BBC Future Media & Technology director Erik Huggers gave a sneak preview of the work-in-progress user interface that could power the Project Canvas open IPTV standard in all its interactive, cross-platform, content-sharing pomp at C21Media’s FutureMedia conference in London on Friday and made a plea for the service to get the green light from the BBC Trust to benefit the UK content, broadcasting and TV hardware industries.
The all-singing, all-dancing demo showed a mock-up of how the Beijing Olympics would look on Canvas: users can watch highlights instantly, send clips to friends, monitor what’s being said on Twitter, access archives at the touch of a button and use commercial third party apps and services. And that wasn’t all the Dutchman had up his sleeve as he reeled off a string of BBC online product launches including a re-launch of the iPlayer with social content-sharing features, a new purpose-built Nintendo Wii player and an intuitive multimedia search facility for bbc.co.uk. Just don’t accuse him of launching a social networking service…
— Canvas hopes:
Canvas The demo was flashy and impressive, but its future is by no means secure as the BBC Trust considers whether to back the project or scrap it. Huggers gave an impassioned plea for the industry and regulators to get behind the project: “Unless we succeed in getting Canvas through, that whole market will be fragmented — you would have multiple ways of achieving the same thing.” If Canvas fails, he argues, broadcasters would shoulder additional costs of reformatting new devices. “There could be a horizontal level playing field for everyone and I think that’s worth fighting for.” Update: The BBC contacted us to point out that this is only a demo of what people could expect from a Canvas product and is by no means the finished article.
— iPlayer re-born: Huggers showed screenshots of the new version of the iPlayer, due for launch next year, which as expected gives users the ability to share and recommend content. But Huggers was at pains to make one thing v-e-r-y clear: “This is not; I repeat, this is not the BBC entering into social networking. It’s exactly the opposite: we believe there are plenty of social networks out there… so why should we bother?” But through a social recommendation tab you will be able to see what your friends are watching. Also, a new “for you” section, an “algorithm based recommendation service” will suggest shows based on past viewing. He adds that the service now attracts five million unique users per week, compared to 27 million for bbc.co.uk generally.
— iPlayer device stats And it seems investing in making the iPlayer available on 23 different devices and platforms is paying off: Huggers revealed that for September, PC users represented 55 percent of total views; Virgin Media (NSDQ: VMED) TV users contributed 26 percent and Mac users seven percent, but mobile and Sony (NYSE: SNE) PS3 users brought in six percent each.
— Search Plus: The BBC has so much text, audio and video content these days that “a search box alone doesn’t do the trick”, says Huggers, so the Beeb is about to launch Search Plus, which brings together all BBC content from its many-tentacled media operations.
— Wii carriage relaunch: Huggers admits the iPlayer’s current Opera-based Nintendo Wii carriage is “clumsy”, but announced that a dedicated Wii Channel will be launched “very soon” for the console. It was developed by the Beeb in London and Manchester and Huggers points out that six million Wii consoles in the UK (although, far from all of them are online) adds up to a serious TV audience. The exisiting Wii iPlayer has received 900,000 views to date.
— Digital Britain ambitions too low: On a recent trip to South Korea, Huggers’ hosts told him they were upset because the standard broadband speed in the country was only 100Mbps, via fibre-to-the-home connections; to overcome the embarrassment the country is now moving to 1Gbps. “I said, ‘well that’s great, our government is talking about 2mpbs’. The level of ambition has been set too low in my opinion.”
Here’s Huggers talking about the Beeb’s social media content strategy: