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TV over the net could change the face of broadcasting: BBC

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MUMBAI: UK pubcaster The BBC says that the consumer trial of the BBC's Integrated Media Player (iMP) in the UK reveals that television over the internet could revolutionise broadcasting.

Research indicates that it increased the viewing of BBC programmes, extended peak-time and built loyalty. BBC director of new media and technology Ashley Highfield revealed key findings from the consumer trial research of iMP in a keynote speech at Milia, the audiovisual and digital content market.

During the trial, iMP offered downloadable BBC television and radio programmes on a catch-up basis via the PC to a closed panel of 5,000 people for four months between November 2005 and February 2006. Highfield says: "This research gives us the first glimpse into viewing behaviour in the on-demand future. It provides the first significant clues as to how TV programmes over the internet could revolutionise broadcasting, and prompt a wider, cultural shift in television consumption."

The panel consistently watched on an average two programmes a week via iMP during the period of the trial, the equivalent of an hour's viewing per week, despite a limited range of content. "This is equivalent to six per cent of a typical household's BBC viewing in a week. Consumption was consistent over the period of the trial, and the iMP appealed equally to men and women."

While the main reason for usage was to catch up on favourite programmes, iMP also introduced users to new titles and, in doing so, unlocked the 'long-tail effect.' "Niche programmes that would have struggled in a mainstream linear schedule performed consistently well throughout the period of the trial.

"While the top five programmes accounted for a quarter of all the viewing, some niche programming performed disproportionately well. The Amazon 'long-tail effect' – seen in the publishing and music industries – indicates that there is significant value in a broadcaster's archive" he adds.

Research showed that most viewing took place between 10.00 and 11.00pm, thus potentially extending peak time usage for an hour after the traditional linear peak time of 7.00 to 10.00pm. "This apparent shift in television consumption is consistent with the results of early video-on-demand trials with NTL and Telewest," added Highfield.

The results of the research into iMP will underpin the development of the proposed MyBBCPlayer, which "aims to put the audience in the driving seat" by offering users live streamed television and radio as well as a downloadable seven-day catch-up service of TVand radio programmes.

The launch of MyBBCPlayer will be subject to the necessary public value test and approvals as outlined in the Government's White Paper on the BBC Charter.

The BBC says that iMP received a good positive response. 74 per cent of respondents said that they would recommend it to a friend. The key benefits were that it offered genuine flexibility (to watch and to listen to programmes when they wanted), greater control and genuine, added value

iMP was perceived primarily as a TV service: 92% claimed that they used it most to watch television programmes rather than to listen to radio. This is explained by the established success of Radio Player which leads the charge in the BBC's on demand offerings, recording over 10 million requests for radio programmes on demand per month (11 million in January) The total number of TV downloads during the trial was 150,000, and the total number of viewings and listenings was 70,000

The most popular reason for using the iMP was when a favourite programme had been missed and to watch a programme at a more convenient time. 77 per cent of the respondents used it to watch a favourite programme that they had missed, while 64% used it to watch or listen to a programme at a more convenient time; and 32% used it to watch a programme they had never heard of .

Throughout the trial there was continuous interest in all programmes: more than 85% of titles available were downloaded, with comedy, drama and documentaries being the most popular genres. Programmes from the BBC's digital channels performed well during the trial – BBC THREE programmes were nearly as popular as those on BBC TWO and BBC 7 programmes performed as well as those on BBC Radio 1 and BBC Radio 2

The top five TV titles watched by the 5,000 triallists represented a quarter of all iMP TV viewing. The most popular TV programmes (with the total number of viewings) were EastEnders, Little Britain, Two Pints Of Lager And A Packet Of Crisps, Bleak House and Top Gear.

The average number of TV downloads per active user per month was 13, and the average number of requests-to-view per active user per month was eight. The average number of radio downloads per active user per month was six, and the average number of requests-to-listen per active user per month was three.

The majority of iMP usage (66 per cent) was for an hour or less at a time; usage mainly took place in the study and living room. 70 per cent of the respondents claimed that one of the reasons for their failure to watch was tied to the seven-day viewing limit. 27% said that the download speed could be improved; 78 per cent of panellists, however, said that they would not compromise on screen size or picture quality for quicker downloads.

76 per cent said that it was important to be able to view iMP via the television screen, and roughly 30 per cent of panellists said that portability was important (particularly for radio). 94 per cent said that increasing the number of programme titles would improve the iMP.

The BBC says that the original challenge was to produce a robust media-on-demand internet-based application which offered an entire television and radio schedule on a catch-up, rolling basis. The technical trial of iMP won the RTS Technical Innovation Award and was nominated for an Interactive Bafta.

iMP was created and developed by the BBC's New Media & Technology Division in partnership with Siemens, Red Bee Media, Kontiki and Miscrosoft, and Internet Service Providers AOL, Wanadoo, NTL, Tiscali, Telewest and Bulldog.

Siemens, as lead consultant on the project, were service architects responsible for the delivery of the whole service and for delivery of the Digital Rights Management download system. Siemens managed sub-contractors Red Bee Media and Kontiki; Red Bee Media were responsible for ingesting, encoding and playing out BBC TV content in the Broadcast Centre (and, through their partnership with Autonomy, they were able to provide a search and recommendation facility).

Red Bee also provided the metadata that drove the Electronic Programme Guide, enabling the user to search content and book downloads. Kontiki developed the peer-to-peer technology and back-end infrastructure.

The iMP trial panel of 5,000 people represented the full range of all demographics within the UK. Research data was weighted towards the broadband universe, taking into account age, gender and availability of multi-channel TV.

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