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Ashley Highfield

Speeches

Ashley Highfield

Director, Future Media and Technology


Keynote speech given at MIPTV featuring MILIA in Cannes

(Joint keynote with Jana Bennett)

 

Wednesday 18 April 2007
Printable version

Distribute or die

 

Ever since the launch of Sky in the UK back in 1989, the BBC has broadcast its public service channels over more than one distribution network. We now broadcast live over satellite, cable, digital terrestrial, IPTV and mobile as well as good old UHF analogue.

 

In the same way, we are making sure that our on-demand services – everything that isn't our broadcast linear schedule – are also available over as many platforms as possible. The BBC's remit is to be universally available to everyone in the UK who pays a licence fee, and our audience increasingly want – and expect to dictate how, when, and where they get – our services.

 

But if that's all we did, simply a "lift and shift" of our output to each new platform, then we'd be failing to make the best of the unique qualities of these means of distribution:

 

On the internet, we already make our content available in different bandwidths for those with fast and slow connection speeds, different video players for those who use Microsoft or Real, but we can and must do more.

 

Apple computers for instance, although their proprietary and closed framework for digital rights management gives us headaches, it is one of our top priorities to re-engineer our proposed BBC iPlayer service to work on Macs.

 

And it's not just the programmes our audiences want, they want all the metadata – the cast-lists and behind-the-scenes programme information, the scripts, the whole nine megabytes.

 

On mobile, we've been providing unique content around our favourite shows: the Doctor Who Tardisodes for instance – mini episodes made especially for mobile – got 58,000 downloads, on mobile alone.

 

But again we must do more to enable the receipt of our channels and services over a platform that is exploding in popularity for the consumption of media. To this end, yesterday, we started a 12-month trial in the UK to syndicate a range of BBC Television channels and radio networks via 3G to mobile phones with operators Orange, Vodafone and 3.

 

On digital terrestrial television, Freeview, now in approximately 10 million UK homes, we already offer a range of on-demand services over and above the transmission of our linear channels – our text and video-loop services, BBCi, are used by an astonishing 14 million people a month.

 

Freeview is the first choice for the majority of homes switching to digital for the first time and the imminent launch of Freeview Playback will give people access to Freeview's 40-plus free digital channels, one-touch recording, pause and rewind live TV and series recording. It's like Sky+, but without subscription.

 

It's critical that Freeview evolves as a compelling and competitive alternative to cable and satellite – in its response to Ofcom's Digital Dividend Review, the BBC argues for the allocation of spectrum to Public Service Broadcasters to develop free-to-air, universally available HD channels on Freeview.

 

In the future, the BBC believes Freeview should also offer on-demand content – both a catch-up service, and access to back-catalogue and archive programming.

 

Here is a snapshot of what we are doing in these areas and what we propose to do over the course of the next year or so.

 

BBC iPlayer

 

Firstly BBC iPlayer – making all your favourite BBC programmes available for download, free for UK licence fee payers, at high quality, with no advertising, for up to a week after transmission. Once downloaded, you'll then have a longer window in which to get round to watching it. Once watched, the file clears itself up by deleting itself. Using DRM, we can protect our rights holders' fears that their programmes will be copied around the world.

 

In fact, all our evidence is that the provision of this free seven-day window will stimulate usage and demand for downloading TV programmes over the net and boost the market for both paid-for download-to-own programmes and advertising revenues on programming from outside the seven-day free window.

 

BBC iPlayer – which is still subject to final approval from the Trust at the beginning of May – will never be a replacement for the BBC's traditional channels. It is a complementary service that we expect will help keep BBC One, Two, Three and Four and their entire range of programming in front of an audience who may have less time or inclination to watch programmes live, or remember to record them, and who want to take them on the train, on their smart-phone, or even to bed with them on their lap-top.

 

Our iMP trial showed that BBC iPlayer could account for 10% or more of viewing of BBC TV programmes in broadband homes. Where we have already been offering the ability to download programmes from our website the statistics speak for themselves. There have been nearly 4 million downloads since our video podcast trial began last August (including 1.3 million downloads of Breakfast and 1.1 million downloads of Newsnight).

 

So with this level of nascent demand, we want to make BBC iPlayer as widely available as possible, across as many platforms as is feasible. We're starting with the biggest available audience – the 22 million people who are broadband connected in Britain. The next biggest audience are 3 million cable homes. After that, it's Macs, media centres, and smart handheld devices. Once we've done all that, we'll turn to the really tricky platforms: DTT via either PVRs or IP hybrid boxes.

 

Partnerships critical for BBC iPlayer

 

In short, our aim is to keep the BBC relevant in the digital age. And we clearly can't do this on our own. Partnerships with platform owners such as network operators and ISPs are critical. As is a deep exchange of knowledge with software and hardware manufacturers from the giants of Microsoft and IBM to the technology start-ups like Kontiki and design agency ISO.

 

On the internet, our own website is going great guns – March was a record month for bbc.co.uk with 16.1 million users in the UK, almost 60% of all those online in Britain, indicating the voracious appetite for quality video and audio-related content on the web.

 

But the amount of consumption of BBC content not via our own website, is perhaps even more revealing about this new "porous" world we live in – we've been syndicating our content over the last five years, and we now have 8.7 million users of BBC content from outside of bbc.co.uk, picking up our news and entertainment stories from the likes of AOL and Yahoo!

 

Further, several million people who see BBC content on the likes of YouTube currently never come to bbc.co.uk – a great customer acquisition opportunity for us.

 

So our recent deal with YouTube is an extension of this strategy of distribution or die, and is already proving very successful. The twin purpose of our public service BBC offering on YouTube is reaching out to audiences who don't naturally come to the BBC and to bring them back to bbc.co.uk and BBC iPlayer. Along with a second commercial offering run by BBC Worldwide, the BBC is consistently one of the most popular channels on YouTube.

 

Over time, we expect this to be a major channel bringing new users to our full length programmes – the BBC iPlayer – via the clips of BBC content that they come across on YouTube.

 

BBC Archive Trial

 

So that's about catch-up and current programming. I would like to move on now to the long-tail, our Archive.

 

The long term aim is to unlock this treasure-trove of over a million hours of video, audio, and supporting programme notes and scripts. We are proposing to launch the BBC Archive Trial on bbc.co.uk next month. The purposes of the trial, which is expected to last up to six months, is to inform the BBC's future proposition for a public service on-demand archive service on bbc.co.uk, which will require approval from the BBC Trust, and to see where we should draw the line between a licence fee funded service and a commercial service.

 

It will test what old programmes people really want to see, from Man Alive to The Liver Birds; how they want to see them – full length or clip compilations; and when they want them – in "lean-forward" exploratory mode similar to web surfing, or as a scheduled experience more akin to TV viewing.

 

The BBC Archive would be an extension of the BBC's seven-day catch-up on demand proposals, the BBC iPlayer. As with that proposed service, the Archive journey has been, and will be, a long one. It's a massive undertaking. Ensuring the right split between licence fee funding and commercial funding will be complex.

 

The BBC Archive Trial, which is a closed consumer trial of 20,000 people, is the next phase of a process which follows the 18-month pilot of the BBC's Creative Archive, which finished last autumn and which enabled people to re-edit, use and share a small amount of appropriately cleared content for their own use.

 

BBC Video-on-demand

 

Getting our BBC iPlayer seven day catch-up TV service and our Archive Pilot out on to the web is one thing, but clearly the biggest available audience is sat in front of the television. Like many others, we've been busy building a bridge between our on-demand content aspirations and our audiences' lounge-bound televisions.

 

Getting on-demand services directly to TVs is critical; Freeview does have bandwidth limitations, but the rise of the PVR enables us to deliver interactive services into Freeview homes, making it potentially as exciting and competitive as other platforms.

 

And Freeview boxes are flying off the shelves – a record 2.4 million Freeview boxes were sold in the last quarter of 2006, taking the total sales of Freeview receiver equipment to 17 million since the service was launched in October 2002.

 

Analogue switchover, which commences in Whitehaven this October, will be completed by 2012 and will increase Licence Fee payers' choices by making Freeview available to all parts of the UK.

 

As Britain enters the endgame of analogue switchover, we have a four-year-long opportunity to achieve a step-change in the services which we deliver on Freeview, and to evolve and future-proof Freeview with additional advanced interactive and digital functionality.

 

We've just completed a technical trial to test some of the technologies around, pushing 50 hours of BBC programming per week automatically to digital video recorders on Freeview.

 

It's a simple catch-up service that could become the entry-point for audiences to on-demand for the first time. Its advantage over a PVR is that you don't have to remember to record your favourite BBC programmes, and that at any one moment, in addition to all the linear channels, there is always a freshly-prepared up-to-date carousel of 50 hours of on-demand programmes.

 

Segmenting up a hard-drive and using push-VOD to get on-demand programmes is great, but still won't fulfil the end ambition of one day enabling any viewer to access any BBC programme ever broadcast via their television. This will require an internet connection.

 

BBC Video-on-demand via both digital television and the internet

 

New, hybrid set-top boxes, that combine broadcast TV with an IP connection, give us additional opportunities to deliver on-demand services via Freeview. Hybrid boxes are a part of the future, as important – if not more so – than standard PVRs.

 

Conclusion

 

In a hybrid environment you can really start to mix and match, using the best of both worlds linear scheduled TV via digital broadcast for new programming on the one hand, and deep archive via IP on the other. There worlds may be converging, but they're not in competition. The BBC will deliver content and applications via broadcast and IP, merging them into a seamless audience experience.



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