New iPlayer to tap into social networking

The BBC’s iPlayer is set for a revamp this week when the latest version of the catch-up service launches with an emphasis on personalisation and social networking.

The BBC has promised that the updated iPlayer will feature a new design that is “more fun to use, and distinctively styled”.  In an attempt to make the experience more personalised, the iPlayer’s homepage will be customisable, meaning users can alter which menus appear. A recommendation engine will also take information from programmes that have been previously viewed to suggest other content that might be of interest.

The BBC has also added the option of signing into the site and connecting it to Facebook and Twitter, enabling users to recommend programmes to friends. However, the addition that the BBC said will “be the killer feature” for some is the ability to watch programmes with friends using Windows Live Messenger. Users with a Messenger account that are signed in to iPlayer will be able to see what their friends are watching and how far into that programme they are. They can then snyc their iPlayers and chat in real time, all within the iPlayer site.

“While social networks are now a well established phenomenon, socially enhanced TV and radio aren’t. It’s early days yet, but we’re pretty sure that this is going to be an important facility in the near future” said iPlayer head James Hewiness in a blog posting. “Together, we hope these features represent a crucial evolutionary step in the enjoyment of online TV and radio. Until now, the focus has been on getting programmes to users packaged in a coherent experience – this next step is about allowing users to interact with the service and each other around our programmes.”

The BBC will also roll out the next generation of its adaptive bitrate system, which automatically adjusts the video quality up and down every few seconds to match the broadband speed. The corporation said the improved video quality will be most apparent in full-screen mode, where iPlayer will automatically switch up to 832×468 1500Kbps high-quality SD streams as soon as users go to full screen, dropping to the 480Kbps and 800Kbps lower bitrate streams as needed.

A beta version of the new iPlayer has been available since May, with the site now accounting for eight per cent of all iPlayer usage. Already, 18,000 users have signed up to the social features and linked iPlayer to Twitter and Facebook accounts, the BBC said. 

Separately, Sony UK has announced that all new VAIO computers will come with a pre installed BBC iPlayer widget on their desktop. This will allow Sony VAIO customers to watch live and on-demand TV and radio programmes directly through a desktop shortcut on laptops and PCs.

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