BBC iPlayer back on Wii: a tipping point?

The BBC’s new iPlayer ‘app’ for the Wii is now available for download: and it has the potential to do amazing things to UK viewing habits.
Thus far, if you wanted to watch iPlayer via your Nintendo Wii (and your wireless broadband connection), there was a web-based interface, not dissimilar to iplayer/bigscreen – which was fine, but not without its issues. Like for example, if you wanted to watch full-screen – which, of course, you would – you had to do a manual zoom-in on the playback window, and even then, it wasn’t quite right. Then came the upgrade to the Wii’s web browser… and iPlayer broke, for some reason.
Instead, there’s now a free iPlayer ‘channel’ available for download from the console’s Wii Shop. The interface is much the same: which, to be honest, is a bit disappointing. I can appreciate the desire to maintain consistency across all broadcast platforms, but the Wii could surely do a lot more than others. But it works fine, so no real complaints.
The TV playback? Fantastic. Better image quality than before (I think): not as good as a Sky Digital signal, but certainly good enough. Seems more reliable playback too. And yes, hurrah, proper full-screen viewing.
Of course, the Wii version falls a bit behind the Virgin Media cable version, which already boasts HD-quality. But it’s worth noting how big a success iPlayer has been on cable; Virgin credited its arrival as being ‘a real tipping point in consumer understanding of on-demand’. I wonder if the same can happen with the Wii (and other games consoles) as platforms for delivering online content?

Govt comms: better, but years behind

Flicking across the news channels tonight, I bumped into recorded coverage of Wednesday’s Lords Communications Committee. You had the BBC’s Frank Gardner and Sky’s Tim Marshall, plus a couple of other senior journalists, giving their frank opinions on the state of media, politics and government. I only caught the last few minutes; it looks like I missed coverage of the earlier session with Nick Robinson and Adam Boulton.
The session closed with each ‘witness’ being asked: is government communication getting better or worse, and how does it need to improve? Fascinatingly, the two TV correspondents referenced the world of multi-platform, multi-media, online-driven news.
Frank Gardner told the committee: ‘I definitely sense a desire to be helpful. [But] they are still in about 1985, when it comes to being in tune with the modern, multimedia environment we work in. We live in a fast-moving media environment. Government departments generally are far too slow – unnecessarily.’
Tim Marshall, never one to mince his words, agreed that things were ‘getting better since 2004, because things were pretty bad before that. The flow of information is much better, putting things on the internet, the Prime Minister’s conferences being televised, Lobby being on the record – these are all very positive things. But there are still not enough professional people [in media operations]. It’s people passing through for two years, sometimes they don’t want to do it.’
Tim then quoted an email from an unnamed colleague, who had recently spoken to a conference of 60 government press officers. ‘I got the distinct impression they are several years off the pace.’ ‘We in the media have had to embrace the blogosphere, all this stuff,’ Tim said in conclusion. ‘We’ve had to, because it’s survive or die. It’s not like that in government press offices, and I don’t think they’ve quite understood 2008, and the multimedia platform.’
So, to any press officers who happen to be reading: it isn’t just the geeks saying this now; it’s the journalists you’re there to serve. They’re telling you – politely, positively – that you aren’t serving them satisfactorily. You need to play catch-up.
PS: I’d never have found this if I hadn’t been channel-hopping at the right moment. The fact is, some of the most insightful and intelligent broadcasting in the UK is happening at weekends on BBC Parliament – and it’s a crying shame that we can’t find a better way to get it out there. The iPlayer is a start (and yes, this recording will thankfully be on iPlayer ‘soon’ – Monday I guess). But surely it’s crying out to be a TED-style podcast series?

Highfield quits BBC

I’m sure other people will have much better insight than I into the departure of Ashley Highfield from his £359,000/year job at the BBC. Of course, he’s moving to a not-unrelated position, heading up Project Kangaroo, the video-on-demand joint-venture between the BBC, ITV and Channel Four. The success of iPlayer version 2 may or may not have been a factor… but isn’t it interesting how version 1 has become a dim and distant memory already been wiped from the history books? (See below.)
The Guardian reckons Erik Huggers has been groomed to be his successor:

“There’s a belief that [Huggers] was brought in specially and was being trained up for the job,” said (an) insider, who added that Huggers was well respected within the corporation. He makes stuff happen and is very hands-on. He is a very accomplished public speaker, has a very broad knowledge and will knock heads together.”
The source also said Huggers may find it difficult to move from a very delivery-focused, practical role to the politics of the corporation’s top digital media job. “Ashley’s job is 85% politics, 15% doing things. It will be interesting to see how [Huggers] does.”

Interesting use of the word ‘interesting’ there, obviously.
I suppose it’s a high-profile vote of confidence in the internet as a medium for distributing TV, although it makes the recent spat between Highfield and the country’s ISPs all the more juicy. And it’s probably a good thing for the BBC to have a new hand at the helm.
Over on the BBC’s Internet blog, Nick Reynolds posts the full email to staff from Mark Thompson. (Thanks Nick.) Again, I note the prominent iPlayer reference. It’s amazing how this has become a great moment in UK media history, despite getting it (frankly) so wrong in its first incarnation.
But hang on. I’m most amused by Thompson’s line about iPlayer receiving ’42 million programme requests in its first three months’. This figure seems to come from a press release last week, which proclaimed 42 million ‘in the first three months since its Christmas Day 2007 marketing launch‘. Crucially then, it seems we’re wiping the Microsoft-only, Kontiki-based, wait-forever-to-download product from the history books. Better remove all trace from the archives, guys.
And for the record, has anyone managed successfully to watch programming on a Wii? I’m finding it stops every 20-30 seconds to buffer, making it practically unwatchable.

BBC finally embedding video

BBC embedded Flash playerSteve Herrman, writing on the BBC’s Editors blog, is absolutely right: the move to video embedded on the page is ‘quite a significant moment’ for the Beeb’s website. Except that, judging by the first visible example, it’s got issues. It’s either failing to buffer, or returning an error message.
As explained in more detail on the Internet blog, the move to Flash video means faster processing for them, better quality for international users, and better usability for everyone. Clips will all have their own ‘permalink’ pages on the site, which makes for easier linking – but if you’re thinking of embedding clips on your own site, you’ll be disappointed.
It’s a welcome improvement from the Beeb: the News site’s use of video was starting to look ridiculously dated, when compared to the iPlayer… or indeed, to competitors like Sky, who went down this route almost a year ago. But I think Sky still has the edge in terms of usability. The Beeb’s pages already feel too long to me; I doubt many people ever read to the bottom of a story. By embedding video at the top of the page, as they seem to be doing, it pushes the text content even further down. Sky’s ‘rich sidebar’ treatment gives the best of both worlds.