iPlayer Makes TV More Social, Without Re-Inventing The Social Network Wheel

Outgoing BBC iPlayer boss Anthony Rose’s “parting gift” to the VOD service, as Erik Huggers put it – a series of upgrades that make iPlayer into a stronger destination site, extend its reach in to social networks and introduce social graphs and personalisation to enhance discoverability…

Here’s the beta. And here’s what it means…


Favouriting a programme on iPlayer means viewers are presented with the latest programme in the series each time they visit the service – saving time searching for their favourite weekly shows. It will “make iPlayer feel more like a destination you go to as a primary point of consumption”, said Rose, the BBC’s vision and online controller for future media and technology, who is becoming Project Canvas CTO, at a briefing.

Favouriting results in viewers seeing recommendations in a “For You” panel. A reworked mobile web version is coming in a couple of weeks that will support favouriting – Rose said viewers, whilst commuting could mark programmes to watch at home later.

Instant Messaging for shared viewing

Responding to the trend in shared social viewing, iPlayer is integrating web-embedded Windows Live Messenger on episode pages so viewers can chat about live and on-demand shows along with IM friends.

Rose acknowledged it may be used only by early adopters but said it’s “the best feature” of the upgrade: “If i see Erik is watching EastEnders, I can join in and watch. The integration of chat with live TV has been the holy grail. This, for some, could transform the way they watch television.” The feature has missed today’s beta for Rose’s third-generation iPlayer, but is due in two to three weeks.

Former Microsoft (NSDQ: MSFT) exec Huggers may leave himself open to Microsoft favouritism here, but he promises other chat protocols will be added: “It’s toe in the water. The minute we find out this is popular, we’ll absolutely open it out to other chat services, whether it’s Facebook or Google (NSDQ: GOOG) or Skype etc – we’ve had exploratory discussions with several of them already.”

A social graph for seeing friends’ viewing

Viewers can connect their Facebook and Twitter profiles to their BBC iD. From then, they can “recommend” programmes out to their friends on those services, and see shows recommended by their Twitter and Facebook friends.

A new “Friends” panel appears on the iPlayer homepage. But there’s no social graph made from BBC iD profiles themselves – rather, viewers will see the viewing habits of their Facebook and Twitter friends, which are pulled in via BBC iD.

Facebook is clearly loving the prospect – it’s press-releasing the feature.

Other tweaks

“The World Cup is coming up,” Rose said – hence, some UI tweaks to make viewing live TV easier.

iPlayer is separating TV and radio content, and there’s a new-style radio console.

A new Adobe (NSDQ: ADBE) AIR desktop client offers series linking as well as the existing individual downloads, plus prebooked downloads that can be scheduled for overnight to avoid bandwidth throttling.