Dan Taylor, Head of BBC iPlayer, announced the rollout of a new version of the world famous player for computers, tablets, mobiles and connected TVs - and I have to say it looks very cool. Now technically you should only be watching BBC iPlayer if you live in the UK and have paid your annual TV licence (yes, we have to pay a fee to watch TV and yes it's spelled with a 'c'.) But of course if you live in any other location globally and you know your way around a VPN - you can watch it too (but you did not hear that from me.)
BBC iPlayer launched Christmas Day 2007, offering users the opportunity to catch-up with the last 7 days of BBC programming online and is now available on over 1,000 different devices and serves 10 million programme requests a day. It now offers more than just catch-up, with live streaming, archive collections, exclusives and premieres. New features include mobile downloads and Live Restart, allowing replay during live broadcast. Today's roll-out includes a new web version and a new TV version - mobile and tablet apps will be updated with the new interface in the coming months.
Taylor says, 'The new iPlayer has been designed for a multiscreen world, so the experience is consistent, but optimised across PC, tablet, mobile and TV devices and we've built it in such a way that we can rapidly develop and release new features across those four screens.'
The new web version is responsive and the main focus seems to be the new UI - making it easier to search and find newly released stuff. 'The current iPlayer’s pretty good if you know what you want to watch, but we know that 42% of visitors are now coming without a particular programme in mind.' says Taylor. (Yes that's how the BBC spell 'programme')
Most of the improvements are simply good web practice and make what was already a great service even better:
- Consistent navigation bar along the top
- ‘Find tools’ panel
- Image-led browsing experience
- Dedicated pages for each BBC channel
- New user friendly categories for Documentaries, Food, Arts, History, Science & Nature
My favorite new feature is Collections that aid program discovery by grouping them by series, season, event or theme. BBC Four has been releasing themed archive collections for the last few years but they’ve been difficult to find in iPlayer - that's been fixed.
And the pre-release focus group tests have been positive according to Taylor:
We've been busy testing it with users and I’m pleased to say that they’ve been telling us its “simple”, “clearer”, “easier”, “more expansive” and “just better”. Critically, they’ve also been telling us that they’ve been discovering programmes they wouldn’t previously have found..
Our verdict: It's always going to be a work in progress and what makes it the most popular brand in the UK is the content- it's still got to be some of the best broadcast programming in the world. So if you'll excuse me I'm off to iPlayer to watch the England vs Wales Rugby match I missed on Sunday!