LONDON (Reuters) - British state broadcaster the BBC launched a new version of its popular iPlayer Web video service with prominent links to rivals’ sites, as it waits to see if the new coalition government will limit its funding or powers.
The new version of the iPlayer, one of Britain’s top websites, will allow viewers to personalize home pages and share tips and synchronize viewing with friends via Facebook, Twitter and Microsoft’s MSN instant messenger chat service.
The BBC has faced increasing criticism during the recession from rivals led by pay-TV broadcaster BSkyB and online news providers who say the corporation’s public funding of 3.6 billion pounds ($5.18 billion) a year distorts the market.
Earlier this year it signaled a retreat from some commercial operations to focus on core services, after BSkyB called its digital scope and plans “chilling,” but rejected calls for it to share the iPlayer platform with rivals.
Erik Huggers, the BBC’s director of future media and technology, told a news conference on Wednesday the BBC would help competitors and consumers by making it easier to find programs from other providers on the iPlayer.
“We want to double the amount of traffic we send to other sites,” he said.
The BBC says that since its launch two-and-a-half years ago a third of all British adults claim to have used the iPlayer, which replays recently broadcast programs.
The new iPlayer will feature links on its TV homepage to the ITV player, Channel 4’s 4oD and Clic, RTL’s Demand Five and SeeSaw, an online service showing content from Channel 4, RTL’s Five and older BBC programs.
There will be no link to BSkyB's websites in the beta version launched on Wednesday (beta.bbc.co.uk/iplayer), although Huggers did not rule this out in future.
“If Sky wants to be part of this, we would very much welcome their participation,” Huggers said. “They are considering it.”
The new iPlayer has tabs that viewers can use to choose views featuring either their own favorites, the BBC’s selection of popular programing or friends’ recommendations.
As well as signaling content they like users will also be able to synchronize their viewing with friends via MSN chat.
The beta version will become the default site at the end of June or early July if all goes well.
Huggers said he was still working on an international version of the iPlayer, which is currently only accessible in Britain, with the BBC’s commercial arm, BBC Worldwide.
“An international version of iPlayer is still very high on the agenda,” he said. “I can’t give dates.”
He also welcomed Google TV, a service that will bring the Web to television screens, and said it indicated how fast technology in the living room was moving.
On Tuesday the BBC’s governing body, the BBC Trust, published results of a review of its online services including the iPlayer in which it said it was broadly satisfied the iPlayer was fulfilling viewers’ expectations.
Editing by Dan Lalor, Greg Mahlich