BBC Relaunches iPlayer with Simplified User Experience, New Personalization and Social Features

--Service Will Provide Links to Broadband Video Services from ITV, Channel 4, S4C, Five, Arqiva

The BBC on Wednesday unveiled a new beta version of its broadband VOD/OTT service, the BBC iPlayer, that features 1) what the corporation calls a "simplified and intuitive" user experience that is intended to make it easier to find content on the service; 2) personalization options that the corporation says will allow users to "create their own iPlayer experience"; and 3) social media integration. A new mobile version of the iPlayer is expected to launch in a couple of weeks.

The iPlayer--which just received a positive review from the BBC's regulatory body, the BBC Trust (see the article published on, May 26th)--has proven very popular with UK audiences, last month delivering a record 123 million streams of TV and radio programs. In a prepared statement that referenced a recent decision by the BBC to significantly cut back its online activities, the corporation's director of future media and technology, Erik Huggers, said: "The launch of this version of the BBC iPlayer is part of our strategy to do fewer things even better and make it more simple, personal and connected. We must no longer try to do everything online, but focus on delivering genuinely world-class products like BBC iPlayer--which audiences love and which really embodies the BBC's core mission in a digital age. Bringing the benefits of emerging technologies to the public is in the BBC's DNA as its sixth public purpose. BBC iPlayer gives audiences greater control over the programs they enjoy, guarantees subscription-free access to BBC content in an on-demand world, and provides better value for the content they have already paid for. In two and half years BBC iPlayer has evolved to become one of our most popular Web sites, integral to BBC Online, and available on a wide range of Internet-connected devices."

The BBC says that it has formed a number of non-exclusive partnerships as part of its relaunch of the iPlayer:

  • Partnerships with Facebook and Twitter will enable audiences to recommend content to friends on their own networks. The corporation says that it is working with other companies in the social media space with a view to establishing similar partnerships, and that the Facebook and Twitter deals represent the first part of a broader initiative to introduce more social features to BBC Online.
  • A partnership with Microsoft (Huggers' former employer) will allow Windows Live Messenger users to log into that service through the iPlayer, enabling them to invite their friends to co-watch programs and chat about them in real time. This, the BBC says, is an experimental feature that will be available in beta later in the summer. If it proves successful, the corporation plans to integrate other instant messaging services to the iPlayer.
  • So-called "metadata partnerships" with commercial terrestrial broadcasters, ITV, Channel 4, S4C and Five, and with broadcast infrastructure company, Arqiva, will enable the iPlayer to provide links to programs from the ITV Player, 4oD, Clic, Demand Five and SeeSaw. The BBC says that these partnerships mean that audiences looking on the iPlayer for long-form programs that are actually offered by other broadcasters will be directed to sites where they can find those programs, adding that the iPlayer will link and drive traffic to those sites, "without any sharing of technology or syndication of content."

A detailed list of the BBC iPlayer's new user experience, personalization and social media features is available here. The Guardian, which attended a briefing on the new version of the iPlayer, has extensive coverage of the relaunch here, here and here.