Archives for September 2010

Super Hi Vision (and 3D, and Stereoscopic, and DSLRS) in TC0

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Ant Miller Ant Miller | 16:44 UK time, Thursday, 30 September 2010

Super Hi Vision camera

The Super Hi Vision camera

After years of being mothballed Television Centre's TC0 burst back to life with a bang today as R&D brought together one of the biggest experimental broadcasts in years. BBC Sport asked us to help them demonstrate a selection of the latest broadcast technologies that will be available for the 2012 games, so we have brought in the NHK Super Hi Vision system, stereoscopic 3D, a couple of our own 3D projects, and 6music were using their own rig (plus a few cheekily sited Flips) to capture content for their website. At the height of activity this morning, when own own 'making of' crew, plus BBC Click were on set, there were probably in excess of 25 cameras trained on the band!

Read more and look at lots of lovely pictures at the BBC Research and Development blog

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Freeview scheduling on BBC Red Button - making hard decisions

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John Denton John Denton | 13:01 UK time, Wednesday, 29 September 2010

It's been a while since I last wrote a blog so apologies for that. It's been an incredibly busy time for BBC Red Button as we saw a record number of viewers tuning in for all manner of Sport, Music and Entertainment; we have been taking part in a Service Licence review (more soon) and this year we have begun to focus on how we can take advantage of TVs that are connected to the Internet but more of that for another day.

But whilst we enjoy your great feedback, a large number of your comments received are around the lack of Red Button content on Freeview due to restricted bandwidth on that platform.

We do try to use the capacity available to cater for the widest range of programmes and we have reduced run times of certain programmes to fit in as many services as possible.

Our top priority is major events especially Sport but also events such as Glastonbury, BBC Proms, Chelsea Flower Show, alongside Wimbledon and this year’s World Cup.

Outside of these events decisions are made based on a number of factors including: linear TV schedule, live services with uniquely available content, continuity for on-going and returning services, as well as providing a range of different genres to engage the widest possible audience. I hope you enjoyed these programmes that included for the first time this year; Dragon's Den; Inside the Den; Radio4 Comedy from Edinburgh Festival and Bake Off which taught people how to bake for Children In Need.

In the countdown to 2012, we are also showing a lot more Olympic sports including Youth Olympic Games from Singapore; Paralympics World Swimming, BMX all featured.

When we have to make a choice between different events of the same genre (often the case with sport and music festivals), we aim to offer what we think will be the most popular service based on previous audience figures. At the same time we endeavour to offer unique content and to enhance and not duplicate that already available on linear TV channels.

Occasionally it looks like we are showing the same content on BBC One (or Two etc) as on BBC Red Button but this is when we hand over from those channels to Red Button and we have a cross-over period. Often Red Button will be showing a live stream when BBC One is also showing some of that sport, but we have decided that maintaining one live stream on Red Button even if BBC One is showing some of it is preferable.

So we do agree that when live events are available on Red Button, Freeview viewers do not always receive the same amount of video content as on satellite or cable - although you can watch the same content for free via bbc.co.uk and often BBC iPlayer – but for all other content we aim to make sure it is scheduled on Freeview during the week.

To help viewers find the video content on Freeview, we introduced Electronic Programme Guide information available by pressing ‘i’ on your remote controls when watching a Red Button video or from the Electronic Programme Guide for channel 301. This allows you to record video (if you have a PVR) and also to make a note of times, a feature that is not available on other platforms.

Coming up in the next week is The Commonwealth Games where we will be looking to bring all viewers the very best of this sporting event. I hope you enjoy it.

John Denton is Managing Editor, BBC Red Button

What makes Zeitgeist tick

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Nick Reynolds Nick Reynolds | 10:51 UK time, Wednesday, 29 September 2010

In July I pointed you to a prototype being developed by BBC Research and Development: "Zeitgeist".

Now comes a follow up post from Sean O'Halpin: "What Makes Zeitgeist Tick"

Today we're publishing the full source code of this system under the GNU GPLv3 licence on github at https://github.com/bbcrd/zeitgeist...The system consists of an interface to the Twitter Streaming API which passes tweets to a processing pipeline. The pipeline finds and extracts links to the BBC, resolving shortened and redirected urls... Finally, there's a web interface to present the results to end users, which was written using the well-tested software stack of Sinatra, Thin and nginx, all fronted by a Squid proxy. The Zeitgeist database is mysql, the modelling done using Datamapper.

There's lots more detail and a diagram at the BBC Research and Development blog.

Nick Reynolds is Social Media Executive, BBC Online.

"It's goodbye from me": Round up, 27 September 2010

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Paul Murphy Paul Murphy | 19:03 UK time, Monday, 27 September 2010

Today is my last day as Editor on the BBC Internet blog and I wanted to say goodbye.

It's the job of this blog to share interesting and important things that the BBC's up to in the digital space. But it only works because of the active participation of the blog's community engaging and asking questions. Keep up the good work.

In the time that I've been here there have been lots of good things on the blog and interesting conversations on other websites that we've linked to on BBC Internet blog's delicious feed (also available via Twitter). Here are a few we featured on delicious recently:

On the Online Journalism Blog Paul Bradshaw criticises BBC news stories for happily quoting data but not linking to the data itself or publish it in full:

"In the world of print and broadcast, narrowing a story to fit space was a regrettable limitation of the medium; in the online world, linking to your sources is a fundamental quality of the medium. Not doing so looks either ignorant or arrogant."

*

Visual designer Paul Robert Lloyd is an enthusiast for the BBC News redesign:

"There is often talk of there being no landmark design on the web. I’m going to stick my neck out, and suggest it won’t be long before BBC News Online is considered one of the greatest design icons online today."

*

It was announced last week that Project Canvas will be called YouView. Martin Belam wrote:

"Whilst most people have concerned themselves with whether the YouView logo is a little too close to Star Wars for comfort, personally I'm delighted to see that, as a project involving the BBC, the new website homepage has obeyed Currybet's Law."

*

BBC iPlayer is now available on more and more devices such as Sony's new TVs.

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A recent FOI request for some iPlayer bandwidth info has been answered.

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There’s a new kid on the BBC blogging block in the shape of the BBC Radio blog.

Paul Murphy was the Editor of the BBC Internet blog.

What's on BBC Red Button 25th September - 8th October

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Lisa Dawson Lisa Dawson | 16:06 UK time, Monday, 27 September 2010

Commonwealth Games Multiscreen

 

Commonwealth Games

BBC Sport's Red Button service will offer up to six live streams of live action from the Commonwealth Games in Delhi each day from October 3rd-14th, with Freeview offering one extra stream on top of the BBC One/Two coverage.  Live coverage starts at around 3am most days and finishes at around 6pm.
Full replays and highlights packages of selected events will be available after live coverage has ended each day.
Additionally in the build-up to the Games, from Sunday 26th September Sky, Virgin and Freesat viewers can watch a special preview programme.

Sky/Virgin/Freesat:
Build-up from Sun 26th September, 4.15pm
Opening Ceremony Replay from Sun 3rd October, 5.30pm
Live Coverage from Mon 4th October, 4am

Freeview: Live Coverage from Mon 4th October, 4am
Please refer to the BBC Sport website for full schedule details.

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Some insights into how people use BBC iPlayer

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Alison Button Alison Button | 19:42 UK time, Friday, 24 September 2010

The BBC iPlayer launched at Christmas 2007, and in 2008 we conducted our first survey of users.

Unsurprisingly the people who picked up on BBC iPlayer the quickest were most likely to be male, 40-ish, affluent, with a partner but no kids - a classic ‘early adopter’ profile.

It’s a different picture now. Nearly as many women use the BBC iPlayer website as men, and the age profile is similar to that of all internet users.

Women: 43 %
Men: 57%

Age Groups
15-34 44%
35-54 37%
55+ 20%

Obviously the service and viewing platforms have changed hugely in this time too. You can watch together as a family on a big screen, on Virgin Media, through games consoles, down to palm sized devices.  We’ve looked in depth at the way people use BBC iPlayer now. Here are three of the big themes.

Weekends are different
TV viewing on BBC iPlayer is most popular at weekends, when people can watch at any time. Sundays are when the service is used most, particularly on Virgin Media and Nintendo Wii devices. Programmes like Doctor Who have encouraged Sunday use as people catch up.


Apple devices are also used more on Sundays - with a peak at 8am as well as in the evening. For radio listening, which is nearly all through computers, weekend usage is low.


But for handheld devices the listening pattern is more like TV viewing with higher figures at weekends, particularly for sport. Radio 5 live typically makes up about one in seven live stream requests, but on weekend afternoons it can deliver more than 40 percent.

Using the iPlayer for family TV moments
When BBC iPlayer launched on PlayStation 3 last autumn, some of the programmes which did best reflected a young, male audience, as expected given the user profile. This is still true to some extent, with Top Gear and BBC Three comedy still high up the list, and PS3 viewing happening later into the night than average.

However, there is also now a decidedly family viewing flavour to the list of titles, with children’s programmes and pre-watershed films also present.

We think this means PS3s are moving from teenager bedrooms to the living room joining the Nintendo Wii boxes. Viewing through the Wii shows clear skews towards children’s programmes, pre-watershed drama and family films, implying that either the family are watching together or iPlayer is the new incarnation of CBBC babysitting.


Between them, Nintendo Wii and PS3 boxes deliver nearly 10 percent of all programme requests to iPlayer.

Live streaming events
Requests for live streams are very stable. Just over 70 percent of radio programmes accessed were live streams particularly sport coverage, and Radios 1 and 2. The most catch-up requests tended to be for Radio 4 comedy (particularly from the David Mitchell fan club).


For TV, only eight percent of programmes viewed on iPlayer were live and most TV viewing is still done on a computer. We think this is partly because most people would rather watch TV on a big screen, plus many aren’t aware you can watch live TV on the iPlayer.


However the World Cup, Wimbledon and Glastonbury together all boosted live tv viewing. In June, 14 percent of all tv programmes watched on iPlayer were live streams, up from eight percent.

Unsurprisingly, the England matches were the most watched events. Records were broken on a whole range of devices and platforms, and now more people have used this feature it will be interesting to see how it grows.

Alison Button is Audience Research Manager in MC&A.

August BBC iPlayer monthly performance pack

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Paul Murphy Paul Murphy | 10:30 UK time, Friday, 24 September 2010

It's that time again. Here's the August 2010 BBC iPlayer Press Pack. And these are the highlights from the BBC iPlayer press team:

  • In total the BBC iPlayer received 119 million requests for programmes across all platforms in August 2010, including both online platforms and devices and BBC iPlayer on Virgin Media TV. Requests are much higher than August 2009 with 70 million requests for TV programmes and 28 million for radio programmes, whilst requests on Virgin Media were up to 21 million.
  • BBC iPlayer’s most requested title in August was Top Gear, with episode 6 attracting over 1 million requests.  Sherlock and documentary Madness In The Fast Lane also delivered strongly, as did the BBC Three Adult Season.  For radio, Fry’s English Delight attracted the most requests, followed by football and Test Match Special.
  • Live TV viewing via the BBC iPlayer dropped back again this month to the level seen before the start of the World Cup.

Download the August 2010 BBC iPlayer Press Pack .

Paul Murphy is the Editor of the BBC Internet blog.

Changes to BBC Message Boards: Update

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David Williams | 09:20 UK time, Friday, 24 September 2010

I thought I'd just give a short update following my last post about message boards.

I will try and make this as free from jargon or 'techie' speak as possible, even though this is the internet blog, where we occasionally get a bit 'geeky'.

I'm not going to deny there are some bugs that need fixing or there are some extra features you'd like to see.

In the release deployed on Wednesday we delivered a number of fixes:

· Fixed an issue with link (url) translation.

· Increased security by preventing the submission of malicious code in posts.

· Tidied up some general formatting issues in posts.

This release is half way through our current sprint and there are more items being worked on presently.

I'd also like to point out my team isn't just working on messageboards. We're a small team that has many projects to work on. In addition to the messageboards we provide the comments on blogs, moderation tools and backend services to manage complaints, services for BBCiPlayer social features, 606 and h2g2 articles and forums.

We're also working on a significant project involving data mining/business intelligence technology that will allow us to have more detailed insights into how moderation works across all the BBC's social media services.

Additionally we are looking at various ways we can enable search across messageboards and blog comments. I'm not just talking about the Food or Archers messageboard, this is across all user generated text content across the whole BBC.

Originally we had this feature and it worked well when the scale of user contribution was small. As this has scaled up it has become an interesting challenge for us.

Indexing dynamic content compared to statically published pages is a real challenge. We have multiple levels of caching to prevent us being overwhelmed by search engines (bbc.co.uk receives 10% of UK internet traffic) and to stop them killing our ability to deliver content (and we also prevent spiders/web crawlers visiting us), so to enable search on our 250 GB database isn't a small feat.

It's something we are tackling though, and we need to find a solution that is cost effective for the license fee payer and can be supported across the various services live operation so it's as reliable as possible.

David WIlliams is Product Manager, BBC FM&T Social

Improvements to Wildlife Finder

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Tom Scott | 18:05 UK time, Thursday, 16 September 2010

On Wildlife Finder we have always strived to continuously improve the site - since the launch last September we have released improvements to the site every couple of weeks.

Because we deploy new code with new or improved features every two weeks each release has been relatively minor, meaning there are incremental improvements to the site rather than radical redesigns. Of course all those little steps have now built into significant changes to the site that launched last year.

Screenshot of Wildfife finder

The new Wildlife Finder

For example, the site now boasts 'character pages' such as Titus and Echo; pages about the wildlife in specific places, such as Africa, the Himalayas or the UK and for the technical minded the content is also available as RDF/XML.

And of course the content has continued to grow and we are rapidly approaching 2,000 clips covering around 742 animals, 48 plants and a few fungi. Plus there are 107 different animal and plant behaviour and adaptation pages covering everything from tool use in animals to pack hunting and courtship display and 59 marine, freshwater and terrestrial habitats and the worlds major ecozones.

We also try to introduce the natural world in different, less scientific ways through our themed video collections like the popular Timelapse: speeding up life collection; David Attenborough's favourite moments or Going, Going, Gone.

Screenshot of Going going gone

The Going, Going, Gone collection

And increasingly more and more of those clips are both embeddable on your site and available outside the UK where we can secure the rights to do so.

However, sometimes changes are difficult or at least inefficient to implement in small steps. Recently we've had a couple of those.

The BBC is in the process of rolling out a new Global Visual Language and the more wide-reaching Global Experience Language (GEL) that it's part of. A few weeks ago we finished the work of "gelling" Wildlife Finder. The development took us 4 weeks from start to finish and in that time we gelled almost all the existing pages and made a few other improvements to the site - highlighted to us during user testing and analysis of the site.

So what have we done?

The most obvious change is to the home page. Here we have taken the opportunity to bring in a few improvements.

We've moved a few things around - swapping over the Editor's picks (which previously sat in the middle of the page) and recent updates (which dominated the page through the top carousel) so that the editor's picks are now used to populate the top carousel. This gives us more room to highlight content from the archive or exclusive clips.

We've also added a feed of the day's most popular video clips and a guided search box. The search box is found across the site and we hope makes it quicker and easier to find the animal or plant you're looking for.

Across the rest of the site we've refreshed the visual design and improved the information hierarchy. For example, looking at the Giant Panda page it is now easier to understand where they live and their behaviours and adaptations. It's also easier to find programmes featuring Giant Pandas or news stories about them, or indeed listen to sound files from the archive (if you want to know what a Giant Panda call sounds like now you can. You can also listen to the sound of a giraffe feeding on acacia, a Peacock call or indeed what hello sounds like in several different languages).

But we haven't stopped there.

Big screen version

The big screen version of Wildlife Finder

Today we are launching a big screen version of the site. If you have PC connected to your TV you can now browse and view the Wildlife Finder from the comfort of your sofa. If you access Wildlife Finder on a PS3 you should be redirected to there automatically. Alternatively you can click on the link.


Tom Scott is Executive Product Manager, BBC.

Changes to the BBC Messageboards

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David Williams | 17:20 UK time, Tuesday, 14 September 2010

I'm the current Product Manager for the technical team delivering BBC messageboards. You may have noticed we have recently refreshed the boards.

We had two main objectives when we began work on the messageboard refresh project:

  1. Bringing the visual design in line with the visual refresh happening across the rest of bbc.co.uk and that the messageboards have a consistent format that is familiar to audiences from around the site.
  2. Providing the hosts of the messageboards a simple to use, yet powerful set of administration tools enabling them to be kept more up to date and relevant to the audience.

In delivering the first we developed, what we call internally, the vanilla skins that produce semantically marked up and accessible HTML with basic styling. These follow the visual format of the refresh occurring on other areas of the BBC website and a standardised layout. Each messageboard can optionally be configured with a CSS file that applies the look and feel of the host site.

For the second we developed a brand new administration tool with a task oriented interface that allows hosts a straightforward way to manage their messageboards. This includes the creating and archiving of topics, setting opening and closing times, specifying the custom CSS file mentioned above and the various banners and navigation elements.

However, we didn't want to just update what already existed with a fresh lick of paint, so we added new features such as:

  1. The ability for a host to pin a topic to the top of a topic list page so hosts can highlight items of interest to the audience.
  2. A panel showing the most recent discussions across the messageboard so the audience can see where the active conversations are taking place.

Delivering the new Messageboards

Any non-trivial software project requires a process in place to ensure successful delivery. The team responsible for the messageboards product, like many other at the BBC, uses Scrum, an agile software development methodology.

As Product Manager, in Scrum terms I fulfil the role of the 'Product Owner', representing the stakeholders and the business on the team. Our stakeholders are many and varied and include representatives across all divisions of the BBC and ultimately our audiences.

Scrum is an iterative process and each iteration is known as a sprint. During the sprint the development team focus on the objectives outlined in a planning session, except in the case where major bugs are discovered or reported. In that instance the team will focus on squashing them as soon as possible. The definition of major bug typically includes instances where the service is completely unavailable.

Our sprints are two weeks long and at the end of each we review what has been delivered, examine whether business or product priorities have changed, and plan appropriately the items we will work on next. This includes reviewing all bug reports we have received, feature requests from stakeholders and including those of high priority into the sprint's work. Approximately once a month we release all the work that is completed.

Major sources of feedback for us are from those using the product every day and every feature idea and bug report makes its way into our product backlog where it will receive a priority with the other items there.

Some notes
 
Neon sign that says


The team delivering the messageboard product is part of a larger team, known as Social within FM&T, that is responsible for many of the social elements appearing across bbc.co.uk.

One part of the platform the messageboards are developed on is known as DNA, as eagle-eyed members of the food messageboard have already identified here, and it is indeed named after Douglas Noel Adams. h2g2 was the first product built on the platform.

Thanks for reading.

David Williams is Product Manager, BBC FM&T Social



BBC R&D wins award for developing Freeview HD standard

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Matthew Postgate Matthew Postgate | 15:15 UK time, Monday, 13 September 2010

Matthew collects the award

Left to right: Ulrich Reimers, Chairman of the DVB Technical Module; Alan Boyle, BBC Distribution; Dr. Nick Wells, BBC R&D and IBC representative David Crawford.

I'm writing from the annual IBC event in Amsterdam where last night BBC R&D were recognised once again for work which has fundamentally changed the broadcasting industry and improved the viewing experience for audiences in the UK. The BBC - both R&D and Distribution - and the DVB organisation have won the award for 'Most innovative use of technology in content delivery' for the work that enabled us to get HD services on to the Freeview platform in time for the 2010 FIFA World Cup.

BBC R&D led a team of over 70 engineers from more than 50 partner organisations collaborating within the DVB. The work on the standard was completed in an incredibly short time to meet the deadline. Our colleagues in BBC Distribution then picked up the baton to achieve a technical launch in December last year and a consumer launch in April 2010; just in time to meet the deadline.

I'm really proud of the people across the department and the wider BBC who put so much into the project. I would like to give a huge thanks to the core BBC R&D team for their all consuming efforts over the two and half years it took to complete: Nick Wells, Chris Nokes, Justin Mitchell, Ollie Haffenden, Phil Layton, Andrew Cotton, Andrew Murphy, Martin Thorp, Chris Clarke, John Elliot and Jonathan Stott. Thanks also to the many people we worked with during the project including the BBC Distribution team working with Alan Boyle and Graham Plumb along with Professor Ulrich Reimers, the chairman of the DVB Technical Module.

This award is especially important as it recognises one of the best things about the department and the engineering contribution of BBC. It is a project where our expertise was deployed alongside a wide range of partners and the results have really benefitted both the industry and the experience of audiences. I hope it will be the first of many that we will be bringing back to our new laboratories in London or Manchester.

Matthew Postgate is Controller, R&D.

Round Up Saturday 11 September 2010

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Nick Reynolds Nick Reynolds | 12:33 UK time, Saturday, 11 September 2010

You may have noticed that a new version of BBC iPlayer went live last week.

There's a response to some of your comments from James Hewines here.

Simon Lloyd on the About The BBC blog explains the thinking behind the marketing campaign for the new iPlayer and you can watch a video.

The Register takes its usual forthright view of the new social features: "iPlayer, iTunes succumb to Web2.0rhea". Rupert Goodwins makes a loftier point in "BBC iPlayer: social media and the public interest".

Sophie Brendel's delicious has a useful list of iPlayer related press articles and blog comment.

paidContent reports that Project Canvas has published its draft specs.

Canvas is looking at supporting HTML4 and "a subset of HTML5 (draft), including Web Forms, Web Storage and

See also Nevali's post: "Those Canvas Specs".

If you're a follower of the long running BBC HD picture quality conversation you'll know that the BBC Trust has now given its verdict. Paul Eaton's website has the full details. Bitter Wallet summarises: "BBC Puts Viewers In The Picture, Dismisses BBC HD Complaints"

The Extra High Quality streams of BBC Proms (see Rupert Brun's posts here and here) has excited people as far away as Southgate and India. Steve Bowbrick also approves.

szlwzl's posterous has an FOI request about beebplayer.

And in a discussion on the backstage mailing list about the internet standards role recently advertised, Ant Miller (one of the brains behind the BBC R&D blog) says:

There's no standards war inside the BBC- there are a large number of very clever people, and in areas where new technology is to be developed and deployed, there are often intense discussions of what the best course of action is. To be honest, that's one of the best bits about working here- pretty much all voices get heard.

Nick Reynolds is Social Media Executive, BBC Online

What's On BBC Red Button 11th - 24th September

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Lisa Dawson Lisa Dawson | 16:54 UK time, Friday, 10 September 2010

Merlin Quiz

Merlin

Test your knowledge of all things Merlin in the Red Button Merlin Quiz.

From episode 2 onwards fans will be able to watch clips from the show and answer questions put to you by Merlin (played by Colin Morgan) on his magical medieval world. There will be 3 differently themed versions of the quiz to try: Heroes, Villains and Magical creatures.

The quiz will change every 4 weeks so keep coming back to see how well you remember Merlin's world.

Find out more about Merlin's world at bbc.co.uk/merlin

Sky/Virgin:
Sat 18th September, 7:00pm-4:00am (19th)
Mon 20th September, 7:00pm-4:00am (21st)

(Not available on Freesat or Freeview)


Read the rest of this entry

BBC Proms in Extra High Quality on the Internet: The Tech

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Rupert Brun Rupert Brun | 13:07 UK time, Thursday, 9 September 2010

(If you enjoyed Rupert Brun's previous post about the Extra High Quality Feed for the BBC Proms then you're going to love his new one on the Research and Development blog - NR)

This post explains the signal path used to deliver the 320Kb/s AAC internet stream of Radio 3 for the final week of the BBC Proms. For background information about the experimental extra high quality feed, you may wish to read the entry on the BBC Internet Blog and to listen to the audio, visit the web page hosting the experiment here.

The signal from the microphones at the Royal Albert Hall is converted on the stage to 48ks/s 24bit audio and sent to the outside broadcast vehicle over fibre. Each microphone has appropriate equalisation and time alignment applied and the sound is mixed down to stereo for broadcast on Radio 3.

Still at 24 bit 48ks/s the stereo audio is fed over an "E1" 2Mb/s circuit to London Broadcasting House and passes through the main audio router to the Radio 3 Continuity Studio. Here it is unfortunately necessary to sample rate convert the audio to 44.1ks/s. The reasons for this are largely historic...

Read more and comment at BBC Research & Development blog

Reflecting online buzz around BBC programmes: update

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Dan Taylor Dan Taylor | 11:16 UK time, Wednesday, 8 September 2010

Last June I wrote a post on this blog about Shownar - a prototype which aimed to track and reflect online buzz around BBC TV and radio programmes. I stated that "If the prototype proves successful, we are hoping to integrate the functionality of Shownar into bbc.co.uk".

Well, the prototype did prove successful and whilst it's taken a little longer than I'd originally hoped, I'm pleased to announce that buzz modules will soon be rolling out on BBC programme pages.

Indeed, the buzz pages which sit behind the modules are already live, and a few bloggers have already started noticing them (I think On An Overgrown Path was first to the punch).

So, first things first, What is buzz?

Buzz is what people are saying about a programme. In this release, working with Nielsen Online as a data supplier, we're linking back to blogs which discuss BBC programmes. We're also linking to the relevant twitter hashtags, forums and other online communities where the programme is discussed, and bringing all of these useful links to the programmes page.

Why is the BBC looking to reflect what people are saying about its programmes on its website? To quote from our About buzz pages; we believe "programmes are improved by connecting them to the wider discussion and their audience. We want to help you discover and get involved with the conversations other people are having about your favourite programmes on the web". It also supports the ambition laid out in Putting Quality First of "turning the site into a window on the web by providing at least one external link on every page and doubling monthly 'click-throughs' to external sites".

The details of how it works, including how links are found, moderated, linked to and then highlighted if they're relevant, are all explained in an extensive FAQs section.

We won't link to blog posts which are offensive, unlawful, spam or behind a paywall, and you can read the guidelines for a more comprehensive description of how we decide what to include. It's also worth noting that, while we're providing links to buzz for many TV and radio programmes, the project doesn't include every single programme we broadcast. We'll be reviewing what works in the next few months and using your feedback when taking choices about what should be included in later versions.

To give some concrete example of the sorts of conversations buzz pages will help you discover, have a look at the buzz page for Sherlock, which links to a wonderful spread of discussion about the popular BBC One drama, with the most relevant links helpfully highlighted in yellow. Or check out the buzz page for The Proms, which reveals that the Doctor Who Proms are currently generating the most buzz.

The buzz modules, which showcase the most relevant discussion (as well as linking through to dedicated pages for 'all buzz'), will go live on programme pages in the next few weeks. Below is a screengrab of how the module will look. In advance of the buzz modules going live, you can already get to buzz pages by adding /buzz to the end of any programme page URL (e.g. https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00tffgy/buzz).

buzz_module.PNG

We're keen to evolve and improve how we reflect buzz around BBC programmes and fold the thinking into the development of the future TV & iPlayer and Radio & Music propositions referenced by Erik Huggers in his recent blog post on what Putting Quality First means for BBC Online, so please do contact us with any questions/suggestions or leave a comment below.

One element of Shownar which is missing from the current implementation of buzz on bbc.co.uk, is a chart showing which programmes are generating proportionally the most buzz - we'd be interested to hear if this is a feature you'd like to see reinstated.

It's been a real team effort to get this live, so thanks to Kat Sommers, Andrew Barron, Roo Reynolds, Rowan Kerek Robertson, Gary Andrews, Amy Shearing, Bruce James, Andy Shearer, Tom Robinson, Matthew Verrill, Cathal Coughlan, Jeremy Tarling, Ciaran Withington, Yuri Kang, Nancy Hoskins and BERG.

Dan Taylor is Senior Portfolio Executive, Internet, BBC Vision Multiplatform

The Blue Room at IFA 2010

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Roland Allen | 13:35 UK time, Monday, 6 September 2010

In our mission to inform our colleagues in the BBC about developments in consumer technology and how these will potentially affect how our output is consumed we place great stock in observing year-on-year trends at events such as the Consumer Electronics Show, held each January in Las Vegas.

3D TV display

From the Blue Room's Twitter: "#IFA2010 One of the many specs-free 3D Displays at IFA, this from Vestel. Perhaps 3-5 years away?"

This is cited as the biggest event of its kind and if you look to find a European equivalent then IFA is undoubtedly the prime candidate.

The Blue Room last visited IFA some three years ago when it was a relatively modest affair and as per previous experience we found that the general attitude amongst exhibitors in respect of the UK market was largely one of indifference or at best ignorance.

How things have changed.

IFA 2010 is expanding on a scale to compete with CES with a confidence and enthusiasm to mark this, its 50th year. The profile and importance of the event was reinforced in by the presence of the German Chancellor Angela Merkel officially declaring the show open, as well as the prominence being given to the event in the German media. A more visible touch is the large bow tied to the radio mast in the middle of the ICC exhibition complex

LG TV

From the Blue Room's Twitter: "The LG 31" OLED display is probably the most impressive thing we've seen at IFA so far - quite stunning."

Whilst the likes of Sony and Panasonic still boast the largest presence and most elaborate product displays the sheer scale and rise to prominence of Samsung and LG amongst others is most striking, Korea seemingly in the ascendency in the consumer electronics world in terms of the multiplicity of new product ideas and the speed with which they bring these to market.

Focussing on our primary interest for being at IFA we have identified a number of trends that we think are of interest:

  • Most notably 3D everywhere and in many different formats: TVs, Projectors and Laptops
  • A surprising number of glasses-free (auto stereoscopic) 3D displays in evidence albeit in prototype form and realistically 3-5 years away from production
  • An explosion in the number of Tablet PC/Apple iPad clone devices
  • Numerous examples of all-in-one computing devices where the processor and storage are built in to the display screen
  • The Google Android OS appearing on a wide range of TV sets powering the applications available as a result of the growth in IP connectivity
  • As predicted, e-Reader devices becoming cheaper, sometimes at the cost of functionality such as Wi-Fi and 3G connectivity but as a result seeking to occupy a different market space to the Tablet/iPad class of product.

From the point of view of specific products the ones that stand out for us are:

We hope to get our hands on some of these new devices over the next few months in order to study their potential impact for our services.

If you'd like to see more from IFA 2010 you can follow us on Twitter, Flickr and YouTube as BBCBlueRoom

Roland Allen and Richard Robbins.

Listening to the Proms in Extra High Quality

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Rupert Brun Rupert Brun | 16:55 UK time, Friday, 3 September 2010

Illustration for PromsXHQ, BBC Radio 3's high quality audio experiment

Editor's note: for the final week of The BBC Proms you'll be able to listen to the live radio broadcasts from The Royal Albert Hall in Extra High Quality audio. The man who came up with the idea explains the thinking behind the experiment- SB

You could make a strong case to say that of all the digital platforms used by BBC Radio, the internet delivers the best quality. We have invested over the last two years in a completely new system to code our audio for the internet using respectable bit rates and AAC coding technology. The system is known as 'Coyopa', named after one of the two Mayan gods responsible for thunderstorms. The god Yaluk makes all the lightning flashes, Coyopa makes the impressive noises.

Using our Coyopa system we distribute within the UK most of our national radio stations at 128Kb/s whilst Radio 3 is available at 192Kb/s. The audio feed for the internet distribution is derived from the signal path used to feed digital television and in the case of Radio 3 this means (like DAB) that there is no multi-band transmission processing involved. I wondered how good we could make Radio 3 sound on the internet and what people would think of it. Would it be a welcome improvement? Or given that most people don't have high quality amplifiers and speakers connected to their computers, would they even notice the difference?

The bust of Henry Wood - founder of the BBC Proms - in the lobby of the building named after him in Central London

The choice of content for the experiment was obvious to me - we had to use the BBC Proms concerts. They always attract a strong audience and this year we have a brand new outside broadcast vehicle at the Royal Albert Hall and a new link from there back to Broadcasting House. The link from the truck to Broadcasting House is linear (uncompressed) audio with a frequency response extending to 22KHz, making it one of the best audio sources available to us. The signal passes through our internal digital routing systems to the Radio 3 Continuity Suite, from where it feeds our Coyopa internet coder. After the Last Night of the Proms on 11th September the experiment will end, so listen to the stream whilst the Proms are being broadcast and please do complete the feedback form to tell us what you think of the experiment.

By happy coincidence, the experiment has been dreamt up and realised by a team of BBC staff who work in an office building called 'Henry Wood House', named after the founder of the Proms Concerts. Henry Wood House was built on the site of the Queen's Hall, which was the home of the Proms until it was destroyed by an incendiary bomb in 1941. The team walk past a bust of Sir Henry Wood as they come to work each day.

Rupert Brun is Head of Technology for BBC Audio and Music

  • Listen to Radio 3's Extra High Quality Proms audio on the Radio 3 web site during live broadcasts of The Proms until 11 September 2010. On the same page you'll find a link to a survey about the experiment. Please take a minute to complete it once you've tried the Extra High Quality experience.
  • Help us spread the word about Extra Quality Audio for the Proms by tweeting about the experiment using the hashtag #PromsXHQ.
  • Read Rupert's FAQ for answers to the big questions about PromsXHQ.
  • Read this blog post by Radio 3 Interactive Editor Gabriel Gilson on the Radio 3 blog for some additional context.
  • The picture shows audio engineer Brian Hodgson tuning audio generators at the BBC Radiophonic workshop in the 1969. It's from the BBC's picture library. Rupert worked with Brian at the Workshop.

BBC iPlayer gets even better

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James Hewines | 16:15 UK time, Friday, 3 September 2010

The BBC iPlayer team are very excited about the latest developments going live next week - this is a big step for the product, and its users, bringing:

  • A new design which is more fun to use, and distinctively styled.
  • A range of personalisation features that let you shape your very own BBC iPlayer experience.
  • Integration with your social network account that lets you add a social dimension to your viewing and listening.

You can find out more about the new features in Anthony Rose's post.

Less obviously, to make all of this personalisation work well for 5m+ visitors each week, we've developed an entirely new technical platform, discussed in technical architect Simon Frost's post. It's been an exciting project with many challenges, both design and engineering, along the way.

New iPlayer design

Image: Screenshot of the new BBC iPlayer design

So, a few people may be wondering, why are we changing BBC iPlayer when it's already pretty successful? The impetus for change has come from two directions: firstly, we have a long-term plan to constantly evolve the site for the benefit of our audiences. A main theme here is personalisation - simply put, a way to get the programmes you love with less clicking (and thinking!). Secondly, we wanted to connect BBC iPlayer up with the users' online interactions with friends - to bring a social dimension to watching and listening.

While social networks are now a well established phenomenon, socially enhanced TV and radio aren't. It's early days yet, but we're pretty sure that this is going to be an important facility in the near future. Together, we hope these features represent a crucial evolutionary step in the enjoyment of online TV and radio. Until now, the focus has been on getting programmes to users packaged in a coherent experience - this next step is about allowing users to interact with the service and each other around our programmes.

Given that we'd be making some major changes to a popular product, we were very conscious of the need to be careful. While some users are generally receptive to change (especially where it brings obvious benefits) others may be more cautious. The key design challenge was to add in these richer, more interactive capabilities without detracting from the overall simplicity of the experience. It's been possible to reconcile these competing goals (richer interactions, simpler experience) by making some basic design decisions that keep things simple - most notably separating TV from radio, and reducing the number of modules on the BBC iPlayer homepage. You can find out more about these challenges in this post by our lead designer for the project, Fabian Birgfeld.

Of course, as we developed the designs and the product, we've tested them with real users at key stages to confirm we're on the right track and identify and address issues they raised. More recently we've been trialling the new BBC iPlayer publicly which with the help of your feedback has given us the chance to iron out a few kinks, some of which David Blackall talks about in his post. Most notable amongst these have been some issues with buffering in the media player, and disappearing downloads, issues that should be resolved by launch day and we will continue to monitor and put right.

I'd like to finish with a few interesting stats from the beta:

  • Usage of the beta quickly built to 8% of the total (and has more recently been ~10%).
  • Users of the beta site play marginally more programmes each day (2.4 vs 2.3) than users on the regular site.
  • 18,000 of you signed up for the social features and linked BBC iPlayer to your Twitter or Facebook profile.
  • Just under 700,000 of you 'favourited' programmes, adding an average of 2.5 programmes each. Your most frequently chosen programmes were Eastenders, Doctor Who, Top Gear, Mock the Week and Sherlock.

This is an excellent start and bodes well for the launch. Check out the new site and let us know what you think by commenting below or responding here.

James Hewines is Head of BBC iPlayer.


BBC iPlayer Beta: What we did with your feedback

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David Blackall | 16:13 UK time, Friday, 3 September 2010

Hello,

I'm David Blackall and I look after all new website feature offerings for BBC iPlayer on PC, Mac and Linux.

We've been running the latest version of BBC iPlayer in beta since May this year. About 8% of our existing user base has opted to use the beta version which is a good result.

Thank you to everyone who has taken the time to give us feedback on our message boards and blogs. Although the product was extensively user-tested prior to going live there is nothing like a beta to give you feedback in the real world. From the feedback, we're happy that 75% of our beta users preferred the new site to the existing version. This is a great result because the existing version is one of the most popular sites on bbc.co.uk.

In terms of feedback the majority of our users have told us that they like the new design and find it easier to discover and play programmes.

For the first time you can now watch and listen to live TV and Radio directly from BBC iPlayer Desktop, without needing to go back to the BBC iPlayer website. In addition you can now download your favourite TV programmes before they are available to watch on TV, so that they are ready to watch once the programme ends on TV.

We have listened to and acted upon your feedback including reinstating:

• The ability to play radio content in the BBC iPlayer site, as opposed to having to use a pop-out console. This allows radio listeners to recommend and comment on their favourite shows
• The TV pop-out player
• The ability to choose your local region selector for BBC One and Two

Also,
• The process of linking to Facebook and Twitter accounts to BBC ID has been streamlined with more improvements coming in the weeks ahead
• International visitors to the site now default to the radio homepage, as opposed to the TV version so that they can start playing programmes immediately

We have experienced some issues during the beta including:

• Some users experiencing additional buffering upon playout. This is a result of issues regarding our new adaptive bitrate streaming solution when the stream switches from one Content Delivery Network (CDN) to another. The team is working hard to improve this
• The latest version of BBC iPlayer Desktop has also had some teething problems with occasional content going missing after it has been downloaded. This should be resolved by launch day and we will continue to monitor and put right any issues

• As yet we have not been able to deliver the ability to download future episodes of your favourite programmes. This will be coming shortly.

Our users have also suggested new features which we're happy to hear, so please keep them rolling in. These include:

• Being able to remove a favourite episode from your list once you have played it
• Stopping programme recommendations
• Enhancements to favourites to alert you when your favourite programmes are due to return
• Remember the last page layout when you next return to the site

We will look to include as many of these suggestions into the site in the coming months.

Now is the perfect time for coming out of beta as it is the end of a busy summer for the BBC, and now the autumn schedule is about to kick in with fantastic new programmes.

Enjoy!
David

David Blackall is Lead Business Analyst, BBC iPlayer.

BBC iPlayer coming to more TV devices

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Charles Tigges | 16:10 UK time, Friday, 3 September 2010

With the new BBC iPlayer website launching on Monday after a four-month beta period, it was interesting to follow last week's debate on the future of the internet, sparked off by Chris Anderson and Michael Wolff's bold assertion that the web was dead. While this was more a reflection on the growth of apps, and how that's changing how we use the internet to deliver content online it certainly got people talking.

As Senior Business Development Manager for FM&T, my job is to develop technology partnerships that will get our products to as wide an audience as cost-effectively as possible. Whether you agree that the web is dead or not, there's no doubting the future of the internet as a platform to deliver content and services. Such partnerships help us make our BBC Online products available on multiple platforms and devices - through both browsers and apps.

The consumer electronics industry convenes at the IFA trade fair in Berlin today, and there will be a number of announcements (arising from my team's work these last few months) from some of our technology partners at the show.

Firstly, we've been working with laptop manufacturers to pre-install the BBC iPlayer desktop manager on their machines. For those of you who have not had a go during the beta period, it's a useful piece of software that makes offline viewing a lot easier through a client on your desktop. In addition, it gives you access to live TV, radio and pre-booking services. It helps us reach a bigger audience, and we can remotely update the service. Full functionality - such as social, subscriptions and favourites are expected to arrive next year. Sony have today announced that their next shipment of VAIO laptops, which arrive in the UK later this month, will have it. We hope to announce further partnerships very soon.

Secondly, there will be a few announcements from internet-connected TV manufacturers at IFA. Regular readers of this blog will recall a post from my colleague Morten Eidal announcing the arrival of the BBC iPlayer on the iPad. This was done by using the same technology that brought the product to the iCello, Samsung TVs, Sony Blu Ray, and a number of other internet-connected devices earlier this year.

Pretty much any modern internet-connected TV with a browser has the potential to view the big-screen BBC iPlayer site, so it's pretty straightforward to bring the product to these devices. It makes sense for us too, as it allows us to keep up with a fast-paced product innovation cycle (since the TV just points to the website) and to work with lots of manufacturers cost-effectively. We can also expect announcements at IFA from Toshiba, with others in the pipeline over the next few weeks.

To finish off, it's worth noting that the big-screen BBC iPlayer doesn't offer live streaming (and there's not much point, when all these TVs have DTT built in) and as such we can't yet converge live and on-demand viewing into one experience.

We are waiting to see what connected TV platforms like project canvas (in which the BBC is a shareholder), Apple TV, Sky, Virgin Media and others can offer in this regard. For a broadcaster, we have interesting times ahead in terms of how TV platforms will enable direct links from a live broadcast to web services, as we are offering today via the red button.

Converging broadcast and broadband-delivered content in one user-experience may be the next evolution in TV, but the market is still pretty exciting at the moment and it'll be interesting to see how consumers take to the increased choices they now have. It looks like in the next TV innovation cycle [12 months], the browser route might be best to scale web services in a TV environment, cost efficiently.


Charles Tigges is Senior Business Development Manager for FM&T.

BBC iPlayer Beta: Less is More

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Fabian Birgfeld | 17:39 UK time, Wednesday, 1 September 2010

Good design is simple, reducing complex tasks to straightforward sequences of elegant interactions, making sure that there is no unnecessary step in the way.

The big design challenge for the next version of iPlayer was how to create this simplicity in light of more features and functionality without overwhelming our audience.

Let's consider the two basic tasks: find and play. The goal is to minimise our audience's time spent on the first task while maximising their time spent on the second one; ultimately discovery is just a means to enable people to watch their favourite show, which is why they come to the iPlayer in the first place.

Thus, the primary design challenge was to elegantly weave the new functionality and features into the iPlayer fabric while keeping the user interface simple. The following four design strategies informed our solution framework:

Navigation

We recognised that watching TV and listening to the radio are two different activities that respond to different user needs. The previous version of iPlayer mixed radio and TV content on each page. However, user data showed that very few people used the iPlayer for both at the same time. Radio and TV iPlayer use peaked at different times of the day and had little overlap. (Table 1 most likely overstates the overlap as the number reflect hardware not users).

Bar chart showing the majority of iPlayer users use either TV or radio but very few use both at the same time or in a single session.

Table 1: Average Daily BBC iPlayer Users

In other words, very few people are indifferent to whether they watch TV or listen to the radio when they come to the iPlayer. This makes sense as watching TV and listening to radio are not perfect substitutes; TV is an immersive experience that tends to get the audience's undivided attention while listening to the radio tends to complement other activities and is a less immersive experience. People come to the iPlayer to either watch TV or listen to the radio.

Chart of radio and TV usage against time.

Table 2: TV and Radio Use by Time of Day

Therefore, we decided to make TV and radio the top navigational choice. The two pages, however, are identical in terms functionality and look and feel; it's only the content that differs. The TV page is the home page as more people come to the iPlayer to watch TV than listen to the radio. As a matter of fact TV and radio are the only two top navigational choices down from five in the previous version.

Header showing navigation choices.

Image 1: iPlayer V3 Header

This reduces V3 to three key pages: TV, Radio and media player. Fewer pages imply less navigation between pages and therefore less clicks to find content. The radical simplification of top-level navigation implies, however, that most of the navigation has to take place in context and in page which poses different challenges which will be discussed next.

Screenshot of the new iPlayer key pages

Image 2: iPlayer V3 thumbnails of the 3 key pages (TV, Radio, EMP)

Browsing

Collapsing Home, TV Channels, Radio Stations, Categories and A to Z into one page required us to rethink how content is accessed and bundled. Our design guidance came from considering the three primary discovery modes that we identified: browsing content, finding missed shows and exploring content of a certain type. The design of the TV and Radio page therefore consists of three parts that directly respond to the three user needs: the drawers on top of the page allows users to discover shows that they might not know about; the EPG on the lower left half of the page allows users to find what they missed; and the categories module on the lower right hand corner enables users to browse content by type.

The three areas: drawers, EPG and categories.

Image 3: The three browsing modules (drawers, EPG, categories)

The drawers enable all scanning behaviours, combining four different sources for content discovery: Featured (editorially selected), For You, Most Popular and Friends. Each of them has a different flavour that might appeal to different users at different times. As it is impossible to know beforehand what might be of interest to the users, they can easily switch between the different sources. Upon arrival the drawers are partially open to reveal the available options. As soon as they interact with any of the drawers, the chosen one expands to show more content. As soon as another drawer is selected, the focus shifts accordingly.

The drawers are a playful and efficient way to surface content, making the best use of the limited screen real estate. Earlier design treatments considered having four different modules, each containing one of the sources. However, it became clear that that solution would break the simplicity of the navigation.

Screenshot: Showing sections Featured; For You; most Popular and Friends

Image 4: The drawers default state

Screenshot: Most Popular section displaying

Image 5: The drawers selected state

The EPG and the categories module, on the other hand, are more utilitarian by nature. The users know what they are looking for; the primary design challenge is to enable users to navigate the EPG or the categories and to get them to the searched item as quickly as possible.

Personalisation

V3 personalisation features consist of For You, My Categories and Favourites. The different features are revealed over time as users engage with the content rather than all at once potentially overwhelming them. Favourites accompany the users throughout their iPlayer experience giving them universal access to their favourite shows at all times. Like a shopping cart it is pervasively accessible on top of the page connecting discovery - where shows are added - and watching - where they are consumed.

Programmes in favourites

Image 6: TV Favourites in open state

My Categories are woven into the categories browsing module, in essence bookmarking the ones of interest to the users. Once users have chosen their favourite shows and categories and new content gets surfaced in the For You drawer, discovery requires less active engagement: users will always be only one click away from accessing their favourite BBC shows. Less time spent discovering means more time enjoying.

iPlayer categories

Image 7: Categories

Look and Feel

The new carbon fibre look and feel of V3 replaced the shiny look of V2 while keeping the distinct and iconic black and pink of the iPlayer. The new "materiality" of the interface gives the interface depth and texture that adds dynamic to animated components such as the drawer.

details from iPlayer

Image 8: Carbon Fibre look and feel details

To underline the selected state in the top navigation a visual element inspired by the old radio dial was introduced while a streamlined font and color hierarchy was created to maintain a simple user interface.

In a nutshell V3 offers new functionality in a new user interface that aims to make it easier for our audience to find what they want to watch or listen to. Streamlined navigation, new functionality and a new taxonomy will enable our audience to find more quicker giving them more time to enjoy the content.

So what's next? We keep working to improve the experience with the goal to enable our audience to spend less time looking and more time enjoying on all platforms. The new iPlayer on mobile devices with Favourites launched recently and will soon launch on the other platforms as well.

Fabian Birgfeld is Head of Product Planning, BBC FM&T

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