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BBC iPlayer On Virgin Media TV

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Rahul Chakkara Rahul Chakkara | 08:00 UK time, Wednesday, 30 April 2008

Today is another significant day for BBC iPlayer as it launches on its first TV platform: Virgin Media.

virgin media logoAs of this morning, anyone with Virgin Media TV can press the red button from any BBC channel and access the iPlayer directly on their television.

tv iplayer

Getting the iPlayer into the living room is a big deal for me. Since its early development, I've been asked often whether it would be available on television. Why? Well, because the programmes are made for television, and mainstream audiences like to watch them from the comfort of their armchairs and on the TV.

We've already launched a version on the Nintendo Wii, which enables users to access the iPlayer via their consoles and watch via their TVs. With today's launch, we are now able to offer broadcast-quality on-demand programmes in a navigation constructed for the television audience and which works on the remote control. A couple of clicks, and you get full-screen video at high quality with no buffering.

The programme offering is pretty much the same as that which you get on the web, although there are some exceptions due to rights. Regional variations, radio programmes and some acquistions are not available at present. However, we hope this will change in due course. We also hope to be able to offer High Definition programmes too!

It has been a long and challenging project. The first challenge was around navigation: how do you help people find the programmes which they want to watch when there is so much to choose from, and in a way which is easy to do on a TV with a remote control?

tv iplayer

Fortunately, we were able to build on years of designing interactive television services. Simplicity is the key to attract a wide range of viewers, including many who are in no way tech-savvy. After user testing, we arrived at simple list-based navigation.

But I think the real winner may well be the Search - something which had never really been tried on a TV before, but which we thought was essential to have in such an extensive service. It proved really popular in the user testing. For the next version, search will be more prominent.

tv iplayer search

The second challenge was technical: the assets are encoded in MPEG2 format. The application, like our other interactive applications, is written in Liberate. The assets are played back using Virgin's Seachange VoD systems. The integration across the systems of BBC, Red Bee, Siemens and Virgin took a long time. Problems we faced included metadata work (much longer than any of us expected); reducing the time it takes for a programme to appear on the TV to within an hour (the technical term for this is "propagation latency"); increasing application speed and making it work on many different variants of set-top box.

The next step is to make it available elsewhere, so that BBC iPlayer is available on a range of TV platforms - where technically possible, of course. Talks are underway, and I'll update you as soon as possible.

And if you're a Virgin subscriber, please try it and let us know your feedback - and any ideas for improvement.

Rahul Chakkara is Controller, TV Platforms, BBC Future Media & Technology


  • Comment number 1.

    is there anything planned for BT vision?

  • Comment number 2.

    Great news for recent Virgin Media subscribers!! Good work Beeb.

  • Comment number 3.

    I just tried it out earlier and it seems to work very nicely. The quality is pretty good too. Navigation is a little slow but pretty much on a par with other red button services on VM.

    For a future version could you consider including the sub-categories that the PC version has. For example: Under the factual heading there is a mish-mash of shows from "Cash in the Attic" to "Inside the Medieval Mind" (10+ pages in the PC version) and at least the sub-categories helps to weed out those shows I am really not interested in. ( I like to browse those sub-categories to see if anything interesting has appeared.)

  • Comment number 4.

    Why does my box (scientific atlanta) not show the nice translucent menus like my friend's samsung box does?

    The actual app also takes a while to load on my box. What is the timeframe for speed improvements or is that to do with virgin updating the box firmware?

  • Comment number 5.

    Please nag Virgin to get this onto the regular catch-up menus as soon as possible. BBCi on cable is very unreliable, often taking a long while to respond or at times not responding at all. This is probably due to the multitude of STB's that Virgin distribute, I have two of the most recent and both exhibit delays in accessing BBCi, so much so I very rarely bother to use the service. I know this is a soft-launch but surely burying it in the Catch-up menu's would of been a better idea.

    Anyway, I'm very very impressed with the cable implementation. The 'look and feel' are excellent, the search is superb and hopefully the content will increase as time goes on. Virgin's catch-up often misses programmes, with the BBC providing the service, hopefully things will be a lot more reliable. Well done :).

  • Comment number 6.

    Just given it a try. I can't seem to do a search by day for all categories? To view all the programmes for a particular day is not possible. For instance you can only go into "Drama" and see for the last seven days. On the web you can go into "Tuesday 29th" and view all programmes. Will this be available?

  • Comment number 7.

    Absolutely superb news.

    Tried it as soon as I got in from work and have already watched Life In Cold Blood and QI.

    Quality was fine. Service speed is good and it was easy to use and navigate.

  • Comment number 8.

    Interesting you'd pick virgin media to work with considering the recent troubles you've had with broadband providers wanting you to pay. I guess they cut you a special deal?

    "In April 2008 Acting CEO Neil Berkett sparked controversy when he told Television, a magazine published by the Royal Television Society, “this net neutrality thing is a load of b******s.” He claimed that any video content provider that refused to pay Virgin Media a premium for faster access would have to get stuck in “bus lanes,” having their content delivered to end users at much slower speeds than that of paying content providers. [52] There has been widespread criticism of this policy expressed on the Internet, large internet communities are requesting that Virgin customers end their subscription and initiate a mass boycott" (from wikipedia)

  • Comment number 9.

    Well done BBC. I don't have Virgin Media but have been enjoying the iPlayer on my Wii recently and it really is very good although I would not say it was quite broadcast quality but this may be due to the fact I am watching it on a 32" TV screen whereas previously I would just be watching on my smaller PC screen. It's good news that you're aiming to reach a wide audience. Now let's have it on PS3 and BT Vision please :-)

  • Comment number 10.


    Having previously used TV on Demand through KIT (Hull's departed local digital television service), which was very definitely broadcast quality, I imagine the Wii is using the standard internet feed as available on PC etc., whereas a higher quality version can be made available using the television feed.

  • Comment number 11.

    Nice to hear, can't wait to try it out, does it work on V+ though?

    I hope Virgin Media add search to their VoD stuff too...

  • Comment number 12.

    @soulgrind: This isn't a deal with VM as a broadband provider, it's with VM as a CATV provider. A completely different proposition.

  • Comment number 13.

    All good. But Virgin response on Red Button is so slow - I'm talking excruciating - it's never worth using.

  • Comment number 14.

    All good news really ... except given James Murdoch's comments this week I doubt I will be seeing it available on my Sky box any time soon.

    Since we don't have cable in our area, and I don't want to give up Sky One anyway, I guess I will just have to stick with watching it on my PC for the forseeable.

  • Comment number 15.

    Hello - I'm Chloe, the BBC product manager for TV iPlayer...
    Thanks for all your feedback so far - I'm really pleased to see so many positive comments...
    In response to some of the points raised...
    The 'list by day' option and sub-categories are both things we will look at for future releases... Although we will be careful not to take away from the simplicity of the current structure…
    Re. the speed of the service - we have worked really hard to make it as fast as possible but are always looking at ways to improve this… The box will cache the application, so you should find that the service is much quicker after the first use… We have also worked hard to make the BBCi service faster, so if you haven't pressed Red recently you will hopefully find that this is also more responsive now…
    The issue Hymagunga (#4) has raised about the menus not being translucent is due to a limitation with this type of Scientific Atlanta set top box...
    Our aspiration is to get BBC iPlayer onto all TV platforms where technically possible...
    There have also been comments about the video quality of some programmes… While the overall video quality has been very good, there have been a few exceptions which we are currently analysing and hope to improve...
    Keep the comments coming!

  • Comment number 16.

    Great stuff BBC! Impressed with the content and quality.

    One question though. Why are there multiple editions of the same programme? For example a single episode of Doctor Who appears twice under BBC1 and BBC3.

    Surely this is a waste of space that could be sued for some more unique content.

  • Comment number 17.

    Oh and another thing. Quality is variable but overall is not up to broadcast standard.

    Why is the video so dark? Quite annoying after awhile.

  • Comment number 18.

    Loving all the new content! It seems to be one of the faster interactive services on Virgin

    Just 2 things I would change

    Rather than the huge blue screen while it loads can we just have a smaller loading icon in the corner so we can continue to watch TV while it loads.

    Second, the quality, the picture seems a little dark and pixelated on even slow moving images.

    Oh OK make it three things. On Virgin the red button is for page down, green page up. On the iPlayer its red is back to previous screen. and green is page down. Can you change that to match it up with the existing service

    Can't wait for HD to arrive on here!

  • Comment number 19.

    Will iplayer gain the ability virgin catchup already has of filtering both on channel and date?

  • Comment number 20.

    Just discovered it as missed tonights episode of The Invisibles .... I think its fab but would really love to be able to request and watch the programme of my choice and not one from the menu - but catching up on Eggheads was great to do !!

  • Comment number 21.

    "There have also been comments about the video quality of some programmes? While the overall video quality has been very good, there have been a few exceptions which we are currently analysing and hope to improve..."

    Any news on how the analysis is going? The quality doesn't seem to be getting any better!

  • Comment number 22.

    Wow, really good news and what a feat! I rate the on-demand service the iplayer gives, but to date have been wanting to watch the service via my tv and not my pc.

    The BBC is now pushing the freesat service with it's new BBC-HD channel and living out in the sticks I duly bought a (Humax) freesat receiver to make use of this.

    Does this Virginmedia solution mean you will soon be able to provide the iplayer through freesat receivers coupled with a broadband connection?

  • Comment number 23.

    I agree with Paul Canning ( Posted on 01 May 2008). Using the RED button to access the BBCi services on my Virgin Media box is excruiatingly slow, to the point where sometimes is simply says "Loading" for ages, then just gives up, rendering the remote control useless until you press the the "TV" button on the remote. I've given up on it.

  • Comment number 24.

    I find it slow and ok if you know what you're looking for. I like to peruse through everything, many a times stumbling onto something I would have other wise missed - can't do that. I also find / miss programmes that are in in wrong categories i.e. one mans entertainment is another's factual. What about having filters say for all BBC 2 or 4


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