What’s that song on the TV? BBC iPlayer’s Playlister will tell you

The next generation iPlayer, a new archive of BBC shows, BBC1+1, new connected Red Button services - Director General Tony Hall announces the future of BBC viewing


Meet the new iPlayer

Big changes are in store for the iPlayer, beyond simply extending the catch-up window. According to Director General Tony Hall, the BBC want to “transform it from being catch-up TV – to online TV.” 


Following on from the success of Jack Whitehall comedy Bad Education showing ‘first on iPlayer’, more programmes will be released online before they are broadcast on television. The announcement was a bit lacking on specifics, but the wider aim seems to be to unshackle iPlayer from the TV schedule.

Rather than simply letting you catch-up with missed programmes (really no more than a high-tech video recorder), Hall invited the audience to “imagine if you had the evening’s recorded schedule at your disposal – so you could sit at home and be your own scheduler, picking what you like, when you like, from our channels.” 

It will be a familiar scenario to users of streaming services like Netflix: offering a huge range of content all at once, without drip-feeding it across a broadcast schedule. If the TV schedule is a seven-course set menu, with no choice about what you want or when, then think of the new iPlayer as an all-you-can-eat buffet.

iPlayer will also recommend other shows you might like, based on your personal viewing habits, and soon you’ll be able to pause a show on your PC and continue watching on your mobile phone. Also, Radio 1 are getting their own ‘channel’ on the video iPlayer, because the main problem with radio is there’s no pictures.

BBC Playlister

What was that song playing in the café in Eastenders? Or during that big fight scene in Peaky Blinders? Or that weird one with the panpipes Lauren Laverne played on Radio 6 Music? Soon it will be a cinch to find out.

The BBC has partnered with online services including Spotify, YouTube and Deezer to create BBC Playlister. Tying into the existing iPlayer apps, when you hear a song you like in a radio or television show, you will simply click a button to add it to your personal playlist. You can then listen to it at your leisure from Spotify or similar music playing programmes. 

This sounds like a genuinely exciting way to discover new music, and leverages the BBC’s unmatched music licensing agreement, which allows them to use pretty much any recorded song. Playlister features will roll out slowly, with a web version of the tool launching soon.

BBC Store

The BBC have an unmatched archive, but so little of it is available to purchase. They aim to remedy this with the BBC Store, which will offer recent and classic shows to ‘keep forever’. It’s not known whether this would involve downloading the shows to your own computer or device, or whether you would always be streaming them from the BBC’s servers. It’s also not clear what exactly will be available, beyond a ‘selection’ of shows.

iPlayer Radio

Not only is the iPlayer Radio app launching worldwide, intellectual radio has been freed from the listings schedule. Speech programmes on Radio 3, Radio 4 and the World Service will be released individually on iPlayer, almost like podcasts. The BBC also plans to ask British institutions like the Hay Festival to contribute seminars and interviews. For obvious reasons, the BBC are calling this project ‘Open Minds’, allowing users to “fill their train journey with ideas”.


Not to be confused with BBC2, this does exactly what it says on the tin: shows BBC1 programmes one hour later. Missed the News at 10? Catch it at 11. You get the idea.

Connected Red Button

Perhaps a less flashy, but still pretty exciting announcement: the so-called ‘Connected Red Button’. As well as the Red Button’s current services, Hall promised the interactive service would eventually start offering alternative programming or radio stations. Intriguingly, Hall also said it could offer “content we’ve made specially for online, straight to the TV.” Whether this means websites will somehow be served directly to digital television, or whether such content would have to be specifically reformatted isn’t clear.