BBC's new-look iPlayer to offer options to restart live programmes and 'pause and resume' shows across different devices

The upgrades come as the BBC responds to a surge of recent activity in the video streaming market from companies like Netflix

Click to follow
The Independent Online

The BBC has announced significant upgrades to its pioneering iPlayer service as it responded to a surge of recent activity in the video streaming market from companies such as Netflix and Amazon.

Dan Taylor-Watt, head of iPlayer at BBC Digital , revealed a roll-out of new features designed to reflect latest changes to the way that modern audiences are watching television.

They include an option to restart live programmes that have already begun on any of the BBC’s channels on “connected TV” sets. Users of iPlayer will also be able to “pause and resume” shows across different devices – such as picking up a show on a mobile at the same point they stopped watching it on computer.

The upgrade of the system comes soon after comments published in The Independent from the chairman of the BBC Trust Rona Fairhead, who described the iPlayer as “venerable in digital time-scales” and called for the BBC to keep pace with changes introduced by global tech giants. The changes also precede BBC3’s move to an iPlayer only service in January.

Mr Taylor-Watt said the extension to TV of iPlayer’s “Live Restart” feature – previously available only on computer  – was a response to the resurgence of “event TV”, where the use of social media for so-called second screening has increased the desire to watch big shows such as The Great British Bake Off live rather than later on-demand.

 

“This has been informed by looking at iPlayer usage graphs and seeing the massive spike that occurs as soon as programmes are made available – there are people who have fingers at the ready waiting for the moment a programme becomes available on iPlayer,” he said.

“People still want to watch television on their television. When it comes to entertainment shows, sport, big news events or big dramas, people do want to watch it live. There is a sense that this is event TV and you have a matter of hours before your Twitter feed will spoil it for you.”

He acknowledged that “Restart” would still tarry behind social media commentary but described the service as a “killer feature” and superior to Sky’s Instant Rewind service, which only applies to the channel being watched.

But the BBC’s attempts to move the “Restart” feature to all Connected TV sets have had limited success. The service will initially only be available to viewers watching via YouView, NOW TV, Amazon Fire TV, Roku and Xbox One. That amounts to only 40 per cent of the audience with iPlayer on TV. Viewers on services including Sky and Virgin Media will not have the feature on TV.

Mr Taylor-Watt said it was hoped to add the Live Restart service to the iPlayer app on mobile devices from next year.

Another new iPlayer feature is called “My Programmes” and launches on mobile apps this week, having had a soft launch earlier this month on computers. It automatically cues up the next episode in a series that the user has been watching and allows a download to be accessed on a mobile device from the point where the viewer left off, without the need for Wi-Fi. A soon-to-be introduced “Recommendations” feature will use more sophisticated algorithms to offer BBC content matched to the user’s previous viewing habits.

In an essay this week, Ms Fairhead said the BBC “must have the technical and research capacity, if not to invent new technologies, at least to adapt and exploit them”. She expressed concern that “global giants such as Google, Apple, Amazon and Netflix are all investing heavily in content” and said they could “dwarf” the BBC. “We need clarity from the BBC about how it intends to respond to these dramatic changes in its competitive environment.”

Comments