Opportunities for BBC News Online in IPTV
As General Manager for Homepage, News, Sport, Weather, Knowledge & Learning, Children's, and Search products on the web and mobile, I've an increasing interest in emerging IP platforms.
It was in this capacity I talked to industry at IPTV World Forum today, building on Executive Editor of BBC Online Roly Keating's address to the DTG earlier this month, by exploring how core BBC Online products could be re-imagined for connected TV.
Like Mobile, IPTV will be an expression of BBC Online. You'll be familiar with the headlines of our recent Putting Quality First announcements and the impact on BBC Online: a 25% reduction in budget, but for the first time a single strategic vision for the service comprising ten distinctive 'products', aligned to our editorial priorities. We've adopted a collaborative Product Management culture which unites tech and editorial to enable delivery of these distinctive, quality interactive propositions, whatever the platform - online, portable devices, and increasingly connected TVs.
The BBC is interested in IPTV for a number of reasons. The BBC's sixth Public Purpose is to deliver to the public the benefits of emerging technologies, so we're constantly innovating to drive digital adoption. For instance, BBC Text launched in 1999 and evolved into today's BBC Red Button service, used by over 12 million users per week. And, quality digital propositions in turn drive demand. BBC iPlayer has been a great catalyst in bringing video-on-demand to the mainstream. Launched in 2007 when the market for online 'catch-up' was negligible, in January we received 162 million requests for programmes. So we've a commitment to keep pace with innovation to fulfil our sixth Public Purpose, and respond to our audiences' demand - this is why we're backing YouView.
IPTV is arguably the platform of the future. Screen Digest reports that by 2014 90% of TV sets sold in Europe will be internet enabled. And of course, connected TVs are only part of the story; around three quarters of major brand consoles purchased in 2011 will be browser enabled so this is a huge area of growth.
That said, the IPTV market is in its infancy and we don't know what mainstream audience reaction will be. An agreed editorial strategy and defined product roadmap from the BBC are still a way off, but in the meantime we're keen to prototype and pilot within the market, glean audience feedback, and iterate quickly.
By looking at the strengths of BBC News on the web we can start to see how the service could be re-imagined for IPTV. When BBC News Online was refreshed last year we introduced 'live pages', housing up-to-the-minute AV content and real-time updates. Major events continue to demonstrate that traditional, 'lean-back' consumption isn't enough for audiences. During the recent disaster in Japan over 79,996 users 'shared' the live page; the live event experience on the web is strong.
Imagine a browser-based BBC News experience on your TV. With closer proximity between the live broadcast and BBC Online you can envisage users dipping out of a London 2012 linear broadcast to access details of an athlete, event, or location online - a context enriched by our advances in dynamic semantic publishing, which my colleague Jem Rayfield blogged about last year.
In comparison, apps optimised to a platform standard could deliver a more focused type of utility. You can imagine a BBC News app for connected TV that unites digital journalism with the AV of the BBC News Channel, improved by on-demand, allowing users to navigate through bulletins and to drive their own consumption. There's huge potential here, and the BBC's role is the same as ever: expressing the full, creative potential of the medium.
I ended my talk by pointing to complexity of the infant IPTV market. Our aim is to take our content and services where our audiences are, but it's impossible for the BBC - funded by the licence fee - to support the multitude of specifications emerging. By standardising our product definitions we aim to minimise complexity for the market and reduce re-versioning costs: this is the case with Mobile, and is a principle I hope to apply to our IPTV endeavours.
Lastly, the BBC is committed to delivering a common and consistent BBC IPTV experience across a variety of platforms and devices. Future interactive services will need to appeal to early digital adopters and more mainstream audiences. Services like Ceefax and its Digital Text replacement are so successful because they're so easy to use. A simple, intuitive navigational platform standard - seamlessly integrating linear and on-demand worlds - is what we ask of industry.
Phil Fearnley is General Manager News & Knowledge, BBC Future Media