Archives for August 2012

My Year on the BBC Internet Blog

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Ian McDonald Ian McDonald | 17:08 UK time, Friday, 31 August 2012

Unique browsers steadily increase from mid-tens of thousands to mid-twenties, with peaks for major launches.

Unique browsers per week on the BBC Internet Blog from July 2011 (beginning of iStats figures, shortly after I joined) to the present

Sadly, like Dave Lee and Paul Murphy before me, it's my turn to move on from the BBC Internet Blog.

After spending fourteen months helping colleagues to blog about the work they do, I wanted to share more about the blog works. So I shall outline where blog posts come from, and try to shed some light on blogger interaction, traffic, and hosting decisions.

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Designing BBC iPlayer for Xbox 360

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Rae Spencer | 12:04 UK time, Wednesday, 29 August 2012

BBC iPlayer on Xbox

BBC iPlayer on Xbox 360

Hi, my name is Rae Spencer, and I'm acting Senior UX experience designer at the BBC, working across all versions of BBC iPlayer including connected TVs and consoles.

My collegue Katherine Aherne and I started work on iPlayer for XBox last year, and with today's release of Radio support in iPlayer on Xbox, we thought we'd provide an insight into the process we used to create a consistent and usable design for an innovative new platform.

The design challenge

TV friendly interfaces need to work with 5-point navigation. In simple terms, people watching TV do just about everything by using five buttons: Up, Down, Left, Right and Enter. That's pretty tricky, especially if as a designer, you are used to creating layouts where your audience will be able to access everything on screen using a mouse.

TV is traditionally what we call a 'lean-back experience' - that is, the users are sitting on a sofa with a remote control, rather than sitting up on an office chair in front of a computer. This means we assume they want to spend less time navigating around our systems, and more time leaning back to watch video. Our designs need to be as simple, speedy and non-intrusive as we can manage, whilst still providing all the features they would expect from iPlayer.

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Search Engine Optimisation: Rebuilding Food

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Oliver Bartlett | 09:41 UK time, Tuesday, 28 August 2012

Apples page on BBC Food

The 'apples' page on BBC Food

Hi, I'm Oli Bartlett and I was the product manager for BBC Food during the rebuild in 2009-10. This post is a follow-on to Duncan's SEO post to provide a little more context and detail on how we tried to maintain our audience reach during the re-launch.

In the BBC we often see temporary drops in audience reach after a major re-working of a website. In situations where a website is given such a significant overhaul that its structure and page URLs change, one major factor in this drop in traffic is the removal of the old URLs from the site.

Put simply, if you remove the pages and those pages were getting views, then you no longer get the views.

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What's On Red Button 25th August - 1st September

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Tess Foster Tess Foster | 06:00 UK time, Saturday, 25 August 2012

What's On Red Button banner

Doctor Who

Matt Smith as Doctor Who

Matt Smith as The Doctor

Dr Who returns to our screens on 1st September but fans won't have to wait until then for their first appointment with the Doctor as a brand new mini-adventure is available on BBC Red Button. En route to visit the Ponds the TARDIS' Helmic Regulator malfunctions, leaving the Doctor popping up everywhere in time and space. Will he ever make it back to Amy and Rory?

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Turing Festival: Slicing and Dicing the BBC

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Dirk Willem van Gulik | 18:35 UK time, Friday, 24 August 2012

A messy home studio, with different objects on the shelves highlighted in yellow. Logos for

John Peel, Centre for Creative Arts: an example of a virtual view on the BBC archive

In my role as the BBC's Chief Technical Architect I try to ensure that we can make the best possible use of the latest digital tools and technologies in order to serve our audiences.

That means working with both programme-makers and programmers on internal systems that may never be seen by members of the public, but which are key to our activities - such as the Development Platform or the Digital Media Initiative.

It’s a privileged position, as it lets me see how all aspects of the BBC operate, and offers a unique insight into the creative processes that result in the amazing television and radio shows and online services that audiences treasure.

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A Journey through Search Engine Optimisation

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Duncan Bloor | 13:30 UK time, Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Top ten lists of search terms by month, arranged in a wheel.

Top search engine terms to BBC Food, by month. See full size version on Duncan Bloor's blog

This is the first of a series of three blog posts about Search Engine Optimisation in the BBC

I’m Duncan Bloor and I’m a producer in the User Building team in Knowledge and Learning in Salford. My job is to make sure that the Knowledge and Learning Product is maximising the opportunities to expose its content across search engines, social platforms and the rest of the web.

My journey with online and in particular with search engine optimisation (SEO) started outside the BBC. I was never really interested in, nor had the patience for, writing lines and lines of code for what I saw as little reward or in the finer aspects of designing a website.

I first became interested in SEO, and in particular how people behaved online, when I was shown the statistics for a small website and asked whether or not I could improve the number of visitors it received.

At the time I was concentrating hard on a becoming a surf bum in Australia after leaving the Royal Navy where I’d worked as a medic for eight years but I love a challenge and SEO seemed like an exciting new frontier and a welcome change from the well charted, highly regimented disciplines of medicine and the military.

When I first looked at the statistics, I was fascinated by the fact that we could find out the what, where, when, how and why of people’s online behaviour without commissioning large scale studies or referring to far flung theory. We had all the data we needed to make decisions about our sites right at our fingertips. What people search for still fascinates me today.

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What's On Red Button 18th - 25th August

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Tess Foster Tess Foster | 06:00 UK time, Saturday, 18 August 2012

What's On Red Button banner

Reading & Leeds

Reading and Leeds

Catch this year's Reading and Leeds festival over the bank holiday weekend on the BBC Red Button, BBC Three, Radio 1 and online at BBC Reading & Leeds

Coverage on Red Button starts on Friday 24th August at 7pm and will feature sets from Foster the People, Maccabees, Graham Coxon and many more. We return at 7pm on Saturday 25th August, including Kasabian, Florence + the Machine and The Cribs. Sunday starts earlier at 4pm, featuring Foo Fighters, The Horrors and sets from the entire weekend.

Viewers on Sky, Virgin and Freesat will have a choice of bands from the Main Stage and the Radio 1 / NME stage using the Red Button multiscreen. Viewers on Freeview will be able to see a different band about every half hour on Red Button and channel 301. We'll also be bringing you a selection of tracks from up and coming new bands on the BBC Introducing stage.

From Monday 27th to Friday 31st, catch a different 'best band' each and every day (availability varies on Freeview).

Join in the conversation on Twitter all weekend with #bbcreadingfest

Available on all platforms

Freesat/Sky/Virgin Media:
Fri 24th August, 7:00pm-2:00am
Sat 25th August, 7:00pm-2:00am
Sat 25th August, 9:50pm-2:00am

Fri 24th August, 7:10pm-2:00am
Sat 25th August, 9:30pm-2:00am

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Desktop BBC iPlayer: Flash Player upgrade

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Dave Price Dave Price | 10:51 UK time, Friday, 17 August 2012

I'm Dave Price and the head of BBC iPlayer.

I wanted to update you on a minor upgrade my team are making to the media player on BBC iPlayer and what this change will mean for some of you.

We're upgrading our media player for two principle reasons. Firstly, so that the BBC can continue to offer the highest quality media playback and new experiences like those used by millions of people during the Olympics on the BBC Sport site.

Secondly, Flash Player 10.1 was released in June 2010, and since then there have been five further major releases (which most people have upgraded to). By focusing the Engineering and Test teams on the most commonly used versions of Flash Player we can maintain confidence in the high quality of BBC iPlayer for the widest audience.

So, from 22 August 2012, you'll need Adobe Flash Player 10.2 or above to continue using BBC iPlayer on your desktop.

We've tried to ensure this change affects the fewest people possible, but appreciate making any changes can be a bit of a pain. As 98.5% of people who use the desktop version of BBC iPlayer already have a version of Flash Player in excess of 10.2, we're confident only a small proportion of you are affected.

For those using Flash Player 10.1 and below, the upgrade is really simple. You can upgrade at the Adobe website in advance (or see the BBC Webwise Guide), or wait for update prompts on BBC iPlayer next Wednesday.

As always happy to receive your feedback.

Dave Price is the Head of BBC iPlayer, Programmes and On Demand, BBC Future Media

Update 20/08/12 14:58: Adobe link changed at user Squirrel's suggestion

Audio and Video Streaming the Olympics

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Marina Kalkanis Marina Kalkanis | 19:10 UK time, Thursday, 16 August 2012

Bank of screens showing a selection of videos. The ones at the bottom have loaded an application called

BBC Online operations video monitoring wall

I’m Marina Kalkanis and I head up the Core Services teams in BBC Future Media that are responsible for the BBC live and on demand programming on the internet. My colleague Cait O’Riordan has already outlined how the Olympic content – metadata and AV streams - gets to your device, and David Rogers has blogged in detail about building the Olympic data services.

This blog will give you more detail about how we built the media delivery workflow for the online Olympics.

My team takes the live broadcast feeds and turns them into formats that can be delivered on the internet along with the appropriate metadata. We also deliver the Games catchup media that remain available for the next six months.

Early on we decided to build our own workflow solution as the integration points to our own back-end systems tend to be unique to the BBC. We also decided to use, as much as possible, the same infrastructure and expertise that powers the BBC iPlayer, News, and Sport sites.

With iPlayer, News and Sport we already had services that were very good at Video on Demand (VOD) and live simulcast. What was new for the Olympics was, as Matthew Clark has blogged, the scale of our ambition: 24 simultaneous live streams, thousands of events and more than 2400 hours of content over the two weeks.

Plus we were planning to double or triple any previous streaming peak.

We needed something that could handle the load, allow users to jump to any point in any event stream, and look great on a range of devices.

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More traffic, more videos, more screens: building the BBC's Olympic site

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Matthew Clark | 15:10 UK time, Thursday, 16 August 2012

BBC Olympics Architecture Diagram

BBC Olympics architecture overview. It shows how many components are involved!

Hi, I'm Matthew Clark, the Senior Technical Architect for BBC Online's Olympic website and apps.

Alongside colleagues Mike Brown and David Holroyd, it's been my responsibility to create the technical strategy that has allowed us to produce successful online Olympic products.

We've focused on the design and development to make sure the site and apps stay reliable and can handle high traffic loads, whilst offering more content than ever before. In this technical blog post I'll be looking at some of the challenges we faced and how we overcame them.

More traffic: Handling unprecedented audience levels

We expected the Olympics would drive far more traffic to our site than ever before, and it did. Planning for this load was not easy. There are over 60,000 dynamically generated pages, many with a significant amount of content on them, so efficient page generation is vital.

Content needs to be as 'live' as possible, so long-term caching is not an option. We use a range of caches (including Content Delivery Networks, Varnish, and mod_cache) to offload the bulk of the traffic from our Apache web servers. For content that's dynamic, cache lifespan (max-age) varies between a few seconds and a few minutes, depending on the context. This is particularly true for the new video player, which needs the latest data every few seconds to compliment the live video stream.

Page generation is done using PHP, which is stateless and receives all of its data through calls to a RESTful API. This API is the Java application layer that retrieves its data from a range of data stores (including MySQL databases, triple stores, and XML content stores). It's the most critical layer from a performance point-of-view, as load is high, calls can involve significant processing, potentially multiple data store calls, and limitations on what can be parallelised. Caching (mod_cache and Memcached) is again used to address the bulk of the traffic.

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Olympics: Red Button

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Aaron Scullion | 16:15 UK time, Tuesday, 14 August 2012

As Executive Product Manager for BBC Future Media I've led the Red Button and Connected TV services for the Olympics. The Red Button service has reached a huge audience and I wanted to share some of the thinking that went into it.

Up to 24 simultaneous live events were available to satellite and cable homes via Red Button , with Freeview homes getting up to two extra channels in SD, and one in HD. Over twenty four million people (42% of the UK population) watched at least 15 minutes of coverage on the BBC Red Button, which is a fantastic uptake. The reaction in the press and on Twitter has been hugely positive - thanks to everyone for their thoughts and feedback.

App user interface showing an A-Z index in a strip across the top and a selection of sporting events, with stills - such as Tom Daley diving, Athletics, Cycling, and Rowing.

The home page of the service on Sky and Freesat presented an overview of the most exciting events at that moment in time, using text and still images.

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BBC News on mobile: now with local news and weather

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Kate Milner | 13:55 UK time, Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Photo of tablet and smartphone, both showing news and weather for Shropshire

News homepage on a tablet and smartphone customised for a user in Shropshire

Back in March I wrote about the relaunch of the BBC News mobile site.

Since then, my development team has been busy adding new features and functionality. Our latest update is particularly exciting because smartphone users in the UK can now personalise the news homepage with local news and weather. You can search by town or postcode, or if you phone supports it, you can use the "Use my location" button.

From then on, the news homepage will remember your settings and will give you the weather forecast for the next few hours, in three-hourly chunks, as well as the top headlines in your local area. You can easily change your settings to pick up a new location.

I'm really pleased with this new addition as it's something you've particularly been asking us for.

The BBC News development team, based in Broadcasting House in London, works in an iterative development style, using research and data to inform the next priorities. We're always aiming to ensure we are adding real improvements for our users, so your feedback is really important to us.

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Planet Dinosaurs Ultimate Killers in 3D

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Andy Quested Andy Quested | 09:00 UK time, Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Killer Dinosaurs side by side image

Side by Side (SbyS) image

This is a very brief post as it's more a request for comment than an explanation of a process.

On the 19th August at 17:35 the BBC HD Channel will be transmitting "Ulimate Killers".

This single programme has been made from the very successful Planet Dinosaur series.

The programme is only available in 3D so we will be testing the "Watch in 2D" application on Freeview and Freesat.

I'd like you to comment on this blog post to tell me what you think of the "Watch in 2D" application. Unfortunately the application is not available on Cable or the Sky set top boxes yet.

The programme will also be available on BBC iPlayer. There will be several different encoded versions but as we are letting the automation take care of encoding I won't know what will happen until you do on some platforms!

All versions will be side by side so we also know not all devices will be able to convert them to a viewable 3D image.

What I do know is the image via the Freesat, Freeview and Virgin TiVo iPlayer apps will be 1920 x 1080 side by side. This is a new test encoding based on the work the iPlayer team carried out before the Olympics.

If you do want to comment, can you also let me know the:

  1. platform you used and the device e.g. Freeview set top box, PC or Mac via DVB card, PC or Mac via
  2. rough measured speed of your internet connection
  3. make and model of TV and or set top box

I can't guarantee individual replies but we do want to collate as much information as possible to assess our next steps

Many thanks.

Andy Quested is Head of Technology, BBC HD & 3D

The story of the digital Olympics: streams, browsers, most watched, four screens

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Cait O'Riordan Cait O'Riordan | 13:15 UK time, Monday, 13 August 2012

The first week of the Olympics ended with some record breaking stats for BBC Online.

Since I posted at the end of the first week of the Games, Team GB have broken records of their own, winning the most medals of any British Olympics team since 1908. The once-in-a-lifetime success of our athletes has driven equally incredible engagement from audiences with our Olympics coverage.

With London 2012 at an end, after a spectacular Closing Ceremony last night, I'd like to take this opportunity to tell the story of how the BBC's audiences enjoyed the first truly digital Olympics.

The Olympics in its entirety

Today's sport I never thought I'd watch, shooting.

- Daniel Thirsk @thirskazoid, 7:12 AM - 2 Aug 12, Twitter

The BBC's promise was to deliver coverage of every sport from every venue, and we certainly achieved this with our digital coverage: from the blue ribbon events like the 100m final all the way to the first taekwondo heats, the multi-faceted entirety of the Olympics was available to watch throughout the day across online and Red Button.

Overall, this comprehensive coverage drove very large amounts of traffic to the Sport website and to Red Button channels.

Red Button reach peaks early in the games; Online reach peaks in the middle; and cumulative reach rises over the course of the Olympics

Daily Reach and Cumulative Total (millions)
BBC Red Button - BARB reach (people aged 4+), with threshold "watched 15 consecutive minutes or more" - in line with BBC TV channel standard metric. Cookie churn means the BBC Online figures will include some unavoidable duplication over this period.

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What's On Red Button 11th - 18th August

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Tess Foster Tess Foster | 06:00 UK time, Saturday, 11 August 2012

What's On Red Button banner

London 2012 Olympics


Britain has been gripped by Olympics fever and until Sunday 12th August you can watch up to 24 streams of Olympics content on Red Button (satellite and cable) and Connected TV.

Full details are available on the Olympics schedule website.

BBC Sport Multiscreen

From Monday 13th August you can also watch the Olympic highlights via the BBC Sport multiscreen and catch up on all the latest in other sports. Headlines are available around the clock with up to five streams available to cover the best that BBC Sport has to offer.

Please note that Red Button sport timings are subject to change at short notice.

For the latest information refer to the BBC Sport website.

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From starting gun to smartphone: delivering the Olympics to your device

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Cait O'Riordan Cait O'Riordan | 13:28 UK time, Tuesday, 7 August 2012

Data and Video are collected separately and integrated on devices

In the build-up to the start of London 2012, my colleagues and I talked about it as the first truly digital Olympics.

Now that we're well into the Games, it's thrilling to see that concept become reality, as huge numbers of people watch and interact with events online at the BBC Sport website, on mobile and tablet, and on connected TV. We're breaking digital audiences records every day.

At the end of last week, I talked about the trends in multi-platform viewing behaviour that we're observing as this mass of data flows in. Today I want to explain a bit more about how our interactive coverage gets from the event itself to the device at your fingertips, wherever it is around the country that you are watching.

It's a fascinating process that begins with a camera capturing the action, and finishes with a complex mix of video and data brought together on your device.

The image above illustrates what happens in between, in the background, as audiences watch the final of the Women's Individual Cycling Sprint this afternoon.

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What's on BBC Red Button 4th - 11th August

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Tess Foster Tess Foster | 06:00 UK time, Saturday, 4 August 2012

What's On Red Button banner

London 2012 Olympics


Olympic Stadium in Stratford, London

All this week you can watch up to 24 streams of Olympics content on Red Button (satellite and cable) and Connected TV.

Full details are available on the Olympics schedule website.

BBC Sport Multiscreen

During the Olympics you can also catch up on all the latest in other sports via the BBC Sport multiscreen. Headlines are available around the clock with up to five streams available to cover the best that BBC Sport has to offer.

Please note that Red Button sport timings are subject to change at short notice.

For the latest information refer to the BBC Sport website.

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Digital Olympics: week one in numbers

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Cait O'Riordan Cait O'Riordan | 19:30 UK time, Friday, 3 August 2012

It's the end of the first week of London 2012, a week that's seen record numbers of people accessing the BBC's Games coverage online and across mobile, tablet, connected TV and Red-Button. As data flows in, my team and I have been looking at exactly how the Olympics is being consumed by audiences across devices.

There are three key insights we observed:

  • This is the multi-platform Games : all four screens (PC, mobile, tablet and connected TV) are seeing huge growth in usage.
  • Every event is getting Red Button love : Red Button is proving a hugely popular way for audiences to access any and every event, and we're seeing lots of activity on every one of our 24 streams.
  • Online mirrors TV : as with TV viewing, online activity has peaked around the big Team GB medal moments.

We promised Games coverage that you could access anywhere, any time, and it looks like you've been taking us up on that offer.

So let's have a closer look at the stats.

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Building the Olympic Data Services

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David Rogers David Rogers | 18:00 UK time, Wednesday, 1 August 2012

Peaks in data traffic for volleyball and badmington

Monitoring data for badmington and volleyball during the 2012 Olympics

Twelve months ago, there were three of us in the new Olympic Data Team: product manager Oliver Bartlett, developer David Norris, and I, David Rogers, as technical lead. We were tasked with providing data for the BBC's Olympics 2012 project: stats, events, results...

Today, we are a team of 20, we have built five applications, provide 174 endpoints, manage 50 message queues and support ten separate BBC Olympic products - from the sport website to the Interactive Video Player.

Over the course of the games, we expect to process over four million messages, such as athlete profiles, diving events from the Aquatic Centre or the latest medal table for Team GB. Throughout the project, there have been two distinct, but closely-linked objectives.

Two Objectives

Firstly, we needed to build a high-throughput, low latency message processing system, making sure the facts and figures emerging from the Olympic venues were available, throughout the BBC, quickly and accurately.

Secondly, we wanted this data to be part of a wider story, ensuring the wealth of BBC content, such as news, blogs, galleries, video and live commentary could be seen alongside the live data, and presented to suit a range of audiences. This second objective is best exemplified by the 10,490 athlete pages on the BBC sport website, each offering a dynamic and meaningful aggregation of content, all based around an individual Olympian.

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