• 08.26.10

BBC Labs Show off Auntie’s Beta Version of Internet TV, but Don’t Expect to See It Anywhere Soon

Screenshots of Google TV are already leaking, and Apple’s iTV is rumored to be just a presentation away. But that hasn’t stopped British broadcasters and network providers from developing their own Internet-connected TV platform, known as Project Canvas (which was recently approved by the BBC Trust).

Looks-wise, it’s endearingly low-fi–rather reminiscent of Dyna-mo printers. And there’s a bit of lag between TV and text, but it still looks good. The mini-experiment, which you can see below, is an offshoot of a larger project that the Beeb has been working on, namely delivering other services, such as subtitling, search, and mobile TV, the last of which is in collaboration with Japan’s state broadcaster.


One of the BBC’s R&D team, Andrew Littledale, shed a little more light on the project. “It only took a couple of days to put together, and we built it as a team inside the BBC. I built a Flash interface which plugs into the live subtitles using IRC, and my colleague Harry Robbins wrote a little rest API in PHP for me to push the subtitles through.”

It works by the PHP sending off the subtitles to AlchemyAPI, a program that extracts semantic metadata and turns it into information via DBpedia. The team used an existing BBC database which mapped the corporation’s news content to DBpedia to pull in the information they needed.

Don’t expect to see this happening anytime soon on the network, however. The R&D team is part of BBC Learning, one of the educational arms of the BBC, and is working on how to use its resources for Project Canvas. “We didn’t envisage the application being rolled out as part of a BBC service,” says Littledale, “we just wanted to play around with user interface ideas that Web-enabled TV will make possible.”

Being able to see the BBC’s efforts at producing its own Internet TV is rather endearing–compare and contrast to the ultra-confidentiality that surrounds both Google and Apple as they prepare to do battle with the TV remotes. But this is to be expected: The Beeb is a state-funded broadcaster; the Silicon Valley firms have shareholders to satisfy, profits to make, and tech battles to win. With one eye on the West Coast, I asked Littledale which horse he’d back in the Internet TV race. He declined to answer.

About the author

My writing career has taken me all round the houses over the past decade and a half--from grumpy teens and hungover rock bands in the U.K., where I was born, via celebrity interviews, health, tech and fashion in Madrid and Paris, before returning to London, where I now live. For the past five years I've been writing about technology and innovation for U.S.