Sunday, March 23, 2008

The BBC's iPlayer

What a success the BBC's streaming iPlayer has been. It's even managed to single-handedly increase streaming internet usage in the UK by 200% in one month! Not bad for an application strung together in just a few months.

I'm still not sure the BBC quite realises what a revolution it has started. The iPlayer frees the BBC from the tyranny of the channel, which has foisted on us all prime-time game shows, padding TV to fills schedules, minority interests at midnight, and endless repeats of every programme except the one you really want to watch.

I've written some ideas for enhancing the iPlayer down, to show just what's possible with this new platform.

Increase the time limit from seven days to seventy years
The BBC has the most incredible back catalog of any broadcaster in the world. But much of it is under historic rights agreements that prevent it from being freely available to the public. So the BBC must initiate an enormous program of identifying and publishing content that's already free, re-negotiating contracts to free up historic material, and ensuring that new material is produced under agreements that allow for endless iPlayer availability.
Make search better
The search function is pretty poor at the moment. Ideally it would be possible to search across actors, episodes, producers, time periods, or even scenes within a show, with the same ease of use as Google.
High Definition
The ISPs might not like it, but why not publish new material in a range of formats depending on bandwidth, including high definition?
Add context
The video themselves are not enough. As a basic next step, the BBC should embed each video in a page that also explains the credits (as per IMDB). Next, they could add trivia, photos, transcripts, editor's comments, links to related material, and space for user-generated comments. This adds enormous value to the material, making the website far more 'sticky' as users navigate around, discovering related material and forming communities around niche content.
Open up worldwide with adverts
I see no reason why the BBC shouldn't make their content available globally, especially if it pays for itself via adverts for users outside the UK. In fact, this could be a massive new revenue source for the BBC, at no expense to UK citizens.

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