The BBC has unveiled its BBC Shuffle tool to make it easier for viewers to find what they want on BBC iPlayer. 

BBC Shuffle “learns your tastes” by noticing how long you watch one programme before clicking on to the next, “turning your viewing into a bespoke channel”, said the BBC.

BBC iPlayer is one of the most popular TV streaming platforms in the UK ©BBC
BBC iPlayer is one of the most popular TV streaming platforms in the UK ©BBC

Viewers can now try out the tool through BBC Taster. “Consumers are increasingly being offered more personalised services, with recommendations of items they might like being found in their previous behaviours. Offering more personalised services for our audiences is an important area for the BBC,” said the broadcaster.

Andrew Nicolaou, BBC Engineer, said in a blog: “One of our research questions in R&D is to ask if it's possible to offer the benefits of personalisation while maintaining privacy.

“As part of the Vista-TV collaborative project, a small team created a very quick prototype called Infinite Trailers. This web application played clips of TV programmes that you could skip or favourite. These actions would be used to find clips that better matched your tastes ultimately ending up with a list of items to watch later.”

He added: “We liked this idea, but it was difficult to make it public due to the technical infrastructure required to automatically create clips of programmes and ensure that we respected the BBCiPlayer availability window. Because we couldn't make it public it was difficult to test with our audiences.”

Nicolaou said the BBC decided to refine Infinite Trailers so that it could test it with the public. “We wanted the experience to be more like channel surfing than picking from a list that you are quite often presented with. We wanted a tool that knows nothing else about you - nothing about your friends, past behaviour, who you are with, nothing at all.”

The result was BBC Shuffle. It plays BBC iPlayer programmes continuously, tailoring its suggestions to you depending on how you use it. The simplest interaction is doing nothing and watching the entire programme. Or, you can click “next” to watch something else.

BBC Shuffle is a static web application that runs in your web browser using HTML, CSS and JavaScript. The recommendation engine suggests things you might like based on a set of like and dislikes. Privacy is protected because the recommendations are downloaded to your web browser and your likes and dislikes are never sent back to the BBC.

The BBC's Standard Media Player (SMP) is used, which is common across the BBC website for playing back video. The SMP can play via Flash or HTML5, but because the BBC wants to put its own user interface on top of the video it uses Flash. This means that Shuffle won't work on many mobile devices though, says the BBC.