Next-Gen iPlayer, BBC Playlister, BBC Store: Digital Future of the Beeb Revealed By Director-General Tony Hall

By Gerald Lynch on at

Giving only his second keynote speech after becoming the BBC's 16th Director-General back in November 2012, Tony Hall has today outlined his vision for the future of the Beeb. And it's all about personalisation. And, inevitably, it's all about the iPlayer.

After iPlayer revolutionised the way we access once-broadcasted TV after its first release back in 2007, Hall today outlined plans for the next-generation of the catch-up service, one that would allow viewers to personalise their viewing and listening choices even further, offering recommendations across multiple devices. All iPlayer content will become available for 30 days too, rather than the current seven-day limit.

"People will think not 'The BBC', but 'My BBC', 'Our BBC', a BBC worthy of its 100th birthday, a BBC to be proud of," said Hall, speaking at Broadcasting House in London this morning.

"Audiences, our public, want control. New technology means they can find great content whether it's recommended by a friend, or a friendly algorithm."

With personalised user channels, the iPlayer will also be able to deliver "highlights reels" of  a user's favourite shows for quick viewing when they are strapped for time. And, with the suggestion of individual accounts tied to the in-development next-gen iPlayer, you'll be able to pause a show and pick it up bookmarked halfway through on a fresh device seamlessly, just as you can with Netflix.

Of course, with the BBC funded largely by TV license payers, the move towards an online-focussed, highly personalised distribution of BBC content calls the relevance of the license fee into question. When you can pick and choose exactly what you want to watch and when, will people still want to pay for the rest of the programming they're not interested in? It's an argument that of course was still valid before catch-up TV services destroyed linear TV viewing habits for good -- no-one could ever watch the entirety of the BBC's output -- but the pick n' mix nature of the next-gen iPlayer could put this issue into the spotlight once more. Even with the ambitious plans, Hall reinforced the fact that the BBC will be freezing the license fee cost until 2017, music to the ears of cash-strapped TV viewers. Regardless, personalisation is the standard for a whole generation of TV viewers, one the BBC cannot ignore unless it wants to alienate future audiences.

"The BBC will, and should, change as the world around us changes. We've never feared new technology -- we've done the reverse, always embracing it," continued Hall.

"To a toddler, a magazine is a tablet that's bust. That's how this generation is growing up, with a totally diffferent set of norms and behaviours [...]The iPlayer will be the best online TV service in the world, and the front door to the BBC for the world globally."

The grand plans for the iPlayer have already been set in motion, with a new Radio 1 video channel, exclusive to the catch-up player, announced yesterday with the intention of bringing a younger, YouTube-reared audience to the station.

The iPlayer improvements will be joined by a new radio-focussed service, built on similar principles to the next-gen iPlayer, called Open Minds. Featuring programmes from BBC Radio 4, Radio 3 and the World Service, it will learn a listener's interests, and suggest shows to listen to on-the-go based on the free time available to them. It's set to launch in 2014, alongside a global roll-out of the iPlayer Radio app.

Adding to the digital radio revamp will be BBC Playlister. It will allow listeners to tag music played on BBC radio stations and, through partnerships with the likes of Spotify and Deezer, will give listeners the option of playing back the songs at a later date through numerous streaming services.

A new commercial channel for BBC content was also announced, called BBC Store. It will offer digital downloads of classic BBC content, at a price.

Hall also detailed a renewed push in 2015 to champion coding among Britain's youth. Hinting at partnerships with major independent technology companies, Hall referenced the BBC Micro in his plans to help raise a generation of confident app builders, web site creators and software coding whizzes.

Finally, Hall gave details of the BBC's proposed 20 per cent increase in funding for arts coverage -- an unsurprising move from a company now headed by Hall, the former boss of the Royal Opera House. More art exhibitions, live music and theatre from around the UK will be covered and broadcast by the BBC, with a new "BBC Arts at" brand joined by two other series hosted by Simon Schama and Andrew Marr. A new BBC music award will also be established as part of the arts drive, as well as a nationwide initiative to inspire children to become involved in classical music.