Archives for September 2008

Blogger-In-Residence: "Common Platform" & an Open BBC

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Steve Bowbrick Steve Bowbrick | 15:25 UK time, Tuesday, 30 September 2008

N.B. Editor's note: Steve Bowbrick will be working for BBC Future Media & Technology as a "blogger-in-residence" for the next six months looking at, and talking about, ideas for a "common platform" and the BBC becoming more open. Make him welcome!

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Steve Bowbrick, Nick Reynolds and Roo Reynolds [no relation] at the Social Media Champions session at FM&T's Open Week

It's a truism that institutions that are important in one era find it difficult to maintain their relevance in the next. Everyone knows that the BBC in its second great era - the one starting about now - is going to be markedly different from the one that dominated the British broadcast ecology for the last 80 years. So far, so obvious.

The question, of course, is how will it differ? What will a national broadcaster funded by its viewers look like once the network era is properly underway? Can it survive in its current form at all?

Big questions. Happily. not ones that I plan to answer. Which brings me to my new job here.

I've been blogger-in-residence at BBC FM&T for a few days (I don't have my staff pass yet but I'm on the Beeb part of the Yammer microblogging system). I realise I've made it to 45 years old without ever working at the BBC, and it's genuinely exciting:

I find a big, breezy rather optimistic place full of brainy people (lots of them quite young) doing a huge variety of interesting things, many of which are aimed in one way or another at answering those big questions.

And the word that's on more or less everybody's lips is "openness".

• How open can we be?

• Should we share this insight with outsiders?

• Should we be opening our banks of content and code to licence fee payers, entrepreneurs and organisations?

And for the BBC, these questions are given an extra urgency by the context: by the chaotic decline of commercial broadcast TV, by Ofcom's apparently unending review of public service media, by the troubled birth of the Kangaroo JV and even by Channel 4's bid for the social media high ground with 4iP.

So, fear of total systemic meltdown notwithstanding, over the next few months, I plan to roam the BBC's corridors - with my trusty guide Nick Reynolds - meeting everyone who has an opinion or an interesting project or a problem to solve with some relevance to the BBC's increasing openness and readiness to share.

I've been writing about this sort of thing for a long time (I've got cuttings going back to 1996) and not long ago, I helped to organise an event at Broadcasting House called The BBC: A Common Platform, which some of you will have attended.

You should bookmark or subscribe to commonplatform.co.uk [rss], where I'll be blogging everything.

Meanwhile, if you'd like to know more, or if you'd like to contribute to the project, from inside the BBC or outside, drop me a line or visit commonplatform.co.uk (and forgive me while I get the site finished!). And if you work for the Beeb and you see me in a corridor, stop me and say something entertaining.

Steve Bowbrick is blogger-in-residence, BBC Future Media & Technology.

Interesting Stuff 08-09-30

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Alan Connor | 10:38 UK time, Tuesday, 30 September 2008

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More on Olinda here and here.

Audio & Music tech chief James Cridland has been preaching the good word in Stockholm, Oslo and Copenhagen, agreeing with his commercial colleagues on technology and competing on content. The talk he gave with GCap's Nick Piggott, Radio For The Facebook Generation, is evidently too involved for a straight embed, so here's the PDF:

Quite a few people asked for a copy of the presentation Nick and I gave. It's 38 meg, and given that I was demonstrating Olinda (our rather nice prototype connected radio) and a rather neat webcam-based piece of software that got a spontaneous round of applause (when it worked!), it's a bit hard to simply forward a PPT file to someone.
[N]ote that the speech doesn't make it clear who's speaking at any one time, so don't take anything in here as official BBC policy, because it isn't.

And Nick Piggott's complementary post is called Three Countries, Two People, One Message.

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Back here in the BBC bloggery, James tells Radio Labs that "iPlayer's teething problems have got substantially better since my last report, but here are a few open issues we're aware of":

  • A problem with the satellite receivers we use meant that some programmes had gaps in them recently. We switched to an alternative feed for a bit, which had the effect of putting BBC7 in mono among other things, but the satellite receivers now seem happy. We're sorry about that. Coyopa will fix that.
  • Generation of Real Audio files for a small amount of programmes has sometimes failed. We think we've got to the bottom of why this happens, and issues are rather fewer of late. Again, apologies to you - particularly PM fans - if this has spoilt your enjoyment. In the majority of cases, Coyopa will fix that too.
  • [Update 2008-09-30 1630: now fixed] Listeners in live Windows Media format within iPlayer might notice, in a minority of cases, that they get kicked off at precisely 15 minutes after they start listening. A fix is on the way shortly; it would appear from preliminary tests that it might be related to Internet Explorer, and that it's potentially related to the recent Windows XP SP3 update, or similar for Vista. It's early days, so we might be wrong here - but we're working on it; latest information I have is that we might have a fix next week. Coyopa will, eventually, fix that as we add AAC-family flash streaming.

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gizzard_puke.pngChris Williams talks to BBC Technical Architect Andy Smith under a very The Register-flavoured headline in The Register, BBC Fixes BT Home Hub Auto-Vomit Bug:

BBC engineers have solved a mysterious, long-running bug that has meant iPlayer and live TV streams have frequently prompted the BT Home Hub, UK's most common router, to reset itself.

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Ex-BBCer Martin Belam's thoroughgoing review of how news sites use social media includes a post called Measuring The BBC's Success With Social Media:

Although it did not generate as many social bookmarking links as The New York Times or CNN, overall the BBC was the third most successful of the 50+ media sites I was monitoring, with 341 popular links across the 8 services during the month. The BBC was the most successful British media site, with The Telegraph and The Guardian being the closest UK competitors.

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At BarCampLondon5, BBC Backstage's Ian Forrester talked about social media centres XBMC Media Center and Boxee and blogs about

the attention to ui detail xbmc always had. It's almost unlike any other open source project I know of - the technical and interface attentions have been equally catered for.

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And BBC Innovation Executive Lucy Hooberman has been looking at Ofcom's proposals for Stage 2 of the PSB review:

Just catching up on Ofcom's proposals for stage two of the PSB review and noticed, apart from the proposals themselves, this "experimental" page where you can leave your comments alongside the proposals.

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Read all our posts about the BBC iPlayerGoogle's Chief Internet Evangelist Vint Cerf visited the Guardian and said: "The BBC is about television; what it really should be about it video and distributing that video."

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radio_world_service.pngAnd finally, Are Wold is writing a series of posts about the requirements for his next mobile phone, which begins:

Thanks to its FM tuner and the 3,5 mm audio jack, I can hook the N82 up to the stereo in the living room, sit back and listen to the BBC World Service (broadcast on "Alltid Nyheter" in the evening). No fuss, no software, no plugins, no radio, just the amplifier and a 3,5mm cable.

Alan Connor is co-editor, BBC Internet Blog.

Fan cultures in radio (1)

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Tristan Ferne | 10:00 UK time, Tuesday, 30 September 2008

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TOGs, Bourdieu, habitus, mirroring, fan-tagonism, cultural capital, Mustardland and Chuffer Dandridge. Do these mean anything to you? Sound interesting?

This week the Radio Labs blog is going to be leaving the world of technology that we normally write about and will look at another side of the internet. For the past year or so, I have been working with three universities on a study of the online behaviours of listeners and fans of BBC radio and over the rest of this week, we're going to be publishing guest posts from each of the researchers on their case studies: interactivity on the BBC Radio messageboards, the off-BBC activity of fans of Terry Wogan, fan cultures around the Archers and how the BBC serves specialist music fans.

Read more and comment at the BBC Radio Labs blog.

Tristan Ferne is Senior Development Producer, R&D, FM&T for Audio & Music Interactive.

The latest on Coyopa...

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James Cridland James Cridland | 09:53 UK time, Monday, 29 September 2008

Big, big, big fans...The Mayan God Of Thunderous Noises

I've been bravely promising a change of audio quality for the BBC's (UK national) radio online streams; and I'm very aware I owe you an update. It's a peculiar thing, writing a blog post that I know will be read by thousands of people who have part-funded the work I do. So, where we have problems, I want you to know about them - as well as our successes.

First, a recap. Project Coyopa, as you're aware from previous postings, is designed to give better audio quality for BBC radio.

Read more and comment at the BBC Radio Labs blog.

James Cridland is Head of Future Media & Technology for BBC Audio & Music Interactive.

Listen again to BBC Radio shows on the iPhone: Your Comments

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Mark Friend Mark Friend | 18:42 UK time, Friday, 26 September 2008

bbc_radio.pngThanks for all your questions and comments on my earlier post about audio-on-demand for the iPhone.

Rather than answer them all independently, here are answers to some common questions:

Is audio-on-demand only available on the iPhone?

iPlayer video and audio-on-demand will also be available on the Nokia N96, which Nokia is due to release on October 1st (see Matthew Postgate's previous post). We initially launched this service on the iPhone as it's a very popular device amongst our audio and music audiences, but the BBC's new media teams are working hard to bring audio-on-demand to other mobile devices in the very near future.

Can I stream live BBC radio on the iPhone?

The iPhone is currently only available on the O2 network in the UK and continuous streaming of audio and video content is not permitted under the terms of O2's flat-rate packages. We're currently working on supporting live streaming when you're connected via wifi.

Can I stream live BBC radio on other mobile devices?

I would love to make iPlayer available on all mobile devices but as the media support and browser functionalities vary so widely, this may take some time. Where we can be certain that a wifi connection is being used, and that this connection is also used by the device's media player software, then it's already possible to access live streams. For more details see here.

Unfortunately, many mobile devices swap to 3G or GPRS connections without informing their users - which can be very expensive. The BBC is in discussions with network operators on this issue and hopes that consumer demand will help to drive this change.

Why doesn't BBC radio podcast all their programmes?

The BBC negotiates rights with collective bodies and artists' representatives to make streamed material available for up to seven days after broadcast. Where rights allow, we also make BBC programmes available to download as podcasts. We currently make over 170 titles available as podcasts and this number will continue to grow. The limits we place on this growth are largely down to cost.

Why have on-demand mobile services been prioritised before improving on-line audio quality?

Improving the audio quality of live internet radio streams remains a key priority. This is a much larger piece of work and will take a little longer to complete. There'll be a post later tonight on the Radio Labs blog detailing progress towards this.

Why do some programmes appear as 'currently unavailable'?

The audio-on-demand facility for iPhone, giving people the chance to listen to programmes from "the past seven days", only launched on Monday. So, the complete list of programmes is being built up over this week. All listed BBC radio shows should be available by Monday September 29th.

Once again, please feel free to leave me your comments about how this service affects how you listen to BBC radio.

Mark Friend is Controller, BBC Audio & Music Interactive.

Search and Content Discovery

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Richard Titus Richard Titus | 14:00 UK time, Friday, 26 September 2008

A few months ago, I gave one of the keynotes at our annual BBC Future Media & Technology conference.

I ended my speech, which ranged from an overview of the evolution of user interaction models on technology to cloud computing and the semantic web, with a picture of the Google search window...

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...and the statement:

All this innovation, and yet this is the best we can currently do for content discovery: brute force text search. We have to do better if we want to evolve.

Okay, it was for dramatic effect, but I believed then and believe now that I was absolutely accurate.

Search is one of the darkest backwaters of technological and experience development (particularly on the internet.) Since then, I've been thinking a lot about how we, the BBC, can improve search on our site, and how we can drive innovation around search in general in the industry.

Earlier this month, there were a couple of really interesting launches in the world of search.

Read the rest of this entry

Interesting Stuff 2008-09-26: Weather Changes

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Nick Reynolds Nick Reynolds | 10:23 UK time, Friday, 26 September 2008

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At the BBC News Editors blog, Richard Chapman brings news of changes to the BBC's Weather site:

All of our forecast information is now organised by location rather than by type of data. Once you have searched for your location you will find everything you need on one page.

Still at the Editors, Steve Herrmann explains some changes to the Science and Entertainment areas of the BBC News site.

Simon Lumb goes in depth at BBCi Labs blog on "Why Freesat Works".

BBC Backstage goes to Scripting Enabled with pictures and video to come.

Jason DaPonte reports from his conference session at X/Lab in Korea on the BBC's work on mobiles.

Embedded.com claims "TV formats in turmoil as Internet hits home" in a feature that discusses some projects the BBC is involved in, as shown at the IBC conference (eg, Super Hi-Vision, Dirac, P2P Next).

And finally, although it's not strictly speaking what this blog is about, can anyone help Paul Minott with his technical problem?

...do you think driving an earth spike into the ground just outside the building and connecting this to the sound system earth would help or so I need to upgrade to starquad cable?

NB: If you want to help Paul, go to the forum I've linked to rather than leaving a comment here.

Nick Reynolds is editor, BBC Internet Blog.

BBC HD: What Works Best?

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Danielle Nagler Danielle Nagler | 16:15 UK time, Wednesday, 24 September 2008

logo_bbc_hd.pngThanks for all your comments to date - I do read them and mentally log them even where I don't respond directly to them in my posts.

I want to deal, though, with some of the comments about the channel content, and also to share with you some of the issues we face in making decisions for the channel.

BBC HD aims to broadcast in HD the best of programming available from the BBC.

Clearly, "best" is quite a subjective term. It could mean the content which works "best" in HD. When we make decisions about where to make HD investments, that is one of our considerations, and part of the reason why the first programming to deliver in HD has been our sport, costume dramas and natural history.

But it's not always possible to predict whether a programme or series will work well in this way - sometimes we can find a strong visual awareness in unexpected places, and sometimes programmes which we expect to look good in HD don't.

But our promise to look to the "best of the BBC" needs also to reflect the programmes that you (and others) in our audience tell us you really like - either because you watch them in large numbers, or because you tell us in other ways that you think they represent really valuable programming.

And the range of programmes there is much broader - we know that it extends to entertainment shows like Strictly Come Dancing and Jonathan Ross, sport, comedy, documentaries, music and also some daytime programmes.

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I believe firmly that the BBC has a responsibility to consider programmes from across the full range of content and channels which we broadcast, and that we should continually experiment with forms of programming which are not available elsewhere in HD.

They may not look as pristine as those programmes for which HD is a more instinctive format, but they add to the range of HD content available to viewers who have invested in HD connections, and they help to ensure that on BBC HD, as on all other BBC channels, we are able to offer programmes which suit as wide a range of tastes as possible.

Even though we've been making programmes in HD for some time now, we still have a great deal to learn about the best ways to work with what remains an emerging technology.

A number of you have commented on the picture quality on Jonathan Ross. You're right - the show doesn't look as good at the moment in HD as we would like it to. That's not because - as mwbennett suggests, we're doing it on the cheap, or because light entertainment or studio shows as a whole have a lower quality threshold.

But the conversion of studio TC4 to HD is very recent, and we took a decision that we wanted to bring you the whole series of Jonathan Ross, rather than sorting all technical issues in advance of starting broadcast.

There are still elements affecting picture quality along the broadcast chain that we are working on (and some of these don't just relate to Jonathan Ross). I hope that, as we address them, the picture quality will improve across the channel.

Having said that we want to make sure that the best of the BBC's content is available to you in HD, however that's defined, I have to tell Dazza124 that, unfortunately, Merlin will not be on BBC HD.

Sometimes, for a whole variety of reasons, the production team decides that it doesn't want to use the format. Those of us on BBC HD felt that Merlin was a show that we should aim to deliver in high definition, but in the end it was shot in Super 16.

Derek500 asks for the "official" reason for not showing the Strictly Come Dancing results show in HD. I wasn't aware of an "unofficial" reason, but there is no particular issue in discussing why it won't be available on the channel this year.

A lot of work was done to try to ensure that the results show as well as the main show could be made in HD. But the nature of the results show, with lots of small camera filming and a fast turnaround, meant that we were unable to guarantee that the show could be delivered with the requisite proportions of HD content.

I had to take a decision about whether to pursue discussions and invest money which then couldn't be used for other programmes in a show which had a high chance of not actually delivering in HD. Reluctantly, I took the view that we should lose the programme from the HD schedule. It's not a decision I'm particularly pleased about, but in the circumstances it seemed to be the best one to make.

I am discovering that life at BBC HD is full of this kind of tricky dilemma - to a large extent, it is because the channel and technology are so interwoven into the other things that the BBC does, and the life of the rest of the channel portfolio.

This is particularly true when it comes to scheduling the channel. We want to bring you the best content available, and we recognise that most of the time you would like to see it in HD at the same time that it is being broadcast in SD.

But sometimes BBC One and BBC Two both have something made in HD on at the same time, and sometimes the rights we have to broadcast the content mean that our flexibilty is very restricted.

We have at least two instances coming up. Silent Witness is on at the same time as the first episode of Heroes, which we can only play at the same time as one of the other channels broadcasting it because of the rights we can afford to buy on it.

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And we also have a clash between the last episode of the BBC Two series The Tudors (which I hope you have been enjoying) and the first episode of BBC One's Little Britain USA - both also acquisitions.

In both cases, we'll aim to broadcast both programmes on the channel - but obviously, only one can go out at the time that it is being shown in SD, and the other slots we have available may be less suited to the content and your lives.

We have heated debates within the team about what the best option is, and I suspect that, whichever programme we choose to prioritise, some of you will feel we've made the right decision and others the wrong one.

I'm interested as ever to know what you think - but also want you to know that even if you don't like the outcomes we get to, the decisions don't get taken lightly.

Danielle Nagler is Head of HDTV, BBC Vision.

Super Hi-Vision

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John Zubrzycki | 11:48 UK time, Wednesday, 24 September 2008

Super Hi-Vision (SHV) is a new large-screen television system that is being developed by NHK, the Japanese national broadcaster, in their Science and Technical Research Laboratories (STRL).

SHV has a picture resolution of 4320 lines by 7860 pixels, ie 33 megapixels, ie over 16 times as many pixels as HDTV. SHV also includes 22.2-channel surround sound, with some speakers at ceiling height to provide a 3D audio experience.

BBC Research and Innovation (R&I) is collaborating with NHK STRL to develop practical ways to deliver SVH using a variant of R&I's Dirac video coder. This is a collaboration under the Broadcast Technology Futures (BTF) group; an association of NHK, EBU, RAI, IRT and the BBC with the aim to carry out research on a wide range of technologies relevant to our industry.

NHK took its experimental SHV theatre to the IBC in Amsterdam this month.

Pictures were projected on a six metre wide screen with the audience only a few metres away; the pictures were so big that they created an Imax-like cinema experience. A short programme was shown featuring wildlife, children and beautiful views of Japan that gave, in NHK's own words, "a sensation of realism". The programme was played back from an uncompressed disk array of several terabytes capacity and a 24 Gb/s transfer rate.

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A super high vision camera

The BBC contribution was a live SHV video link from the balcony of London City Hall using one of only two SHV prototype cameras. The pictures were coded at 640 Mb/s using MPEG-2 and transmitted as IP via the Siemens IT Solutions and Services London Fibre Network to a Cable & Wireless optical cable to Amsterdam.

SIS Live shared the operation of the camera with NHK. They also set up 17 microphones at various heights on a mast and on the building to pick up the ambient sound of London. Siemens provided and ran the technical facilities at each end of the link.

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Erik Huggers at one end of the live video link

The Italian broadcaster, RAI, demonstrated satellite broadcasting of SHV at 140 Mbit/s from Turin to IBC.

Is 4000-line TV too detailed for your living room?

Perhaps not, a wall-sized display could show dramas, concerts, to give a feeling of immersion. At other times, the display could be divided up to show different content in "windows", rather like those on a PC display. In the years before SHV would be ready for introduction to the home, this system has the potential to be used for large screen displays for community viewing of sports or special events.

This doesn't mean that HDTV is about to be replaced. It was first demonstrated in Europe 26 years ago, but is only now becoming established in Europe. There are many technical problems to solve before SHV can become practical, which will keep the research labs collaborating for some years to come.

John Zubrzycki is Portfolio Manager (Media Fundamentals) Research & Innovation, Kingswood Warren.

Listen again to BBC radio shows on the iPhone

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Mark Friend Mark Friend | 12:50 UK time, Tuesday, 23 September 2008

aod_iphone.pngOne of the secrets of radio's success has been the ability to listen to it while you're on the move.

Half a century ago, the transistor radio helped to start a revolution in the way people consume media and it's estimated that there are several billion of them being used around the world.

So it's not surprising that lots of people have been asking when they'll be able to listen to the BBC's digital radio services on mp3 players and mobiles.

From today, you'll be able to listen to BBC radio programmes on demand on an iPhone or iPod Touch for up to seven days after broadcast.

You'll need to be online via a wifi connection and will be able to listen to our radio shows in mp3 format (at 128kbps).

This launch is thanks to the hard work of the BBC's future media teams who have had to adapt audio (and image) formats to suit the iPhone and iPod Touch, change the way audio files are delivered and redesign the service to include the wealth of new content available.

On October 1st, the BBC iPlayer goes live on the Nokia N96 (see Matthew Postgate's post below). We anticipate rolling out audio on demand to other portable devices soon.

Will this change where and when you listen to radio? Do let me know by leaving a comment.

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Image by John Ousby of Regency TR-1 transistor radios from 1954 and iPod Minis from 2005 as featured in this BBC News Magazine article - neither piece of kit has wifi connectivity

Mark Friend is Controller, Multiplatform & Interactive, Audio & Music Interactive.

Interesting Stuff 2008-09-23

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Alan Connor | 10:41 UK time, Tuesday, 23 September 2008

View SlideShare presentation or Upload your own. (Tags: jonathanhassell disability)

At the blog for Scripting Enabled ("a two day conference and workshop aimed at making the web a more accessible place"), some slides from a talk from the Beeb:

Jonathan Hassell of the BBC did a joint presentation with Phil Teare on the impacts and symptoms of dyslexia on web design and usability. Jonathan goes through the results of a BBC research and gives some tips on how to not block out dyslexic users completely.

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electric_proms08.pngSecurity writer Graham Cluley picks up on this Telegraph piece about spam received by subscibers to the mailing list for Electric Proms and adds:

Long time followers of news on the Sophos website will know that this is not the first time that a BBC mailing list has sent an unauthorised message. Five years ago, ardent fans of The Archers, the world's longest running drama serial, were accidentally sent a copy of the Sobig worm.

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google_developer_day.pngAnother Interesting Stuff; another interesting conference write-up from Backstage's Rain Ashford [see previous]. This one's from the Google Developer Day at Wembley Stadium, with notes and pics at the Backstage Blog.

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kamaelia.pngFrom the abstracts for PyCon UK, two talks by BBC Research's Michael Sparks:

Kamaelia is designed as a toolkit for making concurrent software systems that are maintainable using a component based approach very similar to Unix pipelines. It was originally designed for use in a network systems environment and so is designed with systems that are naturally highly concurrent in mind - mainly from the perspective of trying to make it simple to comprehend unknown systems.

Update 2008-09-24: After some Yammering with Michael, we can now see the slides:

View SlideShare presentation or Upload your own. (tags: kamaelia python)

View SlideShare presentation or Upload your own. (tags: pyconuk kamaelia)

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programmes_posts.pngFinally, now that everything the BBC broadcasts gets its own permanent page, which ones are people twittering about?

Alan Connor is co-editor, BBC Internet Blog.

Interesting Stuff 2008-09-19

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Nick Reynolds Nick Reynolds | 10:45 UK time, Friday, 19 September 2008

BBC Radio Labs has been having fun this week Building Things For The Office. The result: "Dog Vader"!

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callas_bb.pngBBC Backstage has been featured in Linux Magazine this month and also has news of a new project called CALLAS or...

"Conveying Affectiveness in Leading-edge Living Adaptive Systems"
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And Backstage's Rain Ashford has, by her own admission, a massively detailed report (and Flickr pics) from Serious Virtual Words in Coventry:

time and again speakers mentioned how virtual worlds are on the cusp of major development and in a similar emerging state as the web was in the early 90s
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Tech Radar reports on Super Hi Vision, Ultra HD TV at the IBC conference.

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Finally, Dan Taylor asks an intriguing question: "Is BBC Weather really more popular than porn?"

Nick Reynolds is editor, BBC Internet Blog.

What We Do: /programmes out of beta & Augmented Reality Panel

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Nick Reynolds Nick Reynolds | 11:45 UK time, Thursday, 18 September 2008

Tom Scott (of BBC FM&T for A&Mi) on his personal blog outlines a history of the /programmes project. /Programmes came out of beta this week:

At the time the only solution available to the team was a static web publishing solution and trying to collapse the entire graph down to a series of static webpages was, frankly, a nightmare...

Roo Reynolds (a new arrival at BBC Vision as Multiplatform Executive, Social Media) blogs an "Augmented Reality" panel he chaired at the Virtual Worlds Expo conference, with slides, video and notes.

Nick Reynolds is editor, BBC Internet Blog.

BBC iPlayer: series stacking

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Troy | 13:00 UK time, Wednesday, 17 September 2008

Our catch-up TV offer just got a whole lot smarter, thanks to the introduction of the series stacking feature on BBC iPlayer and programme sites on bbc.co.uk.

We first announced this during last month's Edinburgh TV Festival [see earlier post], where we also talked about plans for live streaming of the BBC's TV channels - all part of making our programmes and channels available when, where and how audiences want them.

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Series stacking, which starts rolling out this week, extends the availability window of selected series from the standard seven days to the lifetime of the series while on air, up to 13 weeks after transmission of the first episode.

It might seem like a difficult concept to get your head around but the reality is altogether more simple: you can now feast on multiple episodes from the same series for longer.

Unlike a PVR, which requires viewers to know what they want to record in advance of it being shown, stacking lets you join a series part way through its run and catch up not just on the most recent episode, but on earlier ones too.

We expect that this will appeal most to viewers who've heard about a series from friends or colleagues, or read about it in the papers, and can now go back to the start and see it all the way through.

We also expect that many of the programmes already available for seven-day catch-up on iPlayer will prove as popular when offered for longer as a series stack. While viewers can look forward to stacked episodes of their favourite comedies, dramas and factual programmes, we're also hoping they'll be able to enjoy a broader range from across our channels and genres. Imagine, for example, being able to watch a series helping you to learn a new language or skill, at your own pace.

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Not everything will be stacked: the offer is restricted to 15% of all content offered on demand, something the BBC Trust determined in its permissions and approvals, granted in April 2007.

We'll be stacking just first-run series and we've also taken the decision not to include soaps, news bulletins, review-based programmes and single events - because of the types of programmes these are and, for the first two categories, the number of times they're on every week. We'll also be excluding programmes containing material of a legal nature, such as Crimewatch - in case this could prejudice court proceedings.

Series stacking will initially be available for streamed programmes on BBC iPlayer and via bbc.co.uk programme sites. My colleague Dan Taylor discusses more about what we're doing on these here.

We're working on extending this to downloadable programmes and the iPlayer for TV platforms (currently available to all Virgin Media customers). I'll post again when these are ready to go.

This isn't a true Long Tail offer, as we're merely extending the availability of stacked series for slightly longer than the standard seven-day catch-up window.

But it will be interesting to see how this stretched availability window resonates with audiences and helps them discover not only programmes they might otherwise have missed, but also more episodes of both what they already enjoy and those hidden gems.

We're always keen to hear about what you think of the BBC's evolving TV on-demand offer, so please use the comment box below.

Troy is Business Manager, Multiplatform & Portfolio, BBC Vision and the editorial architect of series stacking.

IBC: It's not all about content

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John Ousby | 12:20 UK time, Wednesday, 17 September 2008

Editors' note: This is a post based on an article in this week's edition of Ariel, the BBC's in-house weekly magazine, by Audio & Music Interactive's Head Of Distribution Technology John Ousby. It includes John's images from the International Broadcasting Convention, as blogged at pressred.org.

Dr Leonardo Chiariglione, the founder of MPEG, was unfortunately upstaged at his own keynote address at IBC in Amsterdam last Friday.

Google and YouTube are parasites. It's all about content; the rest is just railway lines.

This was the message given by ITV boss Michael Grade in his recorded interview included in the session. A few people in the audience started clapping until they realised they were outnumbered by the growing army of raised eyebrows.

Were we in a conference from the late '90s? Or did this have anything to do with the fact that ITV is due to be relegated from the FTSE 100 later this month?

The idea that content can be easily separated from technology and distribution is plain wrong. One has been informing the other since the start of broadcasting, through the production technology available at the time or the way audiences find, share, discuss and consume it.

The biggest mistakes I have seen in the broadcast world are when interactivity is slapped on once the paint is dry in the production process or when a technology application is created without consideration of the audience it is intended for.

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DAB slideshow showing some of the output from the olympics twitter feed from 5live

You can't spend much time at IBC without hearing about convergence and the ever-redrawn battle lines between content owners, broadcasters, internet service providers and telcos.

One of the debates at this year's event was around mobile TV [mp3], which on the broadcast side hasn't had the most prestigious start after several years of hype, trials and struggling commercial services.

Mobile operators have struggled with small volumes of low quality video clips in walled gardens that are expensive to consume and unreliable in reception. With mobile services, context is everything - not just the web (or telly) bundled across to a smaller screen, but content which takes account of where and how it is consumed, and by whom.

mobile_posts.pngYou could draw the conclusion that video on the move just isn't as important as was thought. I believe it's just a question of when.

We are in a transitionary phase where we are just starting to see the possibilities for mobile video once it's made easy to consume and the pricing structure is relatively understood, as with the iPhone.

Let's just start to think about mobile video and audio, of which TV is a subset rather than a starting point - both broadcast- and internet-delivered video have a part to play in the future of mobile TV.

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p2p-next looks like anything else on display at IBC until you understand what it's doing. Live p2p video streaming based on the tribler infrastructure - a potential solution to iPlayer success... Great project involving BBC's George Wright, Pioneer and the EBU among others. Of course, not just video can use this. Nice work.

Walking the halls at IBC proffered the usual mix of landmark moments, promising new technology and the next biggest, brightest display screens, some of which can be seen in this IBC set on Flickr.

It made me proud to see that the BBC were involved in a lot of the best of show - DVB-T2 (next generation digital terrestrial TV delivery), Super High Vision (HD on steroids) and p2p-next (live peer to peer streaming), to name a few.

Let's just hope that next year can see a keynote fit for 2009 not 1999.

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DVB-T2 - rotated constellations (256 QAM): BBC has been leading the work of the DVB group in its next generation DVB-T work. DVB-T2 gives about 50% extra capacity than DVB-T and will be essential for Freeview HDTV services - currently planned for the end of 2009. More detail here: dvb-t2

John Ousby is head of distribution technologies, Audio & Music Interactive.

BBC TV on the web redefined

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Dan Taylor Dan Taylor | 18:40 UK time, Tuesday, 16 September 2008

Today is a big day for BBC television on the web with the launch of brand new websites for BBC One, BBC Two and BBC Four as well as an updated BBC Three site (building on February's relaunch) and a new TV homepage.

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It also heralds the switch on of live streaming (simulcast) for BBC Four, CBBC and CBeebies, joining BBC Three, BBC News and BBC Parliament, which are already available to watch live online, with BBC One and BBC Two due to follow later this year [see recent press release and previous multicast trial].

programmes_posts.pngLast but by no means least, today also marks the passage of /programmes from beta to fully
fledged live service, boasting a permanent, findable web presence for every TV and radio programme that the BBC broadcasts.

A lot of things to launch all on one day? Unquestionably, but it's indicative of the increasingly interconnected nature of the BBC's online offer, where the channel websites are no longer discrete content areas, but are fully integrated with the wider programmes offer and beyond.

So, how did we set about redesigning (and hopefully improving) some of the most visited pages on bbc.co.uk? Well, we started with your feedback on the previous sites, collected via the bbc.co.uk Pulse survey, which told us that the basic tasks of finding out what's on television and quickly locating information on specific programmes were most important and could be made easier.

With this in mind, we placed a schedule carousel along the top of the new channel homepages and a snapshot of what's on now and next across every BBC TV channel at the heart of the new TV homepage. We also added a Programmes A-Z module to the top right of all of these pages to provide quick access to the wealth of programme information housed within the newly minted /programmes.

A significant development since the channel websites were last refreshed (in July 2007) is the availability of catch-up programming via BBC iPlayer, which we've reflected via a dedicated module on each of the homepages, showcasing the most popular programmes on demand with a link through to the full iPlayer offer. iPlayer availability is also reflected in the schedule carousel with a Watch Now button appearing for programmes which can be viewed on demand and Watch Live buttons for those being simulcast.

iplayer_popular_bbc1.jpg

The eagle-eyed among you might notice that the channel homepages have a discreet temporal metaphor to them, with past programming on the left of the page, the present reflected in the centre, and future highlights to the right, reflecting the expanding life of programmes beyond a single moment of transmission (for more on this topic, check out ex-BBC staffer Dan Hill's blog post on "The Social Life of a Broadcast").

Lower down on the homepages, you'll find links to top video clips, photo galleries and "Be on a Show" information, as well as channel-specific elements such as BBC Four's Newsletter and Have Your Say comments forums.

Of course, it's not all about the homepages. Behind the schedule links are full TV listings for each of the channels (including regional variations), which are fully integrated with /programmes, meaning they will they will be permanently accessible, unlike the What's On What's On listings (which these will replace) which became inaccessible after just two days.

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Each channel site also has an area for channel trailers (known in the industry as "idents"), compiling the stings that appear between programmes on BBC One, BBC Two, BBC Three and BBC Four.

Far too many people have contributed to the above projects to list them individually; suffice to say it's been a truly pan-BBC effort with colleagues from Vision, Audio & Music and Future Media & Technology all collaborating to raise the bar for the BBC's programme and channel support online.

We're really keen to hear your feedback on the new sites, so please leave a comment below.

Dan Taylor is Senior Portfolio Executive, Internet for BBC Vision.

Interesting Stuff 2008-09-15

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Alan Connor | 17:01 UK time, Monday, 15 September 2008

Read all our posts about the BBC iPlayerAt The Industry Standard, Jeremy Kirk has a detailed feature called BBC's iPlayer Takes Online Video Programming To The Edge, with lots of quotes from iPlayer nabob Anthony Rose, stats and DRM observations:

But over the last 10 months, the iPlayer has seen major upgrades to the way it can deliver video, video quality and compatibility with an ever-expanding number of mobile devices, putting the iPlayer on the forefront of Internet video delivery. The BBC is solving many of the problems with online video delivery that have vexed other services around the world.

There's also a paean to iPlayer from Audit Bureau of Circulations chief exec Chris Boyd in Media Guardian:

I love the iPlayer; I just think it's amazing. About two years ago I tried to use the ITV equivalent, which would never download, and then over Christmas my daughter and I wanted to watch separate programmes at the same time and a friend of hers told her that the iPlayer was very good. Since then I've used it pretty much every week.

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If your bag is reasonably-expressed complaints, quibbles and feature requests around BBC stuff, the place to go is the Beeb section of Get Satisfaction. One user, Gids, asks:

Any idea why All Bar Luke is listed as being by "BBC Null" in the iPlayer radio player?

The iPlayer team is dissecting this bug right now; meanwhile, critical friend of the BBC Frankie Roberto is frustrated that the "search box on the BBC News website should default to searching news, not random BBC stuff" - also onpassed.

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There's more detail on the BBC's involvement in BarcampBrighton3 [as described below] at the BBC Backstage Blog, with more detailed notes on Ant Miller's talk A BBC Micro For the 21st Century?.

ant_miller_bbc_micro.jpg

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Also via Backstage, Chris Riley has been responding to feedback and adding features to his Track Playing prototype:

Chris has added integration with the BBC's Radio Pop beta, using the Radio Pop API. So now you can Pop your trackplaying habits to Radiopop. Chris is using OAuth to pass the users information back and forth smoothly.

Shane Richmond [see below] will be delighted to learn that the first track brought up when BBC Internet Blog launched the service was...

inevitably coldplay

(During the time it took to type that, we've moved onto Rihanna's "Disturbia".)

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Finally, you can enjoy the slightly uneasy and voyeuristic experience of seeing what people are twittering about iPlayer in the new iPlayer/ Twitter feed on Internet Blog's Pageflake:

  • Watching Humphrey Littleton's last I'm Sorry I Haven't Clue on iPlayer (publicenergy)
  • Watching the BBC iplayer on my Mac while doing my Sunday family duties. Cooking for 8 today. Pork is in. (royski)
  • I'm impressed they managed to get Dara O'Briain Live at the Theatre Royal on iPlayer. (aJanuary)
  • Surprised to see some films listed on bbc iplayer (diceliving76)
  • Has anyone else noticed that the volume control on the BBC iPlayer goes "all the way to eleven". (Braziel)
  • Didn't feel up to Thomas Hardy tonight so will catch Tess of the D'Urbervilles on iPlayer another night. It looks good. (squatbetty)
  • Nice iplayer error message - 'This doesn't seem to be working. Try again later'. Not even a please! (ianbarber)
  • the bbc could do with some of those +1 channels that itv and c4 have. Iplayer, whilst good, looks crap on my lounge TV (via the wii). (guyweb)
  • @guyweb I don't think the wii iPlayer supports the high-quality feeds that the main iPlayers has, does it? (JeFurry)
  • πολύ ενδιαφέρον και αυτό. Και το bbc να βλέπαμε καλά θα'ταν :) Στο FAQ του iplayer εξεηγεί κάποιους λογους που είναι μόνο στο uk (internetakias)
  • BBC iplayer offered on Nokia N96 - That is really cool but do u need to pay TV license fee to receive TV programs on mobile?? (vidyavi)

vidyavi is clearly not an avid Internet Blog reader (how odd!), as the answer ("it depends if you're watching live or on demand") is here.

Alan Connor is co-editor, BBC Internet Blog.

Interesting Stuff 2008-09-12

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Nick Reynolds Nick Reynolds | 11:14 UK time, Friday, 12 September 2008

"Things to do with /programmes #431: iTunes!" from Matthew Wood at BBC Radio Labs Blog.

programmes_logo.jpgTom Scott has "more sweet, sweet programme data":

you can now get your BBC programme data as RDF and the current and next three programmes, per service, as plain text, XML, JSON or YAML.

"Project Kangaroo fights online TV battle" from the Financial Times.

BBC Backstage has more details about Scripting enabled at Barcamp Brighton.

"TV's future stars will come from the web" from Victor Keegan in the Guardian (Victor mentions the BBC iPlayer).

James Cridland has a new fan at BBC Radio Scotland.

Nick Reynolds is editor, BBC Internet Blog

Olympics: Numbers Update

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John O' Donovan | 11:57 UK time, Thursday, 11 September 2008

I promised you an update on numbers after the Olympics and here it is. The statistics are endless and with the analytics tools at my disposal I could prove that I am the rightful King of Sheba, so I'll just give a summary of some key messages.

Overall we served approx. 50m sport video streams during the Olympics. This averaged out at about 3m per day, but peaked at 5.5m on Tuesday 19th August. There were many athletes you were interested in and Chris Hoy and the cycling team, Rachel Adlington, Christine Ohuruogu, Usain Bolt and Michael Phelps were all athletes that generated large audiences.

As an example of what people were watching, here's what people watched (ie, started a video stream) or read (ie, viewed a web page) on Wednesday 20th when Usain Bolt was winning the 200 metres:

  • 200m text story: 914,543
  • 200m video: 501,943
  • 200m heats text story: 61,257
  • 100m video: 54,357
  • 200m heats video: 42,986
  • 200m interview video: 33,500
  • 100m text story: 33,500

bolt.jpg

We found that as much as 45% of the Olympics audience engaged with video from the Olympics site. The trend is more interesting in that in general you were keen to engage with video. Looking at how we promote AV, how we create clips and how we deliver them are all things to build on from the Olympics.

For example, the opening ceremony live stream was embedded on the News and Sport front pages, as well as the Olympics index. Around 80% played the stream on the Sport indexes, while 50% played the stream on the News index. In general, a quarter of the traffic which came to the Olympics site from the UK watched video (that is, those in the UK who can access the geographically rights-restricted streams).

My favourite statistic is that you watched nearly 9.7m hours of Olympic video on the website (yes, you did!) and regularly there were over 100,000 watching at the same time though the peak stayed at just under 200,000 across live and on demand videos.

How do the online and TV viewing experiences compare? Well, online you watched live video for about 15 minutes per day, and dipped in and out of on demand clips for about 3mins20sec per day. TV figures are in Roger Mosey's post here.

The Chinese can't get enough of the Olympics, like they don't want it to end and it's interesting to note that even though they could not see the video, there was a large international audience on the BBC Olympics site, some watching the live text updates, some looking for story details.

As well as the glamour of the Olympics, day-to-day news gathering carried on and also on Wednesday 20th, we served 2.7m news AV clips, with a peak in demand following the Madrid plane crash.

These are all amazing figures and if you are interested in comparing different countries in Europe and how they engaged online, you can start by looking here.

So another lesson? If this blog post had video in it, more of you would have read it... perhaps.

Thanks to you for enjoying the Olympics with us so much. Now go watch the Paralympics... you can get back to work in October.

John O'Donovan is Chief Technical Architect, BBC FM&T Journalism.

World Service Trust Condom Ringtone

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Yvonne MacPherson | 12:11 UK time, Tuesday, 9 September 2008

The BBC World Service Trust uses the creative power of the media to achieve development goals. We use a variety of approaches including television and radio drama and advertisements to raise awareness and promote change in behaviour on health, governance, human rights, the environment and other development issues.

We were recently given a tough task: to make condoms more acceptable, and free from negative judgment, in a country that doesn't really acknowledge that sex happens, never mind sex that should be protected.

We came up with a wacky idea to get people talking about condoms. We recorded a condom-themed ringtone. Listen to the mp3 here.

This is, we think, the first time that a mobile ringtone has been used to communicate a social or public health message. With one in four people in India having a mobile phone, and ringtones being, for some, statements of personal style, it's a new way to reach people.

We also decided to use a ringtone because, when the phone rings, the tune - or, in our case, the word "condom" - is put out in public. This stimulates conversation, which is desirable as - according to research - those who talk about sex and condoms are more likely to have healthy behaviours, such as using condoms consistently.

We wanted to create a conversation piece that would get people talking and would ultimately help to break down the taboo about condoms. We want to portray the condom user as a smart and responsible person. Having the ringtone on your phone shows that you understand this.

condomcondom.pngSetting up a true tone ringtone

There are three ways of setting up a true tone ringtone download service:
• IVR: Interactive voice response is a voice service where the mobile user dials a code, hears the ringtone and has the option of selecting the option to download the ringtone
• SMS: the mobile user sends a code word (e.g. "CONDOM") to a shortcode (in our case it was a seven-digit numerical code) and gets a WAP push in reply, from where the user has the option to download the ringtone, at which time download costs apply
• online: the MP3 file posted on an internet site allows the user to save it on his/her computer and then transfer it to his/her mobile telephone.
In addition to these, the ringtone can be shared via bluetooth and emailing MP3 files.

As cost was a priority, both for minimising our costs and the cost to the mobile user, we selected the SMS and online options. We tried to negotiate the SMS download for free because this was a non-profit public awareness campaign, but with India having many telecoms companies and operators, this was an impossible task, which meant that a free download from a website was just as important as the SMS download.

The dedicated website is at www.condomcondom.org and also has condom-themed games and details about the campaign.

Through the SMS option we were able to capture most GPRS and all CDMA providers in the country. The arrangement with our service provider is that the download costs nothing to BBC World Service Trust, but costs 3 Indian Rupees (INR80 = 1GBP) for the request SMS and between INR10-20 for download from WAP push.

A shortcoming of this approach is that only people with true tone-enabled mobile phones can download the ringtone. As we've witnessed, people don't even know what their phones enable, as evinced by the vast numbers of people who have requested the download but have not been successful because their phones do not support the true tone ringtone.

We've debated whether to produce a polyphonic version, but decided it defeats the purpose of the getting the word "condom" out.

The ringtone is being promoted in TV and radio adverts. You can see the TV ad on the Trust's website or below:



Much to my excitement, the idea to use mobile telephone ringtones to influence views about condoms has not only gripped India, it has now become an international news story.

The campaign started just a month ago and here are a few topline results:

  • We've had over 270,000 requests for downloading the ringtone in India through our SMS shortcode. This does not include the number of people who have obtained the ringtone via Bluetooth and our website.
  • The campaign website condomcondom.org has received over 2m hits. We get over 65,000 hits a day.
  • We've collected hundreds of news stories from all over the world that have covered the campaign. It's appeared on the front page of the Times Of India as well as international media. International sources covering it range from NPR and The Economist to the very random - I was recently interviewed by a radio station in Bogota Colombia!
  • The Indian government has adopted our campaign and is airing our TV and radio adverts at its own expense as part of its National AIDS Control effort.

We are tracking all of the media and audience reaction to the campaign, specifically to assess the impact this has had on people's attitudes towards condoms.

I'll leave this post with an amusing (and completely true) anecdote. When we were recording the ringtone in a Mumbai studio, the shape of the audio wave file on the computer screen was unbelievable, uncanny. Have a look:

condom_waveform.png

With this "condom normalisation" project, we've added a new device to our tool kit - the mobile ringtone!

Your comments and questions are very welcome.

Yvonne MacPherson is Country Director, BBC World Service Trust, India.

Interesting Stuff 2008-09-09

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Alan Connor | 09:00 UK time, Tuesday, 9 September 2008

radiopop_alanconnor.png

Lots of snap and crackle about the social radio software prototype Radio Pop [see post below | also see: social radio hardware]. Blog posts by creators Tristan Ferne and Chris Bowley have been joined by more from former colleague Dan Taylor and boss (gulp!) James Cridland. Dan even has a feature wishlist, which he concedes is a little unfair for a week-old prototype.

Other comments include Donald Kelly ("in a way, the last.fm of radio listening"); the Beeb's Ryan Morrison, who also has feature requests and who links to the API; Ian Forrester of Backstage ("shows the type of thing we are thinking and building inside the BBC but can't really make public easily") and Ian Hughes:

Nice to see that our license fee isn't being frittered away on pointless exercises too.
(Mind you, if it helps to get rid of Chris Moyles, it can't be all bad.)

Bad news, Ian Hughes:

radiopop_moyles.png

(Also from Ryan Morrison, a quality contest for iPlayer, too much of a pageload to include in Internet Blog - click, compare and contrast!)

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mccain_drm.png

Ex-Beeboid Ben Metcalfe has met frustration trying to watch John McCain's acceptance speech:

one has to ask why the BBC doesn't secure worldwide distribution for 'general news', esp like in this case where it's probably recording the broadcast live from the convention... it's BBC copyright end-to-end.

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evan_sign211x160blog.jpgIn The Independent, Ian Burrell talks to Stephen Mitchell (Head of Multimedia Programmes, Radio News) about repurposing material like Evan Davis' piece on the demise of hitch-hiking:

He was able to do a nice piece of radio journalism for the Today programme, a witty piece for the online audience and then join breakfast television on the same story. None of that felt forced.

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The imminent appearance of iPlayer on the Nokia N96 phone [see post below] is featured in (deep breath) The Times, The Telegraph, The Guardian, Tech Digest, All About Symbian, Mobile-Ent, CNet, Pocket-lint, Electrig Pig, The Inquirer, Mobile Computer Mag, The Washington Post, Stuff TV and IntoMobile. Read them all! Make notes! Keep for reference when iPlayer comes to a new platform - like, according to Stephen Fry, the fridge!

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Greenwich Time Signal and tuning note appararus, Savoy Hill 1927

If you've ever wondered what kind of backup is in place for the pips, Stuart Pinfold will tell you about a pips pipe.

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Malcolm Clarke, assistant, BBC Radiophonic Workshop, c1985

Good news from Audio Scribbler for fans of very early electronica made by stitching and stretching tape (and that includes BBC Internet Blog):

Mute have announced that they will release a 50th anniversary retrospective double CD from the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, which will feature 100 classic, rare and previously unavailable pieces of music and sound effects from various BBC TV and Radio shows from 1958 through to 1997, including work by the likes of John Baker, Delia Derbyshire, Daphne Oram, Elizabeth Parker, Desmond Briscoe, Paddy Kingsland, Peter Howell and Malcolm Clarke, amongst others.

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making_most_micro.jpg

The BBC Micro, which is in the photo above and the one above that, and which gave our banner its owl, was the talk of BarCampBrighton3 - or at least of one of its talks. BBC technology manager Ant Miller gave "an exploration of whether and what the BBC could or ought to do along the same lines some 25 years later" but blogs that Backstage's Rain Ashford has written a post that's "rather more structured and complete than anything I had written down about it!" Rain's notes begin:

What is the BBC Micro? It wasn't a BBC machine; it wasn't for kids; it wasn't for schools...

ask_the_bbc_anything.png

And the Barcamp also featured a session called Ask The BBC Anything at which Rain and Ant were joined by Ian Forrester, and one of the questions was:

should staff members have their own blogs aggregated publicly for everyone to read?

Hmmm. Interesting stuff...

Alan Connor is co-editor, BBC Internet Blog.

Pic Of The Day: Freebase

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Alan Connor | 11:05 UK time, Monday, 8 September 2008

freebase.jpg

Above is Kirrily Robert who came to the Broadcast Centre late in August to talk about Freebase, "an open, shared database of the world's knowledge". She gave FM&T and anyone else interested an overview on how it works and some of its applications and APIs. And here are the slides:

   
View SlideShare presentation or Upload your own. (tags: creative_commons open_data)

Alan Connor is co-editor, BBC Internet Blog.

BBC iPlayer on Nokia N96 mobile phone

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Matthew Postgate Matthew Postgate | 10:45 UK time, Monday, 8 September 2008

We're taking the next step in bringing BBC iPlayer to mobile audiences, or as The Times puts it:

Lying in bed watching the latest episode of Strictly Come Dancing on a mobile phone will become possible from next month after a tie-up between the BBC and Nokia.
All BBC programmes transmitted in the past seven days will be available to download to the new Nokia N96 multimedia handset, in a first for the broadcaster and phone maker.

N.B. BBC News also has the story here (ed)

iplayer_3dshot175.pngMobile can be a complex environment and there is a great deal of fragmentation to contend with.

I have always wanted to take BBC iPlayer to mobile but we have been waiting for devices to arrive which mean we can create the kind of experience that audiences have come to expect from the service.

The iPhone and iPod Touch gave us something to work with and we launched a beta for those devices earlier in the year. Some aspects of the experience were fantastic but there were still compromises. The Nokia N96 was always gong to be a contender, as we knew it would be optimised for video and audio. The success of the N95 also meant there was a good chance of it becoming a mainstream device.

Nokia were keen to work with us on the project and together we looked into what it would take to launch something. It proved to be the first platform where we could fully realise the ambition that we had for mobile iPlayer. Naturally, we will want to introduce other devices as they become available - and we're already working on the next group.

Read all our posts about the BBC iPlayerIt will be interesting to see how people use BBC iPlayer on mobile rather than over a set-top box or a computer. I think that the ratio of download to streams might be more, even compared to the PC; I also think that BBC radio programmes will perform well. No doubt there will be some surprises that we will be able to feed into the next version.

As ever, any launch is only the beginning of the journey and now we have the core functions of iPlayer available we will begin to see what the mobile version can do uniquely well. Social features seem an obvious choice but there is a possibility for something around location. Ultimately, we want the mobile version to make a contribution to a BBC iPlayer that is greater than the sum of its parts.

Matthew Postgate is Controller, Mobile, BBC Future Media & Technology.

BBC HD TV Update: Jonathan Ross in HD

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Danielle Nagler Danielle Nagler | 14:24 UK time, Friday, 5 September 2008

Hi everyone, things are moving fast on BBC HD and I just wanted to give you an update.

Jonathan Ross has been working in our new HD studio this week, and his first show goes out tonight. Do watch to see what impact HD has on the look - and of course on Jonathan and the Four Poofs. Getting the show into HD is a key part of trying to make good our promise that we'll bring you the very best programmes that the BBC has to offer across our channels in HD. Like him or loathe him, JR is undoubtedly the best in class when it comes to that kind of entertainment.

4poofs.jpg

I hope that you will find other innovations through the autumn in a number of programming areas, and can also tell you that BBC HD will be on air for longer. We'll be starting our schedule at 7pm on weeknights and earlier at the weekends throughout September and, I hope, further increasing the hours toward the end of the year.

Finally, I've started some work to look at the question of DOGs to help me to make a decision about what we should do on a subject I know many of you feel strongly about. No promises as to the outcome, but I wanted you to know that it's underway.

Danielle Nagler is Head of HDTV, BBC Vision.

Taking the Proms to the semantic web in 10% time

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Michael Smethurst Michael Smethurst | 12:28 UK time, Friday, 5 September 2008

henry_wood_proms.jpgA few weeks back, I had the good fortune to be handed a dump of a mysql database stuffed to the gills with historical Proms data. It's got every Prom from 1895 to 2007 (and (you'd hope) 2008 at some point).

I've started to wrap a Ruby on Rails app around it and the results can be seen here. For now, it's pretty basic with lots of gaps left to fill - but the intention is to link it to MusicBrainz / DBpedia and to publish the results into the Linking Open Data cloud.

Read more and comment at the BBC Radio Labs blog.

Michael Smethurst is Information Architect, FM&T for BBC Audio & Music Interactive.

How to build a DVB-T2 modulator & demodulator

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Justin Mitchell | 16:54 UK time, Thursday, 4 September 2008

Imagine for a moment that it's January 2008 and that DVB (The Digital Video Broadcasting Project) is currently drafting a specification called DVB-T2 for the next generation of digital terrestrial television transmission (DTT) systems.

For Freeview to remain competitive against other competing delivery channels, such as satellite, cable and in the future IPTV, it has to be able to deliver High Definition content to viewers who now increasingly have HD-ready large flat panel displays in their homes.

So DVB-T2 is a key enabler for DTT, Freeview in the UK, to be able to deliver HDTV services.

So... back to that day in January 2008.

There are about 30 emails every day on the DVB-T2 email reflector as people from all over the world discuss detailed technical aspects of what should be in the specification.

Simply reading these emails is a full-time job in itself.

Ofcom has published the result of its consultation on the future of digital terrestrial television. It says that at the time of digital switchover,

one multiplex should be cleared of existing services in order to be upgraded to the new technologies, MPEG-4 and DVB-T2.

In the broadcasting world, there are two major trade shows each year. The first is NAB in Las Vegas in April and the second is IBC in Amsterdam in September.

Now we knew that the specification was on its way and we had two ambitious goals:

The first was to have real DVB-T2 compliant signals on air as soon as the specification was approved by DVB (which is expected to be in either March or June).

The second was to show a live real-time end-to-end chain consisting of High Definition (HD) source material, a DVB-T2 modulator, a DVB-T2 demodulator and an MPEG-4 video decoder showing pictures on a large HD display at IBC in September.

Remember it's January 2008 and at this point we have... nothing.

The first goal was to produce a modulator so that we could begin transmissions at the same time as the specification is approved.

We also needed to work with our transmission partners Arqiva and National Grid Wireless in order to find a suitable transmission site and to install our transmissions equipment there, as well as applying for a transmission licence from Ofcom. After considering many factors, such as the availability of a suitable frequency, Guildford was chosen.

The main development task for us in BBC R&I was to produce a modulator. We needed to build both the hardware and the firmware (VHDL).

In order to produce a modulator in the short time available, we opted to use a HAPS-51 FPGA development card.

This meant that in hardware terms, we only had to build an interface card and a box to put it in. The photo below shows the prototype modulator we developed. The hardware was developed by one of my colleagues Martin Thorp.

dvbt2_internal.jpg

In June we visited Guildford transmitter to install our transmission equipment. The picture below shows the inside of Guildford transmitter hall with our equipment installed in the rack.

modulator_guildford.jpg

We then made a few spot measurements around Guildford to verify that the signal was being transmitted as expected.

The picture below shows Martin (right) and me (left) receiving the first test transmissions from Guildford.

modulator_finished.jpg

On the day that the specification was approved by DVB (26 June 2008), we issued a press release to tell the world that we had begun the world's first experimental DVB-T2 transmissions.

Immediately after the press release went out, I had to do a series of press interviews about what we had done. I even did one of these by phone on my summer holiday from America.

The next stage was much more difficult. We had to build a demodulator in time for IBC in September (two months away).

Now, a demodulator is much harder than a modulator. The specification tells you exactly what signal to transmit, so "all" you have to do is build a piece of equipment that codes the signal in the way defined by the specification.

When you build a demodulator, you have the problem that the signal will not be as good as when it was transmitted (it could be subjected to noise, multipath or interference for example). So you have to build your demodulator to cope with all these problems. You also have to design algorithms to receive the signals at all.

As with the modulator, we opted to use a HAPS-51 FPGA (Field-programmable gate array) development card. However, due to the additional complexity of the receiver, we needed to use two of them.

Again, my colleague Martin organised the hardware (including building an interface board) while I was on holiday in America.

dvbt2_receiver.jpgThe result was that when I came back, he had built the receiver shown in the photo which was a perfect hardware platform on which to develop the receiver firmware. The date was now August 4 and I knew that I was going to have to put in long hours to develop the demodulator. So my wife and kids went to visit their grandparents in Tenerife for a couple of weeks. During this period I was working seven days a week from 10am to 2am. Oliver Haffenden came in at the weekend to help me with the algorithm development work.

In parallel to this work, Chris Clarke had developed a 32K FFT and BCH decoder and John Elliott had developed an LDPC decoder.

dvbt2_constellation.jpgThe good news is that by the time my family got back, we were viewing rotated 256-QAM constellations in the receiver [see picture]. This was a very encouraging sign.

After several more days of long hours, we finally achieved a working demodulator. Entirely by coincidence, we achieved the first working demodulator on the day of the 60th anniversary of the R&D Department at Kingswood Warren.

This meant that many of our senior managers who were visiting our site for the anniversary were able to have a full demonstration of DVB-T2.

In order to have some high definition material to show at IBC, we coded some new material with the latest MPEG-4 encoders (which looks fantastic to me) and obtained rights clearance to use the material.

So at the end of this week, we will be packing up the demonstration and shipping it to Amsterdam to demonstrate at IBC. If you're there, please come and visit me on stand 1.D81 - we're looking forward to showing you the world's first end-to-end DVB-T2 modulator / demodulator chain.

Justin Mitchell is Lead Engineer, R&I, BBC FM&T.

Radio Pop - social radio listening

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Tristan Ferne | 15:25 UK time, Wednesday, 3 September 2008

Today the Radio Labs team launched Radio Pop - a social radio listening site.

radio_pop.jpg

Sign up to Radio Pop and we will store your listening to BBC Radio. You can then see graphs, charts and lists of your listening, get recommendations from your friends, share your tastes and browse around to see what other people are hearing right now. Radio Pop is an experimental prototype built by the Radio Labs team - we're doing this to learn things about radio and social software. We don't yet know how long it will remain live and we make no guarantees as to its reliability or performance but we will do our best to make it better over time and welcome your feedback.

Read more, comment and sign up at the BBC Radio Labs blog.

Tristan Ferne is Senior Development Producer, R&D, FM&T for Audio & Music Interactive.

Interesting Stuff 2008-09-03: Seetha Kumar new Controller, bbc.co.uk

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Nick Reynolds Nick Reynolds | 10:39 UK time, Wednesday, 3 September 2008

Seetha Kumar (ex head of BBC HD) has been appointed Controller, bbc.co.uk. From the press release:

Seetha will lead the overall strategic and editorial development of bbc.co.uk, chairing a new bbc.co.uk board which brings together key executives from across the BBC.

modulator.JPGThe BBC's Research and Development at Kingswood Warren celebrated its 60th birthday last week with a demonstration of a "working real-time demodulator capable of receiving signals compliant to the DVB-T2 standard":

This is the first time anywhere in the world that a live end-to-end DVB-T2 chain has been demonstrated.

There's also a thread on the Digital Spy forums.

"MPs slam BBC Lonely Planet Link" from today's Daily Telegraph. Plus a blog post from TRIPHOW.

If you've been following reaction to BBC News' experiment with in-text linking Steve Herrmann has now responded to comments while ex-BBC man Ben Metcalfe thinks it's been "a great success".

Matt Deegan has some thought-provoking observations about series stacking on the BBC iPlayer.

And Innus thinks the iPlayer is "smart" - so smart he's twittered it.

Nick Reynolds is editor, BBC Internet Blog.

Archrs: an everyday story of web development

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Tristan Ferne | 11:24 UK time, Tuesday, 2 September 2008

The Archers is a radio soap opera - "an everyday story of country folk" - that has been running for more than 15,000 episodes since May 1950. What I find particularly intriguing about The Archers in terms of the future of radio is that it is, in a way, happening in real time.

archers.jpgEvery evening on Radio 4, the programme contains events that happened (approximately) "today" in Ambridge - so if it's Easter in real-life then it's Easter in The Archers. It's also very topical - featuring real-life events such as outbreaks of foot-and-mouth disease or the World Cup. As a drama, each episode is split into distinct scenes - typically indicated by a fading to silence - a convention for audio drama because of its need for clear signposting. The other interesting aspect is the many distinct facets of each scene - which characters are involved, the time of day, the current location, the storylines that intersect at that moment and even the weather. (Picture of Archers recording from 1981)

So, earlier this year, the Radio Labs team started to design and build a prototype website for The Archers based around the drama's scenes and facets.

Read more and comment at the BBC Radio labs blog.

Tristan Ferne is Senior Development Producer, R&D, FM&T for BBC Audio & Music Interactive.

Interesting Stuff 2008-09-01: Kingswood Warren Move Postponed

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Nick Reynolds Nick Reynolds | 09:43 UK time, Monday, 1 September 2008

According to this report in today's Media Guardian:

The relocation of the BBC's research and development centre at Kingswood Warren has been postponed "for an indeterminate time", the new BBC director of future media and technology told staff late on Friday.

BECTU has also issued a statement. Rain Rabbit has some photos at Flickr taken at Kingswood on Friday.

"New Sony Walkman Plays Nice With iPlayer" according to Electric Pig.

The Sunday Herald offers a Scottish perspective on the BBC's plans for adding video to the BBC's local websites.

"Kangaroo Says Cartel Concerns 'Misconceived'" from paidContent.

And it was Blogday 2008 yesterday and much to my shame, I wasn't even aware it was happening. So thanks to Pravda for mentioning the Internet Blog here.

Nick Reynolds is editor, BBC Internet Blog.

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