BBC Develops Prototype Connected-TV App that Pulls Related Web Content into a Live TV Stream

--Radio 4 Offering Comedy Flashmob Program through BBC's Red-Button Interactive TV Service

In a posting Wednesday on the BBC Backstage blog (note: BBC Backstage is billed by the corporation as "a developer network to encourage open innovation and support new talent," and as offering "content and data feeds...for people to build upon under a non-commercial basis"), the BBC's Andrew Littledale unveiled a prototype connected-TV application that is designed to answer the questions: "What [will] set-top boxes connected to the Internet...look like for the user" and "What kind of interfaces will work best when TV and the Web become bedfellows?"

"The most useful application we could think of was something that would provide Web content that was relevant to what was being talked about on TV," Littledale writes. "So we created a Flash application that pulls in live subtitles from an IRC channel and places them underneath a live feed of [BBC digital channel] News 24...As the subtitles appear on the screen, they are sent off to a natural language processing API, and relevant concepts are extracted from the text (and in our case returned as DBpedia terms). When the concepts come back from the API they are placed over the EMP on the left of the picture. We've mapped these terms to BBC News content and clicking on them reveals links on the right. Clicking on these opens up the Web page in a new tab." (Note: A demo video of the prototype application is embedded above.)

In his blog posting, Littledale concedes that the application still has some bugs: "Sometimes the concepts returned are a little random and it would be good to filter them," he writes. "We also need to come up with a scalable way of using the subtitles." However, he notes that "both things are doable," and adds that "it would also be possible to tailor the application to link to specific parts of," including the BBC's online learning facility for school students, GCSE Bitesize--so that "students could find learning Learning content that was relevant to stuff they were watching on TV."

Littledale's blog post concludes by arguing that we should expect to see more hybrid Web-TV interfaces like the one seen in the prototype app, in light of the expected launch of Google TV in the fall and of Project Canvas-based devices next year.

In other news from the BBC: BBC Radio 4 has produced a special half-hour show that features impromptu performances given by various Radio 4 comedians at a "comedy flashmob" event that Radio 4 organized at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. The show--which the BBC describes as "a dynamic, genuinely immersive half-hour program that includes a remarkable sequence shot from many angles during the flashmob and a slightly unhinged al fresco performance of 'Just a Minute'"--will be available through the BBC's red-button interactive TV service on Sky, Virgin and Freeview through Friday, August 27th (it will subsequently be available on Radio 4's Web site and on the BBC's YouTube channel).