Archives for October 2008

Research on BBC content for GNU/Linux

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George Wright George Wright | 16:44 UK time, Thursday, 30 October 2008

This week, we're really happy to be sharing some work we've commissioned to deliver BBC content (mainly radio shows from the BBC Audio & Music team) on demand for users of GNU/Linux.

In RAD, we've wanted to experiment with non-DRMed content for a while - and managed to assemble some content which was available to access in a number of ways.

One of the complex things about putting content on desktops or OSes (apart from the two closed operating systems) is the number of options available. Free software's all about choice - but for a large corporation like the BBC, sometimes choices take time. So, in my team, RAD, we have made initial discussion about our work with a number of vendors, and selected Canonical (who produce the Ubuntu flavour of GNU/Linux) for this piece of work - other work in a similar vein is currently under discussion with other vendors/distros. Of course, this work is also available for people/vendors to port to the two closed operating systems, should they wish to do so.

We then worked with colleagues around the BBC and selected a list of available, updated, current content which we could make available both in and outside the UK, a feed of this content using the URIplay metadata framework, with our partner MetaBroadcast.

We then worked with Canonical and their software partners Collabra to deliver this feed to the Totem media player, and Gstreamer multimedia platform, to display available content in a simple, browsable window using a free software plugin, where the feed is updated using the Internet, when the user starts the player.

Click for full size

Lots of this work involved changes to the underlying infrastructure of Gstreamer, as well as developing the plugin for Totem. We then moved on the adding content to the feed, and helping to optimise the playback experience - eg to download suitable codecs if they were available to the end user. As the service develops, we will start supplying content in several different formats - some of these are totally free and open, some aren't - we've reflected the wishes of content owners here, obviously.

We're happy with this first iteration, and are already seeing patches to the upstream software sources, to allow other OSes and distros to use these improvements. Longer term, we'll be looking to improve the content sources, as well as optimise the UI - to show channel or programme icons, for example. Because this is free software, we can make changes to this - and so can you/other users! The whole stack is free software - from URIplay through to Totem, the media player. Some codecs will involve a download, and in some territories (mainly outside the UK) may be restricted, but the underlying framework is free and open.

Click for full size

This, quite clearly, is not a competitor to BBC iPlayer. It surfaces a lot of BBC content that is already available, but you won't see Doctor Who or Dragons' Den on there anytime soon. What you will see is an increasing list of content, in both audio and video formats, that we can share with you in an experimental way, allowing us to explore and test new ways of viewing and listening to some of our TV and radio shows. Some of the blog posts already online have mentioned that this involves all BBC content - that's incorrect - it's a limited subset designed for us to explore and evaluate how new platforms might need new distribution systems.

I'll be posting more technical information explaining how URIplay fits into the system, and our other plans for it, later this week, as well as sharing some of our plans for work with other free software partners.

George Wright is Portfolio Manager, Rapid Application Development, Research & Innovation, BBC Future Media & Technology.

BBC iPlayer: Your queries answered

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Alan Connor | 17:06 UK time, Tuesday, 28 October 2008

iPlayer head honcho Anthony Rose (now Head of Online Media Group) is on this week's Points Of View to "answer viewers' questions about faults with iPlayer and how to optimise use" - or, as the homepage team puts it:

It must be frustrating if you can't play your favourite programme on BBC iPlayer. That's why Anthony Rose, who looks after the service, has answered some common concerns and invites you to let us know your problems.

Alan Connor is co-editor, BBC Internet Blog.

Interesting Stuff 2008-10-28

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Alan Connor | 14:51 UK time, Tuesday, 28 October 2008

redux100.jpgBrandon Butterworth's post on BBC Redux gets the thumbs-up from outside the BBC (Lloyd Shepherd calls it a "test case in how development of code outside a business roadmap leads to unlooked-for business benefits" and inside: multiplatform content producer (and Proms nabob) Jon Jacob declares:

Butterworth is King Technologist down in leafy Kingswood Warren and is something of a hero even if he's not aware of it. [...]
I use Redux nearly every day in my work. It's reliable. It's thorough. It's simple. And, most important of all, it's interface belies what I perceive to be the complex processes and systems required to deliver such an invaluable resource for those of who scan the BBC's output looking for ideas and checking to see which of those ideas have already been executed. It's the kind of thing - especially the interface - which is so utterly perfect (for me, at least) that I don't want anyone to tinker with it.
In short, BBC Redux is VERY BBC.
We like.

The Backstage mailing list denizens also give praise - with the usual caveats.


ian_backstage170.jpgStaying with BBC Backstage, Ian Forrester says:

Things at Backstage have been quite hectic but also quiet to the public.
So what's been going on?
Well, here's a list which I think you will find interesting.
 1. New BBC Backstage Blog with comments
 2. New BBC Backstage Logo Competition
 3. PA Press Event API via Backstage
 4. New ideas store application
 5. Thinking Digital Audio via IT Conversations
 6. BBC Backstage Christmas party
 7. BBC Backstage and Geekup events
So that's the highlights, now some details.

Those details are here. Keep a beady eye on the Backstage Blog and/or here.


If you've been following the convoluted story of BBC Jam, you may be interested in a piece in Broadcast where Katherine Rushton writes that "[b]y exploiting some of it commercially, the BBC aims to stop all of the £96m already spent on BBC Jam from being wasted.":

BBC controller of learning and factual interactive Liz Cleaver told Broadcast: "We are agreeing with the Trust what content we might follow up - what might be available for public service and what might be available for commercial exploitation. We're talking about asset-stripping Jam.



The Radio 2 website has gone all different, exploiting that API goodness in /programmes - but then, if you're a regular user of the site, you'll know that already. Ryan Morrison explains why this is so and James Cridland explains why this is a good thing.



Finally, today is BeeBCamp Day in White City. What is BeeBCamp? Allow Tom Van Aardt and Roo Reynolds to explain:

Think of it as a user generated conference, an "un-conference", or you can think of it as "an ad-hoc gathering born from the desire for people to share and learn in an open environment". It's a place where BBC staff can get together, meet one another and talk about the exciting stuff we're working on.

The BBC's blogger-in-residence is in attendance - so watch Steve's Common Platform blog / here / Twitter / Yammer (if staff) / Roo's blog / any other social media as appropriate (runes, graffiti etc).

Alan Connor is co-editor, BBC Internet Blog.

More than just watching TV

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Richard Titus Richard Titus | 10:20 UK time, Tuesday, 28 October 2008

One of the more inspiring parts of my role as Controller of User Experience & Design is when we do truly formative research into user desires and behaviour on our digital products and services.

Earlier this year, some members of my team did some really great work into how people interact and behave with digital media. This work helped inform our work on BBC iPlayer and many of our other digital services we've launched. Adam Hutchinson has written about it below and also created an infographic which we've been repeatedly asked to share.

Click here for full-size [7.3 Mb JPEG]

Watching TV is more than just watching TV - how you need to understand people to create successful technology
by Adam Hutchinson

adam hutchinsMy job as an interaction designer in the BBC's User Experience & Design team is to ensure that BBC technology focuses on what our audience finds useful and enjoyable. To do this, we have to understand how people use media and what their needs are.

In early 2008, we studied how people find, play, personalise and share programmes across different devices and services - like BBC iPlayer, Sky+, YouTube, peer-to-peer and traditional TV and radio. We discovered what is important for people and what problems they face.

We asked ten members of the public around the country to take part in our study. They kept "media use" diaries for two weeks and were interviewed in their homes about their entertainment habits. We found that people watch TV or listen to the radio not for its own sake, but in order to achieve a range of goals - such as to relax, to keep up to date or to spend time with each other. This is not new. What we also saw was how these goals are being achieved in ways we didn't expect.

By paying attention to the activities that come before and after the watching or listening (like finding, personalising and sharing programmes), we learned a lot about what people find important. For example, a lot of people feel overwhelmed at the amount of choice there is. They skip through programmes or channels and don't settle on one, as they feel they could be missing out something else.

BBCUXD_detailed_media_use - click for largeAnother fascinating insight is how watching TV is an enabler for socialising. Gossiping about plotlines and being up to date with a programme is a form of social currency (eg "Did you see Heroes last night?"). What we often neglect to consider is that people like to watch programmes together. We saw how a group of teenage boys would watch Dragons' Den and try to impress each other with their business knowledge. If one of the friends had already seen the episode, they were barred from the discussion, because they could "cheat" as they knew what was going to happen.

Some people have enormous media collections, and take great pride in them. Often they won't listen to or watch everything in their collection because it's the collecting they enjoy. We were also surprised at how people mixed and matched old and new technologies to fit in with their lives. People who use the latest gadgets also go through the Radio Times magazine with a pen to plan their week's viewing - because that's the easiest way to do it. People who blog about music trends also burn CDs to give to their friends, because a physical object somehow means more than its digital equivalent.

Interesting stuff - but what next? Well, for me it gets really exciting when you take take our existing products and think about how we can improve them based on these insights. But the main message is: understand your audience and you'll understand what makes a product successful.

Included in this post is a rich picture that expresses some of these insights [7.3 Mb JPEG], and a link to a detailed findings poster [6.7 Mb JPEG]. Thanks to Jamie Hill who planned and ran this project, the team of researchers from BBC User Experience & Design, and Flow Interactive who helped with the analysis.

Electric Proms Goes Mobile

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James Simcock | 17:30 UK time, Monday, 27 October 2008

The Electric Proms is an event that focuses on doing things differently. This year, we did something new to innovate for mobile.

electric_proms08.pngRather than sticking with our usual, one-size-fits-all model for mobile browser pages, we implemented a level of device detection to serve different versions of the site optimised for specific devices.

We'd like to have been able to do this for all devices, but there are so many of them, with vast differences in terms of what they can support technically. So we did some analysis of the handsets which most often visit our mobile pages for radio and music to find which devices we should focus our efforts on.

What we discovered was quite surprising.

High-end phones such as the iPhone and Nokia NSeries made up almost half of all our mobile web traffic (quite different to what we see when looking at top pan-BBC devices).

The iPhone and Nokia NSeries are capable of supporting some enhanced services within the browser and have screens large enough to render some nice graphics too - not to mention the BBC iPlayer service which is available on the iPhone and iPod Touch.

Breaking out of our usual templates for these devices gave us the opportunity to find new ways to make a mobile site easy to use, and to take steps to reduce end-user costs when paying per MB for data access. To this end we implemented some javascript elements which allow the user to pull information into a page template, without having to reload the surrounding graphical elements.

We were also able to incorporate information pulled dynamically from our programmes database. This shows "next up" schedule information (for TV, radio and red button), automatically updated throughout the event. Most importantly, we've been analysing usage from these pages and dynamic elements in detail to inform our future plans for mobile.


The designers (Sacha Sedriks and Stephen Robertson) and the developer (Daniel Moll) who produced these pages have never worked specifically on mobile before, but they've done a tremendous job. The work they've done, with support from some the BBC's mobile veterans from the FM&T Mobile Group, will benefit all our future work for mobile platforms. While I'm naming those that have contributed, a special mention to Mobile Producer Jo Bellingham who put together the standard pages for other devices and has been updating JSON feeds, SSSIs, image galleries and more throughout the event.

To see what we've created, point your mobile browser to and if you're using an iPhone, iPod Touch, NSeries or ESeries Nokia, you'll see the site optimised for your device.

James Simcock is Executive Producer, Mobile, BBC Audio & Music Interactive.

History of the 'BBC Redux' project

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Brandon Butterworth | 13:00 UK time, Monday, 27 October 2008

At Mashed in August 2008, we showed developers an internal research project called "BBC Redux". At the time, it was mentioned in the Guardian and on Click, and you may have wondered what it is.

iplayer_protest.jpgIn the summer of 2007, freetards (me too), the OSC and others were calling for the BBC to make iPlayer cross-platform, and the Trust had committed the BBC to doing this.

Slated for a Christmas launch, the system only supported Windows Media with DRM and P2P delivery. There were some concerns from ISPs about how this might affect them.

iplayer_neutrality.pngCross-platform support has always been a source of grief [1] leading us to duplicate systems and to reduce functionality in order to support multiple formats equally.

The problem wasn't going to go away and with the expansion of video and audio into devices such as games consoles, it was getting worse.

We needed a different approach, to divorce our content production from delivery format and method - something quickly adaptable to new devices and the unmentionable "C word": convergence. [2]

I'd had an idea for a system to do this festering for a few years - the mother of all VoD systems. I'd proposed this at the start of the iPlayer project and now it seemed time to just get on with it.

Armed with a couple of trusty developers, Tom and Dickon, a demonstrator was quickly built. We called this project "BBC Redux".

It's a video-on-demand test bed where we can try out the systems that acquire, store, search and deliver content. It's like your PVR but much larger and can convert and stream content to suit playback on more than just TVs.

So how does it work?

To start with we ingest DTT, though sourced from multicast, as direct programme feeds take time to organise. There's a server that records each stream and segments it into programmes just as your PVR does.

Each content recorder (there may be more than one of each subsystem for redundancy) offers its files to the content manager(s) that look after storage distribution and management. The content manager(s) determine which content store to save them on. Then there are front-end servers to test applications for delivering to users and a stack of transcoders that are the glue between the neutral high quality storage format and what the users want.

In the summer of 2007, we showed our prototype to Ashley and the FM&T board.

The point was made (streaming video could work) and iPlayer was set to have Flash streaming for the Christmas launch (after some quick work by the iPlayer team). A bonus for the ISPs is that Flash streams are approximately a third the size of the downloads and people only transfer them once. Currently, around 90% of BBC iPlayer use is Flash streaming.

We also demonstrated to the board a set-top box that plays our multicast live streams and iPlayer VoD - part of the longer term aim to make internet TV more usable in the home.

We continued to experiment with BBC Redux, making it work for various games consoles - PS3; PSP; Wii - and when the iPhone came out in November 2007, we added iTouch/iPhone and later 3G phones.

Brandon Butterworth - image by Chris Capstick

Some of this work was later used for iPlayer beta sites (iPhone is 3% of use).

At Mashed08, we let the public see and use one of our development front ends for the first time with the freshly-hacked that week subtitle support - so new it was still being worked on through the Saturday.

Redux was built to support the rapid development of new services and was designed to scale in many directions.

The transparent on-demand transcoding is how we can quickly adapt to new devices. When iPlayer chose to go Wii, they wanted a slightly different encoder profile than the one we'd used for demos. No problem: we defined the coding profile, allocated a subset of the transcoder pool to them and let them trawl through the store collecting all the programmes they needed for the seven day window. A few iterations were needed as the launch deadline approached, so more transcoders were added to their pool as time ran out. The risk was too high to try all this in the iPlayer live production systems; they could be adapted later.

Redux has been quite versatile - over the past year it has grown in use as a demonstrator of a tapeless world - a way of trying out ideas like:

  • instant access programme compliance store
  • immediately accessible archive - no delays waiting for a DVD/VHS in the post, so programme teams are using it for research.
  • a usable infinite archive - why would we ever throw programmes away again?
  • adaptable to produce new content formats on demand - when added WM alongside Real, nobody had the content readily available to make WM versions of all the previous content; now it's not a problem
  • IPTV
  • closed user group access to content, either in production or, as is now being developed, for TV listing magazine reviewers who used to watch on postal DVD

Redux consists of three racks of equipment - two are storage nodes - 342TB according to the disk manufacturers, 297TB of usable space with 152K programme files so far.

Full size images in our Flickr account [1 | 2]

There is also a baby one feeding iPlayer as, being a development system, we like to break the main one regularly.

Redux had its first birthday in July. We hope it will have many more before the experiment ends.


[1] Used since 1995 and selected as the most cross-platform system we could find, Real still met resistance from some Windows users: often corporate IT wouldn't let them install it or they and Linux users didn't like the free player trying to entice them to upgrade to a paid-for version or use advertising.

BBC TV and Radio services work on any manufacturers device, they compete on quality and features, not on exclusive access to content. It seemed silly to have to make special content for any particular internet device manufacturer but that's how the market, governed by commercial rather than technical interests, has developed. [Return to post]

dirac_pro_kit.jpgFor years, we've encouraged the adoption of standards-based systems, developing DIRAC, a royalty-free video codec to reduce commercial barriers to adoption of a common standard. It's starting to make ground in high end broadcasting, but is slow progressing to the internet. In the meantime, we've been supporting H264 and AAC, which are taking off. The aim remains - people can choose their player; we don't need to care.

[2] Internet media are still much like that start of TV broadcasting where multiple systems were run in parallel before choosing one. [Return to post]

Brandon Butterworth is Principal Technologist, Kingswood Warren, BBC FM&T. Image of Brandon by Chris Capstick. Image of protest by Matt Cashmore. Images of Redux kit by Brandon. UPDATE 24/9/09: Brandon Butterworth is now Chief Scientist, BBC.

The role of the BBC's News blogs

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Alan Connor | 11:32 UK time, Monday, 27 October 2008

This is a crosspost with The Editors, which is the appropriate place to leave a comment.

Radio 4's Feedback programme had a discussion about some of the issues surrounding the BBC's News blogs. You can listen to the discussion below.

In order to see this content you need to have both Javascript enabled and Flash installed. Visit BBC Webwise for full instructions. If you're reading via RSS, you'll need to visit the blog to access this content.

Leave a comment at The Editors. Alan Connor is co-editor, BBC Internet Blog.

Shoot The Summer Part 2

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Hugh Garry | 22:50 UK time, Friday, 24 October 2008

After five months touring the festival circuit, Shoot The Summer is finally finished.

It received a great reception when screened at the Electric Proms on Wednesday night. Jo Bellingham (co-producer), Pete Roach (director) and I are exceptionally pleased with how it all worked out. You can watch the whole film online now here.

It was an incredible project to work on and, even though I don't really need reminding, it hammered home how good it is to work for the BBC. It was an adventurous project that required support from all networks and a large helping of trust and vision from John Ousby (Head of Distribution Technology, Audio & Music Interactive) who backed it from day one.

Thanks to this project, my summer has been littered with surreal moments, glorious memories and chaffing (from where my wellies rubbed the hairs off my legs). I won't forget watching the excellent Robert Ziegler encourage a Proms crowd to do a Mexican wave for my phone whilst also conducting the Scottish Symphony Orchestra.

Other musical highlights include seeing the likes of Rage Against The Machine, Nile Rodgers and Chic and Dame Evelyn Glennie. Strapping a phone to Stephen Merchant's head was fun too.


I recently watched a documentary on photography. Because old cameras had such slow shutter speeds, photographs of moving people had to be posed - otherwise they would blur. One photographer (whose name escapes me) was criticised for not getting people to pose. He shot moving people and featured the blurred pictures in his collection. The purists thought it insane to include blurred pictures in a collection. But he felt that capturing this movement was part of the language of photography at the time - it said something important about the tools of their trade.

In many respects, Shoot The Summer speaks to the audience in the language of film-making today. One of the earlier shots in the film is a guy going to huge efforts to prop up his camera with a packet of bacon. Only for his head to be out of frame and for the phone to fall over once he begins to speak.

There are several shots where the film-maker is holding the camera in portrait rather than landscape because it feels more natural to do it that way. These are the clips I left in. They aren't perfect, but that's how the audience filmed them and how the majority of clips you'll find on YouTube look.

User-generated content (UGC) is a phrase that makes me shudder sometimes, but it shouldn't.

There's more than one way to make a UGC film. Spike Lee and Nokia chose to go for the "send us all your clips and we'll try to find something interesting from them" method. I chose to spend some time with people who I thought might capture something of interest. I'm not saying my way is better than Spike Lee's. All I know is that I'm glad that when September came, I didn't have to go through thousands of random shots that had no narrative.

I gave the phone to people at festivals in the hope they would deliver. In most cases they were spot on.

Hugh Garry is Content Producer, Radio 1 and producer of Shoot The Summer.

BBC iPlayer on Wii: new BigScreen interface

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Anthony Rose Anthony Rose | 09:00 UK time, Friday, 24 October 2008

Six months ago, we made BBC iPlayer available on Nintendo Wii.

This was our first foray into TV-connected gaming devices. We didn't know what the uptake would be, so we adopted a "keep it simple, get it out fast" approach. This meant encoding our content in a format compatible with the Wii's Flash 7 video playback capabilities, but playing back within the standard BBC iPlayer website, which is really too big for the Wii screen.

In other words, we made a new video stream for Wii, but we didn't optimise the user interface for the Wii's screen resolution or Wiimote remote control.

Strategically, this Wii release was extremely important, signalling the arrival of internet-delivered on-demand services direct to your TV set rather than to your computer.

However, as a user proposition, it was very much a first-pass product, something we knew and recognised at the time. In fact, one of the reasons why we didn't create a custom Wii interface was because our user interface team was hard at work on the new-look BBC iPlayer 2.0 site, which was to launch in June.

Back then, people also wondered why we made BBC iPlayer available on Wii but not PS3. The reason is simple: there are twice as many Wii units in the UK than PS3s, plus the PS3 browser had some odd quirks which have increased development time.

Good news: we have an all-new BBC iPlayer user interface designed for the Nintendo Wii.

This release is important for us because it adds to our list of BBC iPlayer user interfaces, which now comprises:

  • a mobile version, as used on iPhone, Nokia N96 and other mobile devices
  • a regular version, as used on your PC, Mac and Linux computer
  • a set-top box version, available through Virgin Media
  • and a big screen version, now for Wii.

We hope, in time, to make suitable modifications which enable users of other gaming consoles and set-top boxes to use this user interface.

The new Wii version has a simplified user interface that presents just a few options on screen at a time and nice big chunky controls - easy to aim at with a Wiimote.

View larger version

The new interface gives access to both TV and radio programmes:

bigscreen_mostpopular430.pngView larger version

Our users told us that, when playing back BBC iPlayer programmes on Wii, they always wanted to play back in full-screen mode, not in a window within the browser as is often done on PCs, so the big screen interface is designed with that in mind:

View larger version

Choosing the most appropriate version of BBC iPlayer for your device is taken care of automatically by our servers. Head over to and our server will take care of the rest.

If you don't have a Wii or run the Opera browser, you can still have a look to see what it's like: (no guarantees that it will work with your browser if you're not on a Wii, though).

Finally, it must be noted that while we're providing an all-new user interface for Wii, the video stream is still the same video quality that we've been using since we went live back in March.

That's not ideal - but, alas, the Wii ships with Flash 7 which uses the older Sorenson Spark codec that gives lower video compression and poorer quality than the more recent On2 VP6 and H.264 codecs used in later versions of Flash found on your PC. We're very much looking forward to better quality video options on these devices - stay tuned for possible further developments on this front over the coming months.

So, if you have a Wii, why not try it out? Simply connect your Wii to the internet (you may need to also install the Internet Channel) then head over to, then let us know your thoughts and ideas - we always welcome ideas and we try to take them into account when designing future BBC iPlayer releases.

PS: We're also working on bringing BBC iPlayer to Sony PS3, but we're not quite there yet as the PS3 uses a slightly older version of Flash which doesn't support some of the features used in our media player, and the very promising Flash 9 update now available on PS3 has some compatibility issues. Our Flash developers are working on it - stay tuned for updates.

Anthony Rose is Head of Online Media Group, BBC Future Media & Technology

Break in service: update

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Richard Cooper Richard Cooper | 16:25 UK time, Thursday, 23 October 2008

I'm afraid (as Steve Herrmann has already mentioned) that we had a bad night last night.

In a nutshell, a 160 core fibre trunk (a bundle of cables) was cut.

Normally this would not have affected what you would see on the BBC's websites, but in this case the resilient routes did not take up the strain in some cases. The consequence was that we lost a number of our services for a few hours until the fibres were re-spliced.

The main thing that you may have noticed was some of our content becoming stale as updates were delayed. We also had interruptions to many of the live audio and video streams on

fibrecables230.jpgSo we have a lot of work to do to ensure that next time we have a significant cut like this (these things happen), the resiliency works and there are no interruptions to our services.

In the meantime, we'd like to apologise for the problems.

Richard Cooper is Controller, Digital Distribution, Future Media & Technology.

Interesting Stuff 2008-10-23

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Nick Reynolds Nick Reynolds | 11:33 UK time, Thursday, 23 October 2008

I'm always pleased when important BBC people use social media as part of their work. It's what this blog is all about. So I liked this image of Anthony Rose from Stephen Davies flickr stream


Anthony tells me that his conversation with Stephen helped fix the problem, which is even better.

People seem to respond better to pictures than they do to words (who would have thought that a picture of a man "benchmarking four operating systems" would have sparked a conversation?). Steve Bowbrick (our blogger in residence) drew this diagram of the obstacles to sharing he sees in the BBC...


... and it got a reaction, both on Common Platform and on flickr.

Cathy Brooks of Seesmic is "thrilled" that the BBC's Have Your Say is experimenting with using Seesmic. And there's a video!

BBC Backstage are sponsoring the Manchester "head" conference hub.

Zoe Kleinman who worked for the Internet blog in the summer is featured in this video on "Blogging for beginners". And yet alarmingly, at the same time Rory Cellan Jones is asking "Is blogging dead?"

As I was walking the dog this morning, I checked Twitter on my phone and saw that it was alive with comments about "the death of blogging." According to an article in Wired Magazine, Twitter, Flickr and Facebook make blogs look "so 2004". Oh dear.

But wait!

My response was to go straight home - and write a blog post.


Nick Reynolds is editor, BBC Internet blog

Break in service

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Steve Herrmann Steve Herrmann | 10:30 UK time, Thursday, 23 October 2008

N.B. This post was orginally published on the News Editors blog at 11.38 pm last night - see update at the end

BBC websites have been experiencing some major technical difficulties which have been preventing us from updating our News, Sport and some other pages.

This is due to a serious network failure, which has resulted in a loss of connectivity between our publishing systems and the BBC's webservers...

...UPDATE 2351 BST: We are able to publish again and pages are updating. It seems our problems were caused by some damaged fibre optic cables linking our London buildings.

Steve Herrmann is editor of the BBC News website.

Read more and comment at the BBC News Editors blog

BBC HD: DOGs Update

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Danielle Nagler Danielle Nagler | 09:10 UK time, Tuesday, 21 October 2008

Hi, everyone.

Having predicted as much, I'm delighted to know that you all think that the decisions we made about Heroes and Silent Witness were the wrong ones.


I entirely agree with all of you who have found the scheduling of epsiode one of the new Heroes frustrating and bemusing - you just have to believe me when I say that the purchase arrangements around these kinds of series mean that the choices open to us on BBC HD around where we can put out the programme are virtually non-existent. So, I'm sorry - but I hope that the PVRs worked, and that you're enjoying the storylines.


As some of you remind me - regularly - I promised to come back on the DOG issue. I had been told before taking this job and starting to get to know you that HD was something that people get passionate about.

I hadn't anticipated that all the emotion we try to concentrate through the HD production process to give you, our audience, the most intense viewing experience we can would however coalesce around the on-screen channel marker(!).

I took on board the fact that this mattered to a very large number of you, and that you found it monumentally irritating, and that that irritation was exacerbated by the fact that HD is supposed to celebrate great picture quality.

I also said - as I'm sure many of you have heard before - that there are reasons why the vast majority of digital channels put DOGs on screen - they help to tell you where you are as you flick through channels and play an important role for channels in helping to establish their brands through the content they go alongside.

But don't worry - that is not a prelude towards telling you that I've looked at it all very seriously and decided to do nothing. I just want to be clear that I have to balance a number of things in making a decision about how we go forward.

I've decided to go for a halfway house.

I can hear you all reaching for the keyboard to tell me that that is a coward's (or a politician's) response. I can assure you that I'm both and neither, but also ask you to bear with me as I explain what I am going to do.

From this weekend, assuming no technical glitches in the areas responsible for implementing this, the BBC HD DOG will be removed from all films shown on the channel and the majority of the drama content. For other programming, we are turning down the DOG to the lowest level that we can while allowing it to remain visible.

In doing this, I'm aiming to make sure that at least some of the programming which really showcases HD quality and experience is DOG-free. Hopefully, the irritation factor on the rest is reduced, while retaining the channel branding across much of the output for the benefit of those who may not blog but who do find it valuable. I am not sure that this is the final position on the subject, but I do want to give this arrangement a reasonable period of time to bed down before taking a view on whether there is any further adjustment to be made.

read all our HDTV postsOn past experience, I'll probably have satisfied no one, but I do hope that you at least can accept that I have given this a lot of consideration, and shifted the channel in the light of it.

Whatever you feel, I know that I can trust you to tell me clearly - please do. I really value this conversation with you and it is absolutely the case that I would not have been aware of the strength of feeling around this issue if you hadn't told me.

Danielle Nagler is Head of HDTV, BBC Vision.

Interesting Stuff 2008-10-20

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Alan Connor | 15:30 UK time, Monday, 20 October 2008

BBC tech boss Erik Huggers gave a presentation called Broadcasting In The Digital Age: Simplicity & Convergence at MIP about "the challenges facing broadcasters as the pace of change accelerates, and how they must evolve to ensure a consistent experience across all platforms - without compromising quality."

Over at the MIP blog, there's a "big interview video":

In the context of MIPCOM 2008's Broadband Video Summit, Erik Huggers, the BBC's director of future media and technology, spoke to journalist Kate Bukley. He notably revealed a kids' iPlayer was in the pipeline.

On this subject, the Guardian's Leigh Holmwood reckons that the interview adds little to another Erik interview - last week's one with the Guardian.


feedback_radio7.pngOn the 17 Oct edition of Radio 4's Feedback, Roger Boulton says:

It's still the BBC's most popular digital station, but have you been struggling with Radio 7's redesigned website? Some of Feedback's correspondents have and we put their complaints to Radio 7's interactive editor.

The programme is here in iPlayer.


foi_bbc_holiday.pngJane Black, a user of the Freedom Of Information site What Do They Know?, has had a reply [pdf] to her request:

Based on the precedent set by your release of the cost of BBC Action Network (see link below), please send me the annual cost of the recently-closed BBC Holiday website from 2003 onwards.

FoI fans can get more BBC responses regarding "the status of the Creative Archive Licence" here [pdf 1 | pdf 2].


Vision multiplatform exec Dan Taylor blogs on his personal site about programme sites:

As previously posted, my job requires me to have an overview of the whole of BBC Vision's online portfolio. Until recently, my record of new site launches comprised a TextEdit document on my laptop (edited on a daily basis) and an Excel spreadsheet on a shared drive (updated, er, less frequently). A couple of weeks back I decided that a far better tool for maintaining and sharing this information would be a simple blog.


And so BBC Vision Site Launches [rss] is now in BBC Internet Blog's Pageflake.



A post at Mapperz ("The Mapping News Blog") calls Ollie Williams' BBC Olympic and Paralympic Heroes Parade Map a "BBC first to report a live event using mapping tools"; Ollie explains all at the Olympics Blog:

It's clever stuff, and it allows us to tell the story of events in a complex, live, graphic environment for the first time. In the future, mobile technology like this could help us cover big sporting events (for example, Wimbledon or the Open golf) in new ways.
Along with geo-located Twitter updates on the Beijing map in August (read more about that map here), this map marks the debut for this geo-locating lark in BBC Sport's coverage.
It remains very much a developing technology, and isn't 100% reliable. If you've ever used satellite navigation devices in your car, and found yourself frantically pointing upwards when it suggests it "cannot locate satellite", you'll know what I mean.


Hot new "Use Our Stuff To Build Your Stuff" action over at BBC Backstage's mailing list: Dominic Burns presents Have Your Say Too ("the idea is for it to be a modified "Have Your Say", allowing users to comment on all BBC news items (emphasis on 'all')") and Andy of iPlayerlist ("making the unmissable, browsable") fame says:

Bereft of any real ideas I asked myself "if you took all the BBC TV shows that are currently on iPlayer and plotted them on a map would it be any use what so ever?"
The result:

Internet Blog readers will doubtless also be wanting to read the thread [backstage] BBC DRM iplayer mobiles etc.


iplayer_sky_player.pngFrom the Partnerships Which Rhyme Dept, a "joint press release from BBC and BSkyB":

The BBC and Sky have announced that BBC iPlayer can now be accessed via Sky Player, Sky's online TV service.
The new version of Sky Player includes a series of BBC branded sections, with listings information and links to all TV programmes on the BBC iPlayer service.
Sky Player, which offers users access to live and on-demand content from a range of channel providers, will now also offer access to content from all BBC television channels.

And staying with telly-not-(necessarily)-on-the-telly, Robert Andrews at paidContent asks Ashley Highfield, formerly of this parish about Project Kangaroo (which is looking at a closed beta) and what he's been doing since leaving the Beeb, given the Competition Commission's interest:

Highfield jokingly told me: "I've brought my golf handicap down to eight." In seriousness, he's been "making the case", working with the regulator: "I spent the day with the Competition Commission yesterday, going through the proposal." Despite the holding pattern, "with the Competition Commission's blessing we, are building the offering... and we expect to have a closed beta around Christmas time... they don't want the regulatory procedure to hold up innovation."

Combining Freeview with HD, Mark Sweeney writes a Guardian piece headlined ITV, Channel 4 & BBC To Launch HD Channels On Freeview Next Year:

Football fans in some areas of the UK will be able to watch the 2010 World Cup in high definition on Freeview after Ofcom announced that ITV, Channel 4 and the BBC will launch channels next year.
The media regulator today revealed the results of a competitive tender process to launch the first three HD channels in "late autumn" next year, with a fourth expected to launch by 2010.

You can join the lively discussion at the Join Freesat Blog.


At the time of typing, 544 BBC employees are using Yammer, a workplace Twitter-like service.


Our blogger-in-residence Steve Bowbrick attributes a recent surge of signups to the head of FM&T Erik Huggers using the service; James Cridland, the Audio & Music FM&T boss, likes it ("I can talk about stuff we're doing without worrying whether I'm irritating anyone outside the BBC with my talk of HWH, W12, BC5 D2 M1, etc etc. It's rather fine."); Backstage's Ian Forrester says "where's the API, people? Come on, this is becoming unacceptable already".

And over on her personal blog, Innovation Executive Lucy Hooberman puts all this Yammering into context, talking about how we talk about what we do - for example, on personal blogs:

In the past you would have said the BBC really communicates what it is about to the public only via its programmes as well as via press releases, annual reports, consultations and complaints the historic tools of corporate communications.
But now many staff on official blogs and personal blogs offer additional insight into what is going on behind the scenes in terms of how we do our jobs, how the BBC works, how we make decisions and importantly who we are. That's incredibly important for collaborations and partnerships of any kind - knowing who you are doing business with, or talking to and being able to talk to them creates a virtual circle of information leading to understanding and participation being able to be used effectively

And, in the interests of balance, if you want to see what people are twittering about the BBC's use of Yammer, go here.



Finally, over in the Commons, MP Richard Younger-Ross (Shadow Minister, Culture, Media & Sport; Liberal Democrat) has told his fellow members debating the Broadcasting (Television Licence Fee Abolition) Bill [iPlayer]:

The BBC website is the most trusted in the world for news and current affairs programmes that are authoritative, accurate and, above all, impartial.

Nice to see it on the permanent record.

Alan Connor is co-editor, BBC Internet Blog.

Shoot The Summer Part 1

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Hugh Garry | 14:40 UK time, Monday, 20 October 2008

Or, Producing a full-length, user-generated movie shot on mobiles

I'm sat here in "The Shed", editing the final part of Shoot The Summer and arguing with editor Pete Roach about which bits to leave in.


festivals175.pngShoot The Summer is a film shot entirely on mobile phones by the bands and fans of BBC Radio. Jo Bellingham and I have worked tirelessly through the summer going to events such as the Cambridge Folk Festival, Summer Sundae, Proms In The Park, Creamfields, the Notting Hill Carnival, the London Mela and Bestival.

The thing with the editing is that I want to leave the mistakes in and Pete would rather they were taken out. Pete has had the daunting task of gluing together all the clips in a way that tells some kind of meaningful story. Poor Pete.

Fortunately for Pete, I made a massive editorial decision the day I came up with the idea for a full-length user-generated movie. Rather than asking the audience to send in their clips all summer while I was tanning myself in Ibiza, I wanted to get out there and meet the people first, get to know them a little and then give them a phone to capture their festival experience.


I had to be confident that they could film something of value before I'd part with the phone. It's not easy making that judgment having known someone for such a short time, but it seemed to make a lot more sense than wading through thousands of random clips, emailed anonymously by people that I'd never met.

We are so used to thinking of user-generated content as "cats on skateboards" - we often can't see beyond the YouTube experience. I'm pretty happy with the results and my method seems to have produced some nicely shot, well thought out pieces from both the audience and the bands. I'll be honest: part of me really did think I was going to go through the summer trying to make sense of bored bands on tour buses and people off their faces in tents - but that certainly isn't the case.

As I said, I'm still editing, so I've not yet watched the film in full. How will it piece together...? I'll know in the next few days, as it's being screened on Wednesday at the Electric Proms. I'll blog again next week with more about what I've learned and the people that I've met.

Hugh Garry is a Content Producer, Radio 1 Interactive.

Interesting Stuff 2008-10-14

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Alan Connor | 08:30 UK time, Wednesday, 15 October 2008

Following Erik's call for Digital Media Everywhere, cnet has a combined boast / consumer journalism piece called BBC iPlayer Goes Mobile: Which Player Is Best?:

We've got almost all the devices the iPlayer is compatible with in our capacious desk drawers, so we thought it'd be awfully charitable of us to load up some BBC content and take our favourite players for a spin.


Dianne See Morrison of mocoNews blogs here at the Washington Post about the Beeb's work with Open DRM, remarking that "[a]s for downloading TV programs with the iPhone, that might take awhile":

Why? Because Apple doesn't license its DRM to third party users, and so far, unlike Nokia and several other handset makers, doesn't support the OMA DRM 2 specification.


Kevin Rose and Alex Albrecht from Diggnation have left a message for BBC Backstage.



Over at our sister blog in News, The Editors, Assistant Editor of Interactivity Matthew Eltringham has news from the UGC Hub - "we've decided to try out a reporter whose beat is simply all the content you've been sending in to us - our first Interactive Reporter":

Siobhan Courtney has been with us for a fortnight now and has already scored two major successes - last week she revealed the extent of the initiation rites that students at some British universities undergo. [...]
This week she has spoken to some of the thousands of students who e-mailed us because they have yet to receive their educational maintenance allowances worth up to £30 a week [...]
She's got lots more stories already in the pipeline

As they say, read on and comment at The Editors. Also, ex-BBC News Alf Hermida gives some context at and Peter Brantley at O'Reilly TOC says "this deserves to be pondered."



Ex-Beeber and sometime Internet Blog guest contributor Martin Belam continues his research into how broadcasters and news organisations use social bookmarks with a comparison of how often BBC News content is bookmarked as compared to material from the rest of the BBC website:

Now, of course, the content on the BBC News site is the most likely to lend itself to the kind of social sharing site like Reddit or Newsvine, but it is astonishingly dominant over content appearing on - by a factor of 67 to 1.

Which means that if you're the kind of person who "does" Digg, you can have a tremendous effect on Internet Blog if you and your Digg buddies hammer that Digg link below and guarantee the team here kudos, adulation and the respect of our peers. Game that system! (More seriously, there are some caveats regarding the profile of social bookmarking users and non-UK access to content in this comment by David Thair.)



Red button wizard Andrew Bowden says "so long" to What's On:

I was always really happy with what we produced. Bar the fact that we didn't bother changing the dreadfully brown colour scheme.
Still, all good things must come to an end. But not before a toast.
To What's On.

Andrew also, of course, posts at the BBCi Labs blog.


Finally, Internet Blog was going to provide a summary of the responses to Erik's post about the BBC's use of AIR, but it seems that Irregular Shed has already provided one in a tweet:

BBC announces that they're releasing iPlayer as an Adobe Air application. World cheers/shrugs/boos depending on ideology and/or knowledge.

Alan Connor is co-editor, BBC Internet Blog.

Will You Comment On This Post?

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Tom Van Aardt Tom Van Aardt | 19:24 UK time, Tuesday, 14 October 2008


If you do, you'll use a BBC system called DNA. It powers most of the comments, message boards, forums, blog comments, spaces and other social media applications across


Just think of all the comments on 606, Robert Peston's blog, h2g2, the Archers message board, CBBC boards and many, many more...

On the morning of Thursday October 9th, there was a major code release - three months' worth of updates and fixes were scheduled to go live after extensive testing on the staging server. Usually, releases happen monthly, but due to the Olympics, we didn't release over summer.


The DNA team had planned on rolling out between 7 and 10am, but because of the popularity of Peston's Picks, the blog team felt we couldn't take any chances.

So the developers came in early and took down DNA between 4 and 6am. By 7am, everything was done, the software was back up and everything was working fine. By 10am, all was still well, until the central communities team picked up a minor little problem. Some threads on a single message board were being automatically closed. It wasn't a major problem; rather a minor problem that needed an urgent fix.

Paul and Jay from our communities team ran between their desks and the developer team to try and identify and to isolate the problem. Working closely with Mark and Mark on Martin's DNA developer team, they quickly identified the offending line of code.

Because DNA is used in so many different ways on so many different parts of the BBC website, it's very difficult to set up tests that exactly mimic all the possible different permutations. Very occasionally, a problem will slip through the net.

In less than an hour, the problem was identified and the one line of code was fixed. There were less than 500 threads affected, but they still needed to be reopened. Once again, Paul and the DNA team jumped in and put together a script implementing some of our moderation rules, sort of in reverse, to fix the problem. Shortly after 11am, this was run, and we were back to normal.

Or so we thought.


Sport contacted us saying that a lot of their threads were still closed - the fix had apparently not worked for them. The 606 service is by far the biggest single platform using DNA. Luckily, this turned out to be a caching issue, as we have to cache their boards because they're so big. The cache was cleared and 606 was back to its wild ways.

Not everyone was happy, though, as this unhappy 606 poster posted:

Why am I getting this message, I've been a member since 2006 not yesterday, how is that new 606 has been a complete mess today, sort it out

dna_house_rules.pngAt the end of business on Thursday, it was also clear that we had another problem: the so-called "new user hole". Despite being around for a while, some users were identified as brand new users. This also meant their comments didn't show up immediately, as they were pre-modded in accordance to our house rules.

However, this turned out to affect only 24 users out of all the tens of thousands, and was fixed by close of business on Friday.

By noon on Thursday, members of the DNA team had already put in more than eight hours at the office. The central communities team had helped them to fix all the problems less than two hours after the first issues cropped up.

There was no data loss at any stage, everything was back to normal and the central communities team was just in time for a boring weekly team meeting.

Join in - leave a comment and become a DNA user yourself.

Tom Van Aardt is Communities Editor,

BBC Search refresh: in-depth view

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Andy Webb | 18:13 UK time, Tuesday, 14 October 2008

Hi. I'd like to follow up Matt's post about our new Search pages with a little more explanation of what's going on behind the scenes. This is my first post here - and I'll admit a tendency to witter on about stuff - so please bear with me!

The Search & Navigation team has been responsible for the systems that drive iPlayer's search results page since iPlayer launched, but for the new TV and Radio search feature we wanted to include data about all programmes, not just those that are currently on iPlayer.

programmes_posts.pngFull details of all programmes have been available on the Programmes site for a while, but they've never been searchable before. To enable this new feature, we're supplementing the existing iPlayer data feeds with a new feed from the Programme Information database, PIPs.

PIPs is only available on the BBC's internal network, so we have to replicate all the information we need for Search to our servers in the public-facing "content network".

We poll the "changes" list on PIPs 24 hours a day using a chunky piece of XSLT 2.0 code and push the data into our "Media" Autonomy server farm.

These data are in a hierarchical structure based on entities including masterbrands, services, brands, series, episodes, versions, broadcasts and on-demands. The episode data we're interested in are spread across all of them, so identifying the official "first broadcast" date and titles for an episode is harder than it first appears! (After ten years in the corporate IT world it's been rather refreshing to work with interesting data for the year I've been here!)

At query time, the search engine looks for both iPlayer and PIPs records in its database, giving precedence to the iPlayer record when it finds a pair corresponding to the same episode, and boosting results for more recent programmes.

This means that you should generally see the iPlayer items at the top of the list, followed by "coming up" programmes, followed by older episodes. We had to be careful with the boosting - we don't want to favour iPlayer and/or recent programmes too much, because they might not actually be relevant to your query, despite being more recent.

We're planning to extend this system in the next few weeks to add in other searchable data such as actor and presenter names and also record details of "top level editorial objects" - brands and standalone series - so they can be featured more prominently on the results page.

This release is the culmination of many other individual projects that have been ongoing for the last several months. Here's a brief overview:

Most obviously, we've given the user interface a spring clean, bringing it into line with the new "Visual Language" used across other BBC websites.

We've upgraded all the search servers to the latest version of Autonomy IDOL on brand new servers, migrating a lot of separate indexes spread across various server pools into three pools: Core, Media and Collections. I've lost track of the number of servers used to host the various parts of the Search system - it's easily more than 40 - so this upgrade gives us an welcome opportunity to decommission some venerable old servers that have been giving our Operations team nightmares!

We've improved the text encoding support across the site and in the indexing systems - you should no longer see corrupted UTF-8 characters anywhere.

We've implemented date biasing for results in the main results page - that means that recent content should appear higher up in the results.

We've noticed that people often search for BBC programmes using slightly different spellings to our preferred style, for example "Dr Who" vs the preferred form "Doctor Who". In these cases we search for the preferred style but give the option to search again using the original spelling. This system has previously only been in place on iPlayer search, but we think it's a useful addition across the other scopes.


We have a new Click Through Tracking system. You'll see evidence of that in the links on the first results page presented for each query. It's really useful for us to know which links are being used, so that we can understand how people use the site and improve it over time. Don't worry: we aren't storing any personally-identifiable data.

cbbc_find.pngOne last little thing I'd wanted to do for a long time was to change the search results URL from the dated and purely historical /cgi-bin/search/ to simply /search - this proved to be one of those tasks that initially looks like an easy win, but because the old address is used internally for some specially-handled searches including CBBC Find, it turned out to be gnarlier than we expected!

That's all for now. Please do let us know what you think of the search system - we're here to make it better!

Andy Webb is a Senior Software Engineer in Search & Navigation, BBC Future Media & Technology

The Scourge Of SCART

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Andy Quested Andy Quested | 10:44 UK time, Tuesday, 14 October 2008

I thought it was time to give you a quick update on some of the technical issues that have come up around BBC High Definition over the last couple of months and what has been happening since the Olympics.

We have taken some time to look at a lot of the issues bought up by you and a few of the things I wanted to investigate myself.


The big issue of 5.1 / 2.0 switching. Thanks to everyone commenting on this blog and elsewhere to give feedback while we were trying switching options. It's now working, but not as well as we would like - for example, we still have more work to do before we can move between stereo and surround programmes without having to put silence between them.

When things are changed, then no matter how well you plan there's always something that tries to catch you out. While we where upgrading some of the Dolby equipment, we came across an "interesting" problem - fortunately, it didn't go to air!

Some of you may know that we use Dolby E to move surround sound and metadata through the playout area (and if you read my post about the Eurovision Song Contest, you will know how important the metadata are!).

Dolby E is a frame-based data stream - in other words, it comes in packets timed to the video signal. If any packet is corrupt or mistimed, the whole frame is invalid. Some devices can deal with this, but others don't recognise the corrupted package for what it is and think it's a chunk of PCM audio. A Dolby E packet contains a lot of data and if any device treats it as digital audio, it comes out as a very loud "splat". Fortunately for your ears, it's only around 40ms long - this is, however, somewhat unfortunate for your speakers!

The work to get surround and stereo to work together is still going on and I will update whenever we have more to report.

Picture quality

Danielle talked about some of the quality issues you reported on Friday Night With Jonathan Ross in her What Works Best? post. We have looked at the whole studio, post-production and transmission chain to see what was causing the problems.

There were a couple of processes that made some of the cameras quite noisy: these have now been addressed and last Friday's show (October 3rd) looked a lot better, but we are still trying to find ways to improve the quality across all programmes.

Picture quality issues bring me to another story. I'm sure you are getting used these stories from my previous posting about the thoughts of my daughter - who, by the way, is now officially a stroppy teenager!

Actually, this is about a trip to pick her up from one of her school friends' and getting invited in for a coffee while I waited. "You work for the BBC" was the opening from the other dad - "do you have anything to do with this high definition stuff?". My answer was a bit muted, thinking, "what's next?"! He then said he didn't see what all the hype was about: the pictures were a bit better but nothing to get excited about.

I asked the usual questions about type of TV and how he received HD. As expected, it was a new 50" plasma - quite a nice one actually, and a Sky HD box with the full subscription package. "Come and have a look" - so, shoes off, coffee mug in hand, we go through.

He turned the telly on and, after wincing from the volume of one of the music channels left on by his daughter, we went to the BBC HD channel, which looks - to put it politely - "crap".

Image by Joe Anderson on Flickr under a Creative Commons licence

At this point I had to put down the coffee mug and admit to my job title. The diagnosis took about five seconds - so, trying to look very professional, I reached round the back of the TV and pulled out the SCART lead. After the usual bumps and flashes, the pictures re-established themselves looking like the high definition I would expect.

There was a short "Ah!" and we went back to coffee and chat about the length of time two teenage girls can spend on a phone after they've only just been at school with each other!

This was not the first instant repair I've done and I doubt it will be the last. One of the things I'm always doing is taking TVs out of "Vivid" or "Dynamic" or some other mode that makes the screen hot enough to do toast on. Others changes include setting the contrast and brightness levels to something resembling normal and most important, turning the sharpness down to zero and finally setting all the picture enhancing modes to "off". That usually results in reasonable pictures on any telly and tends to make HD look like HD!

I'm not sure what to do about the SCART lead. It seems to be the biggest single quality filter in the chain, especially as the default setting for the SCART output on many set-top boxes is PAL. My recommendation is not to have them at all, but there are still a lot of devices out there that seem to need them.

Over the next few weeks, we are looking at some new cameras and field recorders: we will keep looking at picture quality issues as they come up and talking to Dolby about a better way to mix 5.1 and 2.0 programmes - please keep letting me know how it sounds at home. I have a Sony AV system, but I need feedback from as many systems as possible.

Also, if you know anyone with a SCART lead connected to their HD set-top box, either pull it out or make sure that the SCART switching menu option is set to "OFF"!

Andy Quested is Principal Technologist, BBC Future Media & Technology.

Digital Media Anywhere

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Erik Huggers Erik Huggers | 13:46 UK time, Monday, 13 October 2008

You may have already read the interview in today's Media Guardian where I lay out my vision for the BBC's digital future.

It should be no surprise that digital media are at the heart of the BBC's online strategy.

Audio/visual is the soul of the corporation and will form the backbone of a vastly improved in the years to come. It's sometimes easy to forget that we have made substantial progress over the last 12 months from a technical and editorial perspective.

The broad adoption of our embedded media player for on-demand short-form, long-form and simulcasting are great examples. Our podcast offering is growing in popularity fast and BBC iPlayer continues to go from strength to strength.

What I am most proud about is the wide variety of internet-connected devices that BBC iPlayer services can accessed on. I am sure you have seen the list somewhere, so I will go straight to what is new.

Today, we are announcing that in partnership with Adobe we are building a platform-neutral download client.

Using Adobe Integrated Runtime (AIR), we intend to make BBC iPlayer download functionality available on Mac, Linux and Windows for the first time later this year. Whatever platform you use, you'll now be able to download TV programmes from the BBC to watch later - on the train, in the garden, or wherever you like.

Given our obligations to rights-holders and the BBC Trust, these programmes are protected with DRM, but in a way that shouldn't affect your enjoyment of our programmes, whatever platform you've chosen.

We are also announcing that in partnership with Coremedia, Intertrust and CMLA, we have already enabled over-the-air iPlayer download functionality for the Nokia N96 mobile phone.

For the BBC, this is a first and yet again shows our continued commitment to give our audiences convenient access to our programmes wherever they are. As other advanced mobile phones become available, we will be looking at making the service available there as well.


While we are making great progress, I wonder if there is a more fundamental way for the BBC to contribute to making "media anywhere" a mass market reality. Getting your favourite programmes on a wide variety of devices is still too difficult for the average consumer. Device makers define what media platform functionality and user experience to support and mostly those are not consistent - which leads to trouble for consumers.

I have asked BBC Research to explore whether we should create/drive an open industry standard for IP-delivered Media On The Go. There is no fixed timeline for the delivery of Research's results at present, but when we have an update we will let you know. In the meantime, I'd be interested to hear what you think.

Erik Huggers is Director, BBC Future Media & Technology.

BBC iPlayer Mobile Downloads & DRM

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Matthew Postgate Matthew Postgate | 13:10 UK time, Monday, 13 October 2008

Mobile BBC iPlayer has been around in various forms since March on the iPhone and iPod touch.

It's proved very popular, yet we've always been aware that by only offering streaming, it misses out on one of the key use cases of mobile and portable devices - offline playback of programmes on planes, trains etc.

The Nokia N96 is the first device we've come across that really ticks all the boxes in terms of having all the features and capabilities we need to offer this: it's got a powerful browser, 3G and WLAN support and, crucially, it supports the OMA DRM 2 specification.

The BBC only has rights to make TV programmes available in iPlayer for a limited number of days after the original broadcast - so, when we provide downloadable programmes, we have to use DRM (Digital Rights Management) technology which ensures that the programme is only available to users on the phone for the allowed number of days.

open_mobile_allaince.pngOMA DRM 2 is such a DRM solution. It was designed a few years ago by the Open Mobile Alliance (the main mobile industry group that creates such things) and has been emerging in phones for the last year or so, now including the Nokia N96.

Until now, it's largely only the mobile operators that have been using it, but in order to provide the download experience we want to offer, we've decided to license the technology and build the server systems necessary to package and distribute our programmes in the OMA DRM 2 format.

As well as enabling us to provide downloadable programmes to the N96, the OMA DRM 2 system is available on a growing number of handsets, and so we expect our investment here to help enable us to provide mobile BBC iPlayer on a range of mobiles.

drm_partners.pngIn order to build the necessary DRM servers, the BBC has taken licenses from three companies: CoreMedia, who provided us with a software development kit which allowed us to build the system in a few short weeks; Intertrust, which is a leading inventor and patent owner of technology in the OMA DRM 2 specification and CMLA (Content Management License Administrator), which is the leading Certificate Authority (CA) and "Root Of Trust" for the OMA DRM 2 system. I think this last one warrants a little more explanation.

On a technical level, the OMA DRM 2 system uses a certificate system similar to that used in SSL and other secure communication systems to identify the various parties involved in the download of DRM content to a phone (device model, device manufacturer, content distributor, CA etc).

The certificates provided by CMLA are preinstalled on the phones and integrated with our server system, and this allows each party to identify each other and confirm that the certificate is genuine and issued by CMLA - and, crucially, the server and phone are able to check the other party's certificates status with CMLA to determine whether the certificate is still trusted. This is the essence of "trust" in a DRM system.

The content creators and owners "trust" CMLA to manage the certificate status of devices and service providers like us so that, should a device implementation become compromised, or a service provider go "bad", they can be taken out of the system easily and without any explicit action by any other party (e.g. the BBC).

There is a lot more subtlety, complexity and technical detail underneath the surface in this topic. Interested readers will find more detail on the internet.

Matthew Postgate is Controller, BBC Mobile.

Interesting Stuff 2008-10-13: Erik Huggers Feature

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Nick Reynolds Nick Reynolds | 09:20 UK time, Monday, 13 October 2008

081013mediacover.jpgToday's Media Guardian contains an extensive interview feature with FM&T director Erik Huggers, including many interesting nuggets and quotes:

If you look at what the heart of the BBC is about, it's about creative storytelling and editorial. But it started out as an engineering organisation. Lord Reith was more of an engineer at heart than he was a creative programmer... the message I've been pushing is that only if we find a way to get creative programme-makers partnering with creative engineers will we be able to do unique things.

Nick Reynolds is editor, BBC Internet Blog.

BBC iPlayer & N95: Update

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Matthew Postgate Matthew Postgate | 16:20 UK time, Friday, 10 October 2008

Since we launched BBC iPlayer on the N96, I've seen a number of blog posts describing how the widget can be used on other Symbian series 60 devices (like the N95). At the moment, using the widget on devices other than the N96 is not supported - something we have been very clear about.

I can reassure andibeeb that this is not because the BBC has any kind of deal with Nokia to promote some types of phones over others. It is because we have not yet got the user experience on other devices to a point we are happy with.

While the mobile version of is a service that works across the broadest possible range of devices (even down to WML 1.0 browsers), Mobile BBC iPlayer is designed to be a much richer proposition. We have had to work very hard to get the level of user experience we are happy with and at the moment we have only been able to create that level of experience on the Nokia N96 and the Apple iPhone. The N96 improves on previous S60 devices in a number of ways like screen size and memory capacity, but one of the most important upgrades is with the way it integrates the browser and media player applications.

Photo of N96 advertising hoading courtsey of Jason DaPonte

Previous handsets do not automatically carry the browser's current network connection settings over to the phone's media player. As a result, you could select Wi-Fi on the browser, but without knowing it end up watching streams over 3G connections. This could lead to you getting bigger bills than you were expecting.

Looking at how we could support legacy devices is one of the things that the team is working on at the moment and was something we have been looking at for a while but we have not cracked it yet. As I said in my original post, we want to introduce support for other devices as soon as we can and I will post more when we have some news.

Mathew Postgate is Controller, Mobile, BBC Future Media & Technology

Freesat Radio

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Andrew Bowden Andrew Bowden | 11:28 UK time, Friday, 10 October 2008

At some point in the 1990s, the BBC ran a series of on-air promotions, telling viewers what this brave new world of digital was all about. A series of TV and radio stars told us that soon all programmes would be made in widescreen, and that we'd be able to see as well as hear radio.

Anyone who has listened to the radio via their Virgin Media or Freeview box will already be seeing their radio - and on Tuesday 30 September, we launched our first radio service on the Freesat platform too.


Read more and comment at the BBCi Labs Blog.

Andrew Bowden is Senior Producer, TV Platforms Team, BBC Future Media & Technology.

Interesting Stuff 2008-10-09

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Alan Connor | 16:00 UK time, Thursday, 9 October 2008

Robin Goad, research director at Hitwise, has managed to create the only graph so far depicting the credit crunch where the lines go up:

internet searches for robert peston


mr_darcy.jpgMatt Asay responds enthusiastically at cnet's Open Road to the possibilites conjured up by the idea of openness:

The BBC is now considering making that content available to the world, not merely to be seen but also to be modified and re-distributed in new and exciting ways. Think about that. The BBC has helped to create some of the world's most iconic programming, from Monty Python to Pride and Prejudice.
Remixing Mr. Darcy? I can't wait.



New Department Time at FM&T! It's a technical group "to ensure that audiences receive the best service possible when taking part in BBC programmes":

The creation of the Interactive Technical Advice and Contracts Unit (ITACU) is part of the BBC's comprehensive plan to address important issues which arose from serious editorial breaches on the BBC last year, many involving interactive votes, competitions and the use of Premium Rate Telephony.

More from Alex Farber at New Media Age and James Welsh at Digital Spy.



Rain Ashford of BBC Backstage blogs Ian Forrester's presentation about the Future of Technology Conference and the Google Code Jam.


Dan Taylor plays around with the refreshed BBC search, as does Ryan Morrison.


toby_foster100.jpgAnd finally, if you missed Audio & Music tech chief James Cridland's breakfast-time spot on BBC South Yorkshire's Radio Sheffield talking to Toby Foster about targeted online advertising - and if you haven't read the notes he prepared - you can listen to the piece here [5.3Mb mp3 | 07min37sec].

Alan Connor is co-editor, BBC Internet Blog.

BBC iPlayer goes portable

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Anthony Rose Anthony Rose | 14:45 UK time, Wednesday, 8 October 2008

As part of our ongoing mission to make BBC iPlayer available on more devices, I'm pleased to announce that BBC iPlayer TV programmes can now be downloaded to portable media players that are able to support Windows Media-protected content.

Of course, BBC radio downloads and podcasts have been portable to different devices for sometime - just point your device to and you'll get a version for iPod/iPhone, for Sony PSP and for some Nokia phones. But this is the first time that you can play BBC iPlayer TV programmes on a range of portable media devices.

Supported devices

So far, we've tested BBC iPlayer on:
• Sony Walkman E and S series
• Archos 605 WIFI and Internet Media Tablet
• Philips GoGear 52xx series
• Samsung YP-P2 and YP-Q1
• Nokia N96
See full list of devices on which iPlayer is available.

The new Walkman is tiny - which could be useful if you watch programmes on public transport, while the larger GoGear has a big, bright display.

These devices do not have internet connectivity, so we're talking about a download rather than a streaming experience. What both these devices have in common is that they support Windows Media Protected playback - that is, they support Windows DRM for portable devices, which allows us to make our programmes available for download on them.

These devices are not the only devices that support Windows Media Protected playback - others do as well, but we've tested BBC iPlayer on these devices and are happy with the user experience.

As an aside, working out whether a device supports Windows Media Protected playback may require some research on the part of the consumer. There's a bewildering number of similar-looking devices with different capabilities available in shops, and it can be hard to tell which formats are supported by any given portable media player. The packaging usually has some vague wording like "Plays your music and video downloads, including MP3 and WMV", but often doesn't specify whether the device supports Windows DRM, which is required for playing back BBC iPlayer programmes.

If you're buying a portable media player and would like a model that allows you to play BBC iPlayer programmes on it, we have made a web page, Where To Get BBC iPlayer, where you can get a list of the model numbers of tested BBC iPlayer-compatible devices. Those on this list have been tested by the BBC iPlayer team. BBC iPlayer may work on devices which are not on the list - if the device packaging mentions "PlaysForSure", that's a good sign. We'll update the list as we test more devices.

If you're a device manufacturer and you don't see your device listed, please contact us - we'll then test your device and if compatible, add it to the list.

Downloading programmes to your portable media player

Downloading BBC iPlayer programmes to your portable media player is easy: simply go to on your PC, find your programme, and select the Download for Media Players option.


Save the downloaded programme to your desktop (or any other suitable location), plug your media player into your PC, and drag the programme to your media player. Easy.

This process is known as "sideloading" - you download the content to your computer, then sideload it to a device plugged into a USB port.

We've worked hard to make the process as easy as possible - there's no software to install; you just download the file and copy it to your media player. It should be no more difficult than copying photos from your digital camera to your computer. You can also use Windows Media Player to automatically sync downloaded files to your media player for you.

Currently, sideloading is available for Window Media DRM-compatible devices only, which also means that you'll need to do the download from a Windows PC. For our Mac and Linux users, don't despair: we have another release coming up very soon, aimed at improving your BBC iPlayer options - stay tuned for updates...

Technical details

For those interested in the technical details, we now encode all BBC iPlayer programmes in an additional file format (320x180 pixels 500Kbps video, 128Kbps 48KHz sampling audio, WMV file format) suitable for this class of portable media players.

Read the rest of this entry

BBC Search: iPlayer and /programmes included

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Matthew McDonnell | 18:44 UK time, Tuesday, 7 October 2008


Take a look at the latest version of the BBC's search service.

For the first time, relevant BBC TV and radio programmes are included in your search results alongside news articles, other BBC web pages and links to external websites.

About a third of the most popular searches on the BBC seach engine are for programmes. While selected programme websites have always been available in search, you will now find two new types of results:

• programmes that you can watch or listen to in BBC iPlayer

programmes_posts.png• and episode pages for all programmes broadcast on radio or television in the last eighteen months (since we began /programmes our new approach to publishing programme information).

Most of these episode pages will not let you watch or listen to programmes, but you can read about that episode's storyline and cast, and in the future these pages will contain richer information including clips, like this.

The search results pages have also taken on the new BBC style and we are experimenting with new ways of displaying the results. I think it looks great - let us know your thoughts.

I am going to post about this in more depth in a couple of weeks - once we have some performance figures and feedback.

This is the first of a series of planned improvements to search in the next few months, so any observations from you are very welcome indeed.

And for anyone who wants a more in-depth view of how BBC site search works, one of our senior software engineers, Andy Webb, will be posting in a couple of days.

Matthew McDonnell works in Search & Navigation, Online Media Group, BBC Future Media & Technology.

Interesting Stuff 2008-10-06

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Alan Connor | 12:42 UK time, Monday, 6 October 2008

how_to_save_the_bbc.jpgThe Media section of The Guardian holds over today's front page - and pages two and three - for puzzling out How To Save The BBC.

Polly Toynbee gives an overview; Owen Gibson and Maggie Brown look at regulation and the BBC Trust; Owen Gibson and Richard Wray look at co-operation; Emily Bell looks at an aggregational platform and, most pertinent to BBC Internet Blog, Jemima Kiss has a piece called The BBC Can Be An Open Source For All Of UK plc which quotes our blogger-in-residence Steve Bowbrick and current BBC internet controller Tony Ageh on the BBC's twin roles as programme maker and distributor:

There must be a way to achieve both of these outcomes, without harming the BBC, that would massively increase the viability of some SMEs and invigorate the entire UK ecosystem. Given what's going on in the world, this would be a very good time for such an injection of resources and support.

Stephen Brook also seeks your views.


Image by James Enck from Flickr

Telecom analyst James Enck went to "HD Online: Can it be a Commercial Reality?" at Bafta:

There followed two very interesting presentations, by Anthony Rose and Andy Quested from the BBC. Anthony Rose seemed to express fatigue with the iPlayer bandwidth debate, and stated his hope that the industry could now move on to consider issues around ISP incentivization and monetization.



Mike at SocialRovr crunches some BBC subscriber numbers and asks whether YouTube is "atrocious at serving news content in an intelligible way":

Yet it's equally certain that what is presented through YouTube, the de facto leader in varietal Web video, is not grabbing much traction. At least not the sort of traction and recognition that stalwarts like the BBC and AP and others tend to register in the minds of consumers.


electric_proms08.pngCharlotte McEleny writes at New Media Age about "an online teaser to promote a documentary to be shown at the BBC Electric Proms":

The BBC Electric Proms aims to support new music filmmaking and this year has also commissioned three short films inspired by music tracks from Wild Beasts, XX Teens and Roots Manuva.


Journalism student Rob Wells discerns a direct tone in one of the Beeb's redirect URLs:

screengrab of a tweet which quotes the BBC as saying 'There's more on the BBC website, at the usual address ('  and comments 'Nothing like being blunt'



Internet Blog would like to wish a happy birthday to the Beeb's Indian Ocean relay station:

Launched in October 1988, and currently run on behalf of BBC World Service by VT Communications, the station is transmitting BBC World Service programmes on shortwave to an estimated audience of up to nine million listeners across East Africa.

[For more detail, the BBC press office has a handy list called BBC In The Seychelles: Noteworthy Dates.]


Finally, a plea from Folie A Deux:

Please people, don't try and fill your time reading the BBCs Internet Blog. Its boring, and to read it I'd need a grey suit and a desk with files on it.

Well, it's a big internet and other technology-focused accountability weblogs are available. Are you still here?

Not that we're caving into these demands, but as a public service, here is the Electric Proms video referred to above:

Alan Connor is co-editor, BBC Internet Blog.

OpenID Foundation Meeting: what is OpenID today?

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Zac Bjelogrlic | 17:00 UK time, Friday, 3 October 2008

Earlier this year, Jem Stone blogged that the BBC had joined the OpenID Foundation.

And a week ago, the BBC hosted a meeting of the OpenID Foundation Content Provider Advisory Committee in New York.

I was there, among the BBC people and participants from major media companies. This was the first time that we had participation from a wide collection of companies interested in the possibilities of OpenID.

There is more detail about the meeting at the Foundation's blog.

The committee gathered quite a selection of companies interested in understanding how web audiences can benefit from OpenID and where it fits into the business of a media or content company.


So what is OpenID?

The concept is simple.

OpenID eliminates the need for multiple usernames across different websites, simplifying your online experience. It's based on a federated approach and relatively simple standards. Open source solutions are available for both providers and consumers.

While the original protocol for Open ID was developed in 2005, significant changes happened only last year. Big internet players like Yahoo!, MySpace, AOL, Google as well as telecoms like Orange and Telecom Italia joined the fray and are now offering OpenIDs to users. They are "identity providers".

Participants at the OpenID Foundation Content Provider Advisory Committe meeting

By the end of September 2007, over 22,000 sites were accepting OpenID logins.

However, as you may note from the numbers above, the landscape is unbalanced: there are a few big providers and myriad small consumers. Only bloggers and a few social sites show a balanced model where sites are providers and consumers at the same time.

There's a strong sense of momentum, but it needs a slightly more critical approach.

On paper, there are hundreds of millions of OpenID-enabled users. In practice, these are potential users and few of them even know that OpenID exists. Figures on the real adoption rate are not easy to obtain and the precise profile of initial users is even more difficult.

At first glance, it would be easy to define OpenID as just a geek's wave - a phenomenon limited to a small proportion of web-savvy people actively participating on different blogs or present in multiple social spaces. And the cynical might say that the big internet players' participation is an identity landgrab - taking part in OpenID in case something significant develops.

For average users, the OpenID user experience is still very poor, for two main reasons:

  • First, you can be redirected from one website (the one accepting the identifier) to a different domain (that of the provider) and then returned to the first. This is confusing for an average user, especially if different wording, layout and styles are used. The attribute exchange part of the OpenID protocol works: it's a good idea to exchange the registration parameters and to simplify steps at the receiving site. However, if implemented badly (or not implemented at all), it adds even more confusion to the journey. The confusion also adds a weak point where scammers and phishers can jump in.
  • Second, all users are familiar with the username and password as the login paradigm. Suddenly using URLs, like, may be difficult for a mainstream user to understand.
    (However, the so-called "Generation @", which uses instant messaging and social spaces as well as traditional email, is aging, and so the main audience segments will be people used to representing themselves with the URL of a blog, MySpace profile or Flickr account).

Security is also not at the level that I (and the BBC) want to see. With improvements around the corner, this will improve. But more complex problems are responsibility and liability in the case of misuse. Who is responsible in a fully federated system?

Let's return to my first question. Where is the value for our audience and where is the business case for a media company?

It is difficult to give a precise answer today, but two aspects are emerging.

  • First, an OpenID ecosystem that is simple to use and which allows sharing of user attributes would help with the migration of users from site to site. This can be a simple way to offer progressive services and content to new users.
  • Second, OpenID can be used to make participation in social features much wider. Participation can be opened up as much as possible to avoid limiting it to a single social site.

This is how OpenID is used for commenting across different blogging systems and at Radio Pop, the social radio site that's the BBC's first OpenID prototype.


So what's the value for audiences?

• Better personalised or localised services without the burden of full registration

• An "appetiser" before accessing the full menu of services

• More freedom to pick a social site and "be yourself" independently of the web platform used

And what would businesses and media providers get out of OpenID?

• Better user acquisition rate and lower cost per user

• Wider user base for social features and more space to develop viral effects

• More flexibility in making agreements with social sites

Of course, the high figures of potential OpenID users must be matched with the real adoption rate and the demographics of "Generation @".

What can the BBC and others do, in addition to watching from the coast what's happening in the OpenID ocean?

Here are some simple possibilities:

• Work on best practice shared among providers and consumers.

• Improve radically the user experience and simplify it to so that it is more intuitive and easier for mainstream users - the user experience is shared and needs to be modified in co-operation between providers and consumers

• Share basic registration data, with the explicit approval of the user. Email and date of birth are essential and other data desirable. This is a core point for any content provider to become a consumer of OpenID.

• Work on common presentation and explanation of OpenID - part of the BBC's mission to "educate" - to make people ready for Internet of today and tomorrow...

An informal working group and a simple prototype or pilot applications is probably the best way to continue the work.

It's important that this is shared among providers and media companies so that all aspects of the OpenID ecosystem can be tested and improved.

How do you think OpenID could be improved and how do you think it could be used?

What do you think the BBC should do?

Please do leave a comment.

Zac Bjelogrlic is Programme Manager, BBC Future Media & Technology.

Interesting Stuff 2008-10-03

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Nick Reynolds Nick Reynolds | 11:55 UK time, Friday, 3 October 2008

James Cridland's post on bit rates, radio streaming and Coyopa on Radio Labs has provoked what Bill McLaren might call some "argy bargy". digitalradiotech says:

Let's get this straight: what I'm asking for here is that the BBC should provide *the same* quality on its live Internet radio streams as most of the big UK commercial radio stations have been using for their Internet streams for almost 2 years now - i.e. using a bit rate of 128 kbps. And you're actually trying to suggest that it's me that's being unreasonable? Get real.

Commercial radio's Nick Piggott (who recently spoke at a conference with James) responds:

Despite GCap Media being the largest commercial radio operator in the UK, the overall streaming volumes are significantly lower than those of the BBC, so the overall bandwidth requirements (both peered and transit) are far lower. The audience is predominately based in the UK, which means it's realistic to peer directly with ISPs who account for the vast majority of the traffic.... Secondly, the streams are only available in Microsoft Windows Media format at 128kbit/s, and use Microsoft's own Intelligent Streaming technology to automatically scale to the available bandwidth. This means that devices that are unaware of Intelligent Streaming (including many WiFi radios) can only receive a 32kbit/s stream, as will Windows Media Player if it determines that network conditions are unreliable.

What to do about broadband? If this is a question you ponder, read this from the Register.

Last week, I went to a fascinating presentation in the very bowels of Broadcasting House: research on Fan Cultures in radio online and it's great to see it being showcased on the BBC Radio Labs blog.

BBC Global News (and BBC World Service) has announced plans for many more YouTube channels.

Rain Ashford from BBC Backstage (and blogged by our blogger-in-residence Steve Bowbrick) reports back from Nesta's "Art of Innovation" event.

Deceptive Resolution has an idea about the BBCiPlayer. mloughran at getsatisfaction has another.

And despite the fact that viewing is a little restricted, Chris Plowman is still pleased (NB: content linked to contains very strong language).

Nick Reynolds is editor, BBC Internet Blog (and he's not sure yet about the new series of Heroes).

Fan cultures in radio (3) - TOGs or "This Ordinary Group"

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Tristan Ferne | 14:50 UK time, Thursday, 2 October 2008

This week we are publishing a series of short posts from researchers who have been studying the online behaviours of listeners and fans of BBC radio. Today's post comes from Matt Hills and Amy Luther, of Cardiff University, who have been researching the TOGs ("Terry's Old Gals/Geezers")...

TOGs - "This Ordinary Group" - Official and Unofficial Listener Activities around Wake Up to Wogan

Our part of the project looked at online listener engagement of a very specific kind: fans of celebrity DJs. We focused on an off-BBC case study: "Terry's Old Gals/Geezers", or TOGs, the loyal audience contributing (additional) wit and wisdom to Wake Up To Wogan (WUTW).

We analysed material in the public domain at and interviewed a number of TOGs. We rapidly discovered two things...

Read more and at the BBC Radio Labs blog.

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

BBC Archive: Francis Bacon, Men, Women And Clothes

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Jim Sangster | 12:30 UK time, Wednesday, 1 October 2008

It was an interview with Peter Cook in the late 1970s that first alerted the British public to the fact that the BBC archives do not contain every programme ever made by the corporation.

Viewers in the early '70s objected strongly to repeats of black and white shows when they were paying for a colour TV licence, but less than a decade later, the advent of the home video recorder led to a change of attitude: suddenly, those old monochrome programmes were of interest - and loads of them had now been wiped to make room for new programmes.

You can hear more about this from our archive expert, Adam Lee:

I mention this because, considering the archive policies of most British broadcasters at the time (yes, some ITV companies wiped programmes too), it's often amazing to discover which programmes were kept - and find programmes that few people even knew had ever existed.

what_we_wore.jpgRecently, the BBC Archive web team launched two collections of programmes via our web site. For What We Wore, we unearthed the BBC's first ever full colour TV series, made a decade before anyone else could even see colour TV.

As well as being a landmark production in TV terms, Men, Women And Clothes took a trip through time to explore the fashions of the previous two hundred years. And thanks to someone putting their address book to good use, the series boasts an impressive cast of stars of the day, including Dora Bryan, Ron Moody, Benny Hill and the Redgrave family, who act as models for the costumes.

francis_bacon.jpgWhile researching our other recent collection, Francis Bacon at the BBC, we found a pilot - a test programme made to show the TV commissioners what a full series might be like.

In this item, Francis Bacon talks in his inimitable way about the history of art and artists, and the interview concludes with both Francis and the interviewer, Julian Jebb, reaching for their cigarettes and lighting up. Why this edition was kept, yet others from the series that followed were junked, we might never know.

The Francis Bacon collection was an interesting test case in itself. It involved a lot of negotiation with the people at the Design & Artists Copyright Society (DACS) as well as with Tate Britain and the Francis Bacon Estate.

It also meant a lengthy selection process as we whittled down an initial wishlist of 30 or more programmes into a more manageable ten.

Due to various rights issues, some programmes fell by the wayside fairly quickly. We discovered that an edition of Arena from 1984 was actually a film made by an American company and bought in - the only bits the BBC owned were the opening title sequence and the end credits.

An earlier programme, Fragments Of A Portrait, contained a short clip from the Russian cinema classic Battleship Potemkin, which we were unable to clear the rights to show as part of the programme (a painful but necessary edit to the sequence allowed us to include the programme in this collection).

While many people, even within the BBC, assume that the BBC (and by extension the public) owns everything in its archives, it's often disappointing and frustrating to discover how rare that's actually the case.

We might own the physical tape, but the broadcast rights involve the writer, the performers, musicians, sporting bodies and other broadcasters. But every now and then, among the stuff we do own, we find such gems as Benny Hill, smirking away while sporting a variety of facial hair arrangements through the ages.


While there are plenty of opportunities to catch more familiar programmes like Doctor Who or Blackadder through DVDs or repeats on cable, it's forgotten gems like this that make the archive such a surprising place to explore.

Jim Sangster is an Assistant Content Producer, BBC Archive and is an author and broadcaster. His own appearances in the BBC archive include appearances on Pure 24, Call The Cops and as a question setter for a specialist subject round on Mastermind.

Fan cultures in radio (2)

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Tristan Ferne | 11:40 UK time, Wednesday, 1 October 2008

As I mentioned yesterday, this week we will be publishing a series of short posts from researchers who have been studying the online behaviours of listeners and fans of BBC radio. The first post comes from Bethany Klein, now of the University of Leeds, who has been researching behaviour on the messageboards of Radio 1 and Radio 2...

Contrasting Interactivities: BBC Radio Message Boards as an Extension of and Break from Radio's History of Listener Participation

A case study of BBC radio message boards was conducted in order to explore the relationship between 'new' interactivity, like online fora, and radio's long history of encouraging listener feedback and participation.

Read more and comment at the BBC Radio Labs blog.

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

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