The BBC wants to be your online TiVo

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The BBC launched a prototype for a new form of electronic programming guide (EPG) today that replaces the traditional grid with automatically updated wish lists. That will allow users to organize their favorite TV and radio shows in the same way a TiVo handles subscriptions to TV shows.

Users of The Programme List can search for TV shows by title, actors, guests and other keywords and then add their favorite shows to a list to track all future air dates.

The list also contains links to episodes available online, and shows can be tracked even when on hiatus. The whole thing utilizes a very simplified UI, looking more like the unfinished work of a startup than something that a seasoned broadcaster would launch. The BBC’s R&D department explained in a blog post that the site is part of an effort to explore “how people remember programmes and how best to help them do that.”

That’s a laudable effort, but there’s something else that’s remarkable about the site: The Programme List is specific to U.K. TV and radio programming, but it’s not limited to shows aired by the BBC. Instead, it also lists content from the ITV, Channel 4 and Five.

Does that list sound somewhat familiar? If so, that’s probably because those networks were also partnering with the BBC for its failed effort to create a British counterpart to The three broadcasters joined forces in 2007 to work on what was then called Project Kangaroo. However, the project was held up by regulators, and eventually killed in early 2009.

A project like The Programme List is avoiding similar scrutiny with a much more decentralized approach: It replaces a central repository with simple lists of air times and links to online resources, thus avoiding all the regulatory and licensing nightmares. In a way, that’s again very much the TiVo approach to content aggregation: Instead of licensing it from broadcasters, it simply empowers the consumers to find and watch content with less hassle.

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