UPDATE U.K. residents will soon have access to a long-awaited iPad app for the BBC iPlayer that will incorporate social networking and improved playback for the public broadcaster’s content on the tablet device. According to a series of tweets from BBC engineer Geoff Marshall, the app will be released on Thursday, with a subscription-based version for U.S. residents coming later this summer.
According to Marshall, who learned of the app in a briefing Monday, the iPlayer on the iPad will require a Wi-Fi connection for video playback, but users will be able to browse show and episode listings using a 3G connection. For the time being, the app will only be available to those in the U.K., who can use the iPlayer service to catch up on programs for up to a week after they air.
BBC programming has long been available on the iPad through the tablet’s Safari web browser. But the iPad app will add improved playback and social networking features to the service. The rollout of an app will also enable the BBC to eventually reach other markets; An international version of the BBC iPlayer app is scheduled to be released in the U.S. in June or July, but it will be a paid, subscription-based app, Marshall wrote.
The news of the iPad app comes at a tumultuous time for the BBC’s online operations, as the public broadcaster recently slashed its workforce by 360 employees, after a strategic review by the BBC Trust. The BBC Trust also recently ruled that the broadcaster should limit itself to standards-based implementations of the iPlayer on connected devices.
Up until now, that hasn’t been much of a problem, as the vast majority of iPlayer views happen on a PC. About three-quarters of all iPlayer requests come from a PC, with only about 20 percent coming from connected devices and Virgin Media’s TV set-top boxes. Just four percent of viewing comes from mobile devices like the iPad. That could change once a dedicated app is released, however, since iPad users typically watch more video using apps than they do on mobile web pages.
Update: The BBC has confirmed on its blog that the iPlayer iPad app will soon be released, giving a few additional details. In addition to its iPad app, the BBC is also releasing a version for Android mobile devices.
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