The BBC has announced the roll-out of a pilot programme aimed at keeping people connected during the coronavirus lockdown.
BBC Together, which is designed for small groups and families, will enable users to stream programmes and chat with friends in real-time. BBC Research and Development (R&D) have been working on the project, which they say is simple and easy to set up.
Users can visit the BBC Together web page, paste a link to a BBC iPlayer programme and receive a unique link to be sent to friends or family. Once everyone is connected, programmes can be interacted with in the same way as using a TV remote at home.
In a blog post revealing the launch of the pilot, the BBC R&D team commented: “The system is built on top of the BBC’s Standard Media Player and works with almost any BBC audio or video, so doesn’t need any additional software to be installed.
“Our lookup server parses the pasted link to any BBC website and talks to the relevant BBC system to find out how to play the video or audio content on that page. For now, this works with most BBC iPlayer, Sounds, Bitesize, News, and Sports pages.”
The BBC service was developed and open-sourced as part of 2-IMMERSE, an EU-funded three-year collaborative project completed in November 2018. 2-IMMERSE’s project developed a “new open-source platform for object-based multi-screen entertainment”, which the BBC is now adapting for use in BBC Together.
“We wanted to use our existing research to make something that would help people during the current pandemic,” the team explained.
“We’ve worked across three teams in R&D and with colleagues in iPlayer and Sounds to make this prototype and release it for testing. Successfully integrating our technology with the BBC Standard Media Player means we will also be able to carry out synchronised media trials more widely in future,” the blog post added.
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It is hoped that the platform will allow people to “come together around their favourite programmes, even if they are currently stuck in different locations” due to the lockdown.
Dr Libby Miller, a senior producer at BBC R&D, commented: “There may be a physical distance between us, but that doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy great programmes with our friends, family, colleagues and classmates.
“We wanted to see if technology could bring people together to watch and listen to BBC shows remotely as a shared experience, which we’ve done with BBC Together.
“It’s important to say that it’s just a test at this stage – and we’ll be monitoring how well it works and thinking about how we could change it in the future, but we’re looking forward to seeing and hearing about the creative ways that people use it and getting their feedback on Taster.”