BBC will "Reinvent" iPlayer to maintain relevance

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Catch-up service BBC iPlayer will be "reinvented" in a bid to be the top online TV destination in the UK within three years.

Specifically, new technology such as artificial intelligence, voice recognition and personalisation will be introduced to reassert iPlayer’s eminence as the gold standard of online TV services.

In an address to staff, made public ahead of time by the broadcaster, BBC director-general Tony Hall will explain how he wants to "reinvent public broadcasting for a new generation."

He says, "iPlayer was the biggest revolution of the last charter. Now we need it to make the leap from a catch-up service to a must-visit destination in its own right."

At the end of 2015, iPlayer was used by almost a third of the UK population, ahead of Sky's Now TV and Netflix, both used by 16%, according to Ofcom.

However, the BBC feels it needs to make a leap ahead of competition from Amazon Prime and Netflix, both of which plan to spend upwards of $6 billion this year on content.

"Our goal, even in the face of rapid growth by our competitors, is for iPlayer to be the number one online TV service in the UK," Hall says. "That will mean doubling our reach, and quadrupling the time each person spends on it every week. And we want do it by 2020. That’s tough, but I know we can do it."

The revamp is already under way. Last July, the BBC launched BBC ID, a personalised app binding access to all its digital services including BBC channels, as well as its news and sports websites. BBC ID will surface content to users based on previous content radio/text/video choices plus editorially curated recommendations.

One can expect the BBC to embrace tech developments in virtual assistants and voice recognition, as per Amazon Alexa, to enhance personalisation.

The Corporation’s experiments in 360° video experiences continues. BBC Earth Productions, which produces natural history, science, and adventure programming for commercial arm BBC Worldwide, is reportedly planning to explore 'haptic' virtual reality and AR experiences. BBC Earth recently announced it had been working with Oculus Rift to create three VR experiences, including one enabling users to follow black bears in the Alaskan wild, also available on Samsung Gear VR headsets later this month. The BBC launched its first VR production, an animation depicting migrants crossing the Aegean Sea from Turkey to Greece, on the Oculus store last month.

iPlayer usage has never been higher. An average of 243 million monthly requests were to the service last year. BBC Three, the youth targeted network which was taken off air and made online-only last year, was said to have had "a good year" with the first episode of drama Thirteen proving the second most popular series, after episode one of natural history show Planet Earth II, with 3.23m requests.

Other changes, already enacted by all4, the digital service of Channel 4, could see whole series released at once for binge viewing.

Beyond entertainment, the BBC will put a stronger emphasis on "slow news"—meaning more in-depth analysis of topics and issues—to run alongside the "fast" breaking news and day to day events.

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