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Opportunities for BBC News Online in IPTV

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Phil Fearnley Phil Fearnley | 14:42 UK time, Tuesday, 22 March 2011

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

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    Everything has a beginning and an infancy period. Is the same with IPTV. It might not be a huge buzz right now but since everything is digital these days and there is a tendency for convergence of data transmissions and throughput increases very fast, very soon we will basically get everything over a data network. Yesterday while installing my new plasma tv I was thinking at my first TV. It was a black and white tube. Now I can watch HD on YouTube. How sick is that?!

  • Comment number 2.

    One downside to IPTV is likely to be an increased cost to the consumer. The current normal "domestic" broadband service, with its high contention ratios, isn't going to to cope if most of those sharing the contended uplink (usually 50 for domestic and 20 for business class broadband) start watching IPTV at peak times.

    The most likely scenario is a two-tier service where the "haves" can afford a low contention service at a premium price and can make use of IPTV and the "have nots" have a cheap (same cost as today) high contention service that uses packet shaping and filtering to restrict access to high bandwidth services.

  • Comment number 3.

    Please don't leave behind those who rely on subtitles. While it might too much to hope that BBC News videos are subtitled or even simply transcripted, the shift to more and more use of live video (mainly live streaming of the BBC News Channel or BBC1/2 for sport) online is putting up more barriers. The live commentaries and text feeds are no substitute for proper subtitles.

    The current system of preloading subtitle files into memory might not work for live content but why not consider streaming hardcoded subtitles by using the normal TV broadcast with the TV subtitles turned on first? There shouldn't be too many people opposed to this - in American every bar with a TV is required to turn the subtitles on so for accessibility. If anything, it not only helps those who are deaf, it would also benefit those who for whatever reason don't have access to sound (plenty of work computers lacking speakers) and international viewers who struggle with spoken language.

  • Comment number 4.

    Iwill try to as succinct as possible

    1 Youview is dead, people will not buy another box, they already have many commercial solutions (for me this is the superb Appel TV2 with Airplat streaming from my iPad)

    2 The BBC need to standardise on only one delivery technology, MPEG4/H264, and let commercial companies develop TV and box solutions, providing APIs an streams

    3 The BBC need to support us, the licence payers, to free up any restrictive rights that prevent streaming to any device we own

    4 Lastly, from a user point of view no one wants the Internet on their TV screen, what people want is TV controlled from ta ablet, and related web pages displayed on their tablet in their hands.

  • Comment number 5.

    In addition to the above messages, please do keep Red Button page 9990 current and reflective of BBC Online and the Royal Mail Postal Address File for those who don;t do broadband.

    Thank you

 

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