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iPlayer Day: Series stacking on Virgin Media

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Gideon Summerfield Gideon Summerfield | 15:24 UK time, Friday, 12 December 2008

I am very happy to announce the launch of some exciting new functionality for BBC iPlayer on cable TV.

All 3.4 million digital cable customers who already get BBC iPlayer pumped directly into their TV screens at no extra cost can now make use of "Series Catch Up".


Series Catch Up means that multiple episodes of a selection of the BBC's TV series will remain available until 7 days after we broadcast the final episode in the series; rather than the standard one week window for other programmes on iPlayer.

If you discover a great TV series part way through there's now no reason to let the whole series pass you by. We've all done it - personally I'm still kicking myself over Life on Mars.

BBC iPlayer on cable TV is already very successful. Even with a much smaller universe of users than broadband PCs, it accounts for a third of all iPlayer TV views (11.7m in September).

If you have Virgin Media TV and want to try it out- just press Red while on a BBC channel; select BBC iPlayer from the Red Button index (which we call "The Bridge"); then choose "Series Catch Up" from the BBC iPlayer Home Page/Categories List.

Selecting one of the series from the list of those currently being "stacked" (the industry jargon for this sort of service) will reveal all the episodes available on iPlayer.

I know its only one function. And I know it has been available on the online version of the iPlayer for a few months now but for the BBC iPlayer on TV team, it's a major achievement.

Development for TV platforms is a much greater challenge than for the PC. The set-top boxes (STBs) that run our Red Button stuff are made for linear TV and there's not much power to drive anything else. PCs, by contrast, are powerful, easily upgraded and almost universally support standards like HTML, Javascript and Flash.

If PCs are the Swiss army knives of technology, then all today's humble STB has for interactive media is a toothpick. That limits what we can achieve.

We also rely on a third-party to reach our audiences. In this case the challenge has been to integrate our iPlayer video and metadata encoding and delivery systems with Virgin Media's proprietary back-end video on demand (VOD) engine and extensive cable network.

Virgin and our partner Red Bee Media must also be recognised for their efforts in helping to sync all our systems to make BBC iPlayer on cable TV a reality.

Just because it's hard doesn't mean we should avoid it. The BBC loves a challenge and we know the TV is where most people want to watch VOD. So, we'll keep pushing digital cable as far as we can and pursue other opportunities to get iPlayer to the TV.

You won't hear from us as often as the online iPlayer team but watch this space for more good news in the New Year.

Gideon Summerfield is Products Manager, TV iPlayer, BBC Future Media & Technology


  • Comment number 1.

    Great stuff!

    Now, if you can speed up the availability of each episode after it's broadcast...

  • Comment number 2.

    As you say, watching IPlayer on TV is the intuitive thing to do.

    I'd love to be able to get my Linksys DMA2200 to support iPlayer downloads via Windows Media Center.

    I'm sure it should be able to do it, but I'm probably missing a trick.

    For me, that sounds like a really good place to focus efforts - good integration between iPlayer and Media Center so that it works smoothly on Media Center Extenders.

    Other than that, iPlayer rocks and I especially love it on my iPod touch.

  • Comment number 3.

    Is this really new? I thought that series-stacking had been available on Virgin Media for at least a couple of months. For example, all of the episodes of the current series of the Sarah Jane Adventures were there when I looked earlier that week.

    Oh, perhaps the new "Series Catch-Up" section is new and is just presenting a new face to existing content.

    To be honest, I never use the pretty BBC-iPlayer menus to access the content. They are too slow and the graphics are too distracting. I just use the old-style Virgin Media menus to access all of the iPlayer content.

  • Comment number 4.

    Thanks to you and your team for taking one of those features that "it's obvious you'd want to do" and bringing it to fruition in the real world of compromises and complications. I just wish we could more quickly move to the point where it didn't need a myriad dedicated specialist teams to make common finvtionalitu available across all platforms. You're doing heroic work and I'm hugely grateful for your efforts but there has to be a more joined-up way of making this stuff "just work" in the future.

  • Comment number 5.

    It really doesn't matter what features there are when the content is missing.

    I clicked on the new series link button in the drama section and there were exactly zero series available.

    I don't understand why the TV iPlayer doesn't have the rights to Heroes when the online version does - I know which one I can hack to save a copy and which one I can't!

  • Comment number 6.

    iPlayer on VM is brilliant. Yes, there are the issues with content rights, but I know how underpowered the boxes are having played with the Liberate SDK several years ago.

    Keep up the good work.

  • Comment number 7.

    Nice work, great being able to stack stuff that is pretty useful. I don't use the iPlayer UI on VM though I think it clunky and inferior to the catch up on demand that telewest developed and VM rebranded. Sorry.

    Any idea when you are bringing us HD onto the iPlayer? That is the real biggie.

  • Comment number 8.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.


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