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BBC upgrades iPlayer to allow 'social propositions'

Now you can be distracted while watching TV alone

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The BBC has relaunched the website version of its popular iPlayer service in an effort to give the online telly catch-up service a Web2.0rhea sheen.

Auntie pushed out an iPlayer beta this morning and said it planned to release a full-fat version in July this year.

The Corporation said it had simplified its iPlayer by making TV and radio shows easier to search for via its website. The Beeb has also tweaked the interface to allow users to personalise their iPlayer “experience”, and dipped the whole thing in some social networking dye.

Viewers and listeners are now able to share and recommend programmes to friends on Facebook, Twitter and within the iPlayer itself.

Interestingly, the Beeb has not only allowed Facebook and Twitter to add plug-ins to the iPlayer, but it has also signed up Microsoft to offer its Windows Live Messenger users the opportunity to hook up to their messaging via the BBC service. The idea is that users can then invite other contacts to watch shows “together” online.

However, that feature won’t be coming until later in the summer when a beta will be released, said the BBC. If successful, the corporation will extend the service to other messaging services.

But the BBC’s decision to farm its iPlayer content out to tech outfits in deals that it described as “non-exclusive partnerships” might be met with criticism from some quarters of the licence-fee paying UK public.

"As we focus on what public service means in a digital age, we are working to set clear boundaries for BBC Online. We don't want to build a social network, microblogging or instant messaging service,” said BBC future media and technology chief Erik Huggers.

"But through a greater emphasis on strategic partnerships, we can harness the benefits of the web to enrich the audience's interaction with our content and support other content providers. The new BBC iPlayer reflects public service broadcasting in the digital era."

Huggers was reiterating what BBC director general Mark Thompson said in his strategic review of the corporation in March this year when he confirmed that the BBC wouldn’t provide its own email, webmail or instant messaging service. He also said the Beeb wouldn’t create its own social networking sites.

"Any social propositions on the BBC site [are] only there to aid engagement with BBC content. The BBC will also ensure that its social activity works with external social networks," said the review, which is currently being mulled by the broadcaster’s governing body. ®

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