Analogue switch-over starts this year in the UK, and at present there are just 40,000 Homechoice "real" IPTV homes and 3,000 BT Vision hybrid DTT IP boxes. Even if you include re-energised cable into the equation, it still only adds up to a small percentage share by the time analogue switch-over is complete. So I'll just focus on the vastly bigger opportunity that the 13 million plus UK homes that have broadband-connected PCs. But of course, no one is going to give up their TV or TV set top box, or TV subscription for an internet delivered service.


The conclusion, which I know is fairly obvious, is that IPTV will be, for quite some years, predominantly a complementary service to traditional TV. IPTV might one day be substitutional for satellite and DTT, when the technology improves and the costs reduce and behaviours change, but even then probably only to certain audiences – highly socially networked teens, exclusively long tail consuming niche-lovers.


IPTV will not be a direct substitute but it is starting to take share of our overall consumption of media. There will not be direct substitution of old world players for IP players, of Sky for Joost, and so the attempt to make IP services mimic the look and feel of TV is I believe flawed: it's TV like you know it, just worse. The winners will be the IPTV aggregators who offer truly complementary, differentiated services to those which people can find on their TVs. These players, and hopefully the BBC will be one of them, will start to acquire sizable audiences, as is already happening with YouTube.


YouTube's impact on traditional TV is not measurable in our industry's research overnight share figures. In fact I think that played right YouTube doesn't have to be a negative impact at all: it can be a great audience grabbing vehicle for broadcasters. It's also great minute-by-minute feedback: since launch of the partnership on Friday, 90,000 viewers have already accessed the BBC channel with a further 75,000 accessing the BBC Worldwide content.


So, our aim is not to reproduce TV on web. It never has been. What IP-delivered TV should be about are the things that traditional television struggles at Amplification, global distribution, rediscovery, engagement, collaboration, innovation and navigation.


Put together, this is BBC 2.0. I'd just like to touch on a few of these to explain what I think is the BBC's role in the 21st century.


Amplification: What IPTV can do so well is to take you deeper and deeper: start watching a programme about Polar Bears and follow your mouse to a flash animation showing global warming's effect on receding ice-caps.


Distribution – Getting our programmes in front of the maximum audience on their terms: wherever, whenever, however. BBC iPlayer is due to launch later this year (subject to final sign-off from Trust). We believe that this could, based on our extensive research, account for 5-10% of a typical household's BBC viewing in a week. It has always been in our best interests to make sure its universally available. This ambition means getting iPlayer onto as many devices, in the home and on the move, as possible.


We welcome the BBC Trust's provisional conclusion – pending a public consultation – that the BBC's new on-demand proposals will deliver siginificant public value, and their endorsement of our role in this market. Because we are in the process of drafting our response to the BBC Trust as part of the consultation, it isn't really appropriate to comment in any detail on our response.


However, the issue of the BBC iPlayer and the Digital Rights Management systems which it will support, has been hotly debated, and I just wanted to say a few words on this by way of clarification.


The BBC Trust's provisional conclusions into the BBC's new on–demand proposals require that "the BBC Executive adopt a platform-agnostic approach within a reasonable time-frame" to the seven-day catch-up service on the internet.


We agree that an open approach is sensible. The BBC aims to make its content as widely available as possible – whilst protecting the interests of rights holders – and has always taken a platform–agnostic approach to its internet services. However, our ability to deliver such an approach will be influenced by the availability of alternative DRM systems, as well as value-for-money and technical considerations.


From launch, all TV programmes that we are able to deliver over the internet will be made available as downloads in DRM-protected Windows Media format for the majority of our audience. A proportion of TV programmes will be made available in both Real and Windows Media streaming formats – available to Apple and Linux users, as well as Microsoft users. Over time, the technical systems in place at launch will continuously evolve to optimise value for money and universal availability.


Rediscovery – the BBC Archive trial – is due to start in April and will include 1,000 hours of audio and video programming which will be digitally tested in order to inform the prospective Public Value Test by the BBC Trust.


Engagement – not for many broadcasters their strong card, and yet one of the most powerful potential features of IPTV. In the future, we'll not be able to rely on schedules to hammock audiences from one programme to the next. Nor will they see as much of our promotional messages if they're watching less BBC One, especially if they have a PVR. Really engaging with our audiences, understanding what they're watching, what they're not, and building up a profile over time is going to be critical. Which is why I am not a strong advocate of simply giving all our programming over to iTunes to sell for us in the on–demand space. As a broadcaster, we have to maintain a direct relationship with our audience, or we're dead. This is not a black and white issue: it means working with the YouTubes of this world, as well as having a strong portal at It means having your own iPlayer, but working with partners.


Innovation – We're trying our best: the BBC was the world's first broadcaster to trial DRM-protected content over a peer-to-peer network, enabling us to negotiatie a totally new rights framework with a hitherto justifiably sceptical rights community, allowing our audience to enjoy a new seven day window of all their favourite programmes on the web. A technology now widely adopted by the other broadcasters in the UK. And additionally we're working on our own DTT/IP hybrid set-top box which could be part of the archive trial.


Navigation – this lies at the heart of BBC web 2.0. The wealth of our programmes, new and old, of audience contributions, of third-party content, that audiences will want to search to find the video clips or full length programmes of their choice will swamp any existing electronic programme guide. It needs a rethink. A search engine is only part of the answer. Offering fewer, better, answers, knowing what the user is really looking for, what they really like, what they'll love but weren't expecting, is perhaps closer to the answer. In fact, the traditional editorial, packaging, scheduling, commissioning, and promoting skills of the broadcaster are what's required. We're not dead, we are more needed than ever in this world, we just need to reinvent ourselves.


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