BBC connects the Red Button to Virgin

December 4, 2012 12.00 Europe/London By Julian Clover

The BBC has launched a new Connected Red Button service. Starting on Virgin Media, the BBC plans to add the service to other platforms including Freeview and Freesat, as well as a collection of connected TVs.

“MHEG technology doesn’t produce the kind of experience we would love to deliver, but its not the technology we would like to be building on. No matter what kind of spectrum you have it’s never going to be enough,” said Daniel Danker, general manager, programmes and on demand.

Danker explained that after 13 years of service, some 20 million viewers accessed the content on a monthly basis. “It’s taught us how important human expert curation is in bringing complementary content to the television screen.”

Initially Connected Red Button will be available on Virgin Media’s TiVo platform, using a mix of Flash and HTML.

Viewers would press Red on BBC One and be presented with a selection of recent shows from the channel through the iPlayer. There are later plans to add contextual content, for example previous episodes of the show currently being screened, and Restart for those who might have missed the beginning of a show.

News content now allows viewers to join at the start of an item, rather than the point they might have joined a news loop, and if the viewer settles back into their armchair it simply plays the next item.

“In Sport live events will be given priority. We talk about the number of live streams in the red button, but that doesn’t seem enough when compared to the 24 streams we had for the Olympics,” says Danker.

Radio is also present for the first time, offering catchup content, given that the stations themselves are already available on the platform.

The service went live on Virgin Media on Tuesday morning. “We couldn’t be prouder of the long standing relationship we have with the BBC,” said Cindy Rose, executive director, digital entertainment, Virgin Media. “There’s a really deep philosophical alignment between Virgin and the BBC. We’re the only platform that has a curated experience and that’s very important to people.”

Danker said Virgin provided an open platform to developers that was not available on Sky, where the BBC recently launched the iPlayer.

“Sky boxes are increasingly connected, but they run a closed service, so there isn’t a platform, for us to build it on,” said Danker, indicating that he would be happy to add the new Connected Red Button to Sky should its stance change. “This is likely to be just the beginning, not just for the BBC, but for others in the UK. We recently explained the TV application layer and we are sharing that technology with anyone who is interested.”

Conversations have also been held with BT, YouView, Freesat and television manufacturers LG and Samsung.