BBC iPlayer gets even better
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.
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.