In England, the hottest thing in television is the BBC iPlayer, which allows consumers to watch vast amounts of previously-aired BBC content on their PCs or on cable TV.

British Broadcasting Corp. programming is funded by a tax on U.K. citizens and then made available for free on broadcast TV. In 2007, the BBC launched its iPlayer as a client on PCs, using Flash technology. The iPlayer allows people to download or stream previously aired programs.

The PC-based iPlayer is so popular that Britain’s big cable company, Virgin Media, decided to use it for "catch-up" TV.

"We ported it onto Virgin’s video on demand platform," said Gary Ellis, director of strategy and architecture for telco TV at SeaChange International.

But Ellis said the iPlayer no longer appears in Virgin’s standard VOD platform. Rather, it’s buried as an application behind BBC broadcast channels. A red-button prompt on those channels takes viewers into the BBC portal where they can choose from hundreds of hours of content.

"The BBC have the data feed, said Ellis. "They are taking from the Virgin portal into the BBC iPlayer portal, using SeaChange content distribution systems to send out to all the VOD servers, pretty much without human intervention. They’re feeding an application from outside the network to the set-top box."

Ellis said the SeaChange system is metadata-driven. Metadata makes the content move to the right place, populates the guide, and defines the business rules.

Virgin Media, with 3.5 million subscribers, is the only TV platform with the iPlayer, said Ellis, who added that it’s turned out to be quite a marketing coup for the cable operator.

"A lot of customers are discovering (the iPlayer) on the PC and then moving over to TV," he said. "Virgin sees it as a differentiator. It reduces churn and gets people accustomed to using VOD."

Virgin Media announced last week that it has added HD content to the BBC iPlayer.

– Linda Hardesty

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