March 11, 2014

BBC iPlayer Receives a Complete Revamp with HTML5-driven Features

The BBC's online player system, the iPlayer, has been around for quite some time, but now the system—which serves as both a video-on-demand system and a catch-up service for those who missed certain shows—has taken on a new look and some new features thanks to a complete rebuild using HTML5 as its core. The rebuild isn't going out all at once, but will be arriving on a variety of platforms over the course of the next several weeks.

One of the biggest new changes—noticeable almost immediately—is that both the channel pages and the homepage have become adaptive, allowing same to adjust to the size of the display being used. Those viewing the iPlayer on a smartphone get a much smaller screen, but when those viewers switch to a larger display, more content becomes visible. Each channel within the iPlayer has a different themed aesthetic as well, with—for example—the children's television section known as “Cbeebies” getting a friendly, colorful backdrop against which it can work.

Search functions get a modification as well, with intuitive results helping to narrow down the shows as a user types. Putting in a “t”, for example, would list all the shows starting with the letter the iPlayer can offer, but adding an “o” reduces the pool down to “Top Gear,” “Top of the Pops,” and “Topsy and Tim.”

The iPlayer even takes a note from Netflix and, instead of giving a prompt to watch a program after finishing it, provides the option to carry on to the next program in sequence. There's even a space to look for new episodes of content released since the last time the content in question was viewed, making it much easier overall to keep up.

Those who use smartphones and tablets to view the site will be the first to get in on the new system, followed closely by those packing either a PlayStation 3 or one of the new PlayStation 4 models. Other formats—there's no word on when desktop and laptop computers will get in though it would seem it would be sooner rather than later—will get in later, but some systems won't get in for quite some time, particularly the Xbox 360 and the Virgin Media (NewsAlert) TiVo box. Neither of the two uses HTML5 in its operation, so that's going to put a crimp in the ability to release.

It's good to see iPlayer taking advantage of new technology and capability to present a better value to its user base, something that will likely be well received. Given the overall concentration of mobile devices, this change—which seems to favor mobile devices perhaps more than anything else—will likely provide plenty of that extra value, and that in turn will likely keep viewers around and watching. The ease of being able to catch up with missed programming with streaming video is something that network websites have been noting for some time—today, many cable channels offer the last few episodes of at least some shows—so bringing that function to an all-in-one sort of system like iPlayer should prove to be a valuable addition to the roster.

It's always good to understand one's viewership, especially when it's a television network involved, and the BBC's modified iPlayer looks like a great effort has been made toward giving the viewers just what was hoped for.

Edited by Cassandra Tucker


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