Allowing editorial teams to mark notable moments within a live stream and making them accessible to audiences, to improve the audience's experience and surface more of the BBC's content.
We wanted to help audiences find the content they were interested in within a live stream or episode, and to enable editorial teams to highlight the content that was particularly notable or interesting, while making it easier to share.
This project was born of the idea that when a breaking news moment happens and people tune in to the live stream, it's not always easy to find the key moments of coverage they have missed. From an initial prototype that allowed editorial teams to add markers to the BBC News channel, we realised that the use cases and scope for the tool extended beyond just live news, and that there was interest in marking up key moments of both video and audio content.
Creating clips of sections of content can provide audiences with easy access to an interview segment or news event, but clipping poses a number of problems:
- The segment is divorced from the surrounding programming, losing context
- A clipped segment has a hard end point, providing no immediate onward journey if the viewer or listener wants to continue consuming the programming
- It creates a duplication of the content, increasing storage and distribution requirements and segmenting metrics on engagement
Allowing audiences to jump straight into a given section of content within its full context means that if they like what they are watching, they can continue; if they want to know more about what they just listened to, they can explore the preamble to it.
Live Highlights prototype
The first step in building the proof-of-concept was to make a simple app which allowed editors to create and manage highlights directly within a media player. We built a simple API for managing highlights data, and a web page with a player showing a live stream of the news channel, with a form for creating and editing highlights:
Now editors could see how they would create highlights on the live stream, and how they could be shown to audiences watching the news channel.
Taking things further, we needed to build a few additional components:
SMP player plugin
- The BBC's standard media player (SMP) supports plugins to provide custom functionality — we built one to fetch the highlights data for the currently playing stream, and show the markers on the scrub bar
Data publishing pipeline
- In order for the plugin to fetch highlights to users, we needed to publish the data, so we added a component to our pipeline to publish and keep highlights data up-to-date as they were created, changed and deleted by editors
- We built a browser extension to enable the SMP plugin so that BBC staff could see what audiences would see if this was live
We also added support for all TV and radio services and all live streams (used in news and sport) so that this could be used for any broadcast media. To comply with editorial requirements, we made sure a full audit trail was maintained logging when a highlight was created, along with any edits made to its title or time point.
Highlights for the selected channel can be viewed on the scrub-bar of the player in the back-end. But we also created a plugin for the SMP that would allow highlights to be surfaced on the BBC website — including the iPlayer and Sounds sections, as well as BBC News Live pages. For testing purposes, this is enabled through a Chrome extension that can be used to envisage what a roll-out of the tool would look like for audiences.
Transition to on-demand
It could be useful to preserve highlights created live for the on-demand episode - so we introduced logic to calculate the offset within the programme, and enable highlights to be shown when watching on catch-up. We also allowed editors to add highlights directly to the on-demand version - so they could retrospectively create highlight markers after broadcast.
Once we had a fully functioning prototype allowing editors to create and manage highlights, and for them to be displayed as markers on the player, we got permission to run a live trial.
The highlights tool was used for the Eurovision semi-finals, Springwatch, Glastonbury, Wimbledon and a number of live news events.
The announcement of Eurovision semi-final results was a key moment of the night:
For Glastonbury, the BBC iPlayer team implemented the highlight marker functionality within the iPlayer product, without using our plugin:
For Wimbledon, most highlights were created automatically using a live data feed which created draft highlights via our API. Editors then checked these before publishing:
The highlights tool will continue to be used for live news events, and other big broadcast entertainment and sporting events.
We're keen for a highlights feature to become a first class citizen in iPlayer output. Another team has been researching the best way to visually provide navigation within live streams and on-demand content, so we're excited to work together on how to better present markers created by editors using our tool.
We are also working with the team in R&D who built Statto, a similar project which displayed goals and stats within iPlayer for football matches in the 2022 FIFA World Cup. There's lots of potential for more structured navigation and markers within different sports.
- We completed the prototype, allowing editorial teams to create highlights on any BBC live stream
- We built a plugin for the BBC's media player that surfaces the highlights, and a Chrome extension that enables it on BBC media pages
- We spoke to multiple editorial teams across the BBC, working in diverse programming and media, garnering high levels of interest in using the tool
- The tool maintains a detailed audit trail of highlight creation and edits, ensuring editorial compliance
- We ran a series of audience-facing trials in which highlights were added to live streams of several high profile news, entertainment and sport events