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BBC iPlayer enjoyed record-breaking viewing figures between Christmas and New Year, with 141 million shows streamed during the week from December 27 to January 3, 2022. That’s a six percent increase on the same period last year, with the New Years Eve celebrations, The Queen’s Christmas Broadcast, and the new Jamie Dornan-led thriller The Tourist all contributing to the boost in people watching on iPlayer, which is available online, on iOS and Android, tablets, Sky Q, Apple TV, Fire TV, Chromecast, Roku and dozens more.

The single biggest day for iPlayer over the festive period was Sunday January 2, 2022. Boosted by the launch of The Tourist, which was made available in its entirety on iPlayer à la Netflix, the Beeb recorded 22 million streams within the 24-hour period. Since then, The Tourist alone has been viewed more than 18 million times, enough to make it the third most successful drama launch of all time on the streaming service.

Other standout successes from the festive period include the first instalment of A Very British Scandal, which topped the list of most-streamed episodes across the festive period with 2.3 million streams for its first episode. The first episode of outback amnesia thriller The Tourist (1.6 million) and finale of psychological thriller The Girl Before (1.6 million) also proved hugely popular, along with Christmas Day staples including the Call the Midwife Christmas special (1.6 million) and EastEnders (1.5 million). Drama in the Square was a hit throughout Christmas and New Year, with EastEnders streamed 15.9 million times between December 21 and January 3, making it the most streamed brand one iPlayer.

The record-breaking festive viewing figures are a huge vote of confidence in iPlayer, which recently saw a dramatic redesign as part of a corporation-wide refresh by the Beeb after internal audience research revealed that viewers considered its designs to be “old fashioned” compared with flashier American streaming services.

The fresh coat of paint started with a new logo for BBC iPlayer, which is now comprised solely of simple graphic shapes. This style is shared across a wide range of services, including BBC Sounds, BBC News, BBC Weather, BBC Sport and BBC Bitesize, which will all use three differently-configured blocks in various colour combinations. For iPlayer, that colour is a graduated shade of pink. The shapes are configured into a triangular ‘Play’ symbol. The redesign also implements the new BBC-owned font Reith, named after the BBC’s founder John Reith. This same font will be used across all of the new designs, including the main BBC logo, BBC One, and others.

In November last year, the redesign continued with an all-new BBC iPlayer app for Smart TVs. Unsurprisingly, the new iPlayer design takes a leaf from Netflix’s playbook, with the Beeb relocating the menu to the left-hand side of the screen in a new vertically-stacked list.

Pressing the left arrow on your remote (or swiping, depending on what model of set-top box you’re using) will let you quickly browse through categories, like comedy, drama, or sport. The BBC has also shrunk the size of the menu to make more room for the content on-screen. With the new design, BBC iPlayer has more breathing room to display high-resolution artwork for its latest shows and movies. It also means “viewers are more likely to spot something new to watch,” the Beeb adds.

The company is keen to stress that its new menu design isn’t only about beautifying the interface, it’s also designed to improve usability. In a blog post about the changes, the broadcaster said: “it’s important to us that any changes we make to iPlayer work for everyone, so our new menu has been usability tested with adults, children, and people with accessibility needs to ensure people can continue to find and explore our many programme genres and channels with ease.”

The new look is available on Smart TVs, Fire TV, Apple TV, Chromecast with Google TV, Sky Q and other versions of the BBC iPlayer app designed to watch on the big screen. If the changes haven’t appeared on your version of BBC iPlayer yet, you can force the app to adopt the shiny new design by heading to the Settings menu within iPlayer, then selecting “switch to iPlayer beta”.

The facelift on your TV is only the first step in a wider redesign for iPlayer, so expect similar changes to roll out to the iPhone, iPad, Android, and other versions of the video on-demand service in the coming months. This should ensure consistency across the various versions of BBC iPlayer, which is also available in your web browser.

Speaking about the latest viewing figures, Charlotte Moore, BBC’s Chief Content Officer says: “2022 on the BBC has started with a bang with record viewing across Christmas and New Year on BBC iPlayer. Millions of people chose to watch our unrivalled range of box-sets and Christmas specials live on our channels, or binge on-demand across the festive season – paving the way for the BBC’s centenary, a landmark year that will look forward and celebrate British creativity across the whole of the UK.”

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If you’re hoping to organise a few movie nights this month, don’t miss the incredible slate of films airing on one of Freeview’s newest channels. Great! Movies, which launched nationwide last year – replacing Sony Movies in the TV Guide on your set-top box, has queued up an immensely strong line-up of blockbusters. It starts the new year with a new show, dubbed Spotlight, presented by film critic and scriptwriter Andrew Collins, which will highlight some of the biggest new movies coming to the channel. The show aims to put classics, hidden gems, and the best Hollywood blockbusters under its, erm, spotlight, before the full feature-length film airs on Great! Movies.

Spotlight starts its run with a focus on Academy Award-winning Quentin Tarantino, with Pulp Fiction, Kill Bill and Jackie Brown, set to air on the channel in the coming days. Later in January, Andrew Collins will be shining his spotlight on Mark Wahlberg and Jason Statham in the remake of The Italian Job, followed by Tim Burton’s epic reimagining of Planet of the Apes, starring Mark Walhberg and Helena Bonham Carter.

Great! Movies is supported by advertising, so you don’t need to worry about paying extra to unlock the channel on your Smart TV, Freeview Play app on your smartphone or tablet, or Freeview set-top box. Great! Movies is also available on services like Virgin TV 360, Sky Q, BT TV, and of course, the all-new Sky Glass.

This Friday sees Kill Bill Vol 1 air at 9pm. For those who haven’t seen the Martial Arts-inspired movie, it follows a former assassin, known only as The Bride (Uma Thurman), as she wakes from a coma four years after her jealous ex-lover Bill (David Carradine) attempted to murder her on her wedding day. The blood-thirsty conclusion to the two-parter, Kill Bill Vol 2, will be broadcast at the same time on Friday January 21.

To tune in, you’ll need to head to Freeview channel 33, Sky Q and Sky Glass 321, Virgin Media TV 425, or Freesat 302.

Speaking at the time, Narrative Entertainment chief exec Daniel Levin told Variety: “Sony has done a wonderful job of cultivating these channels and they’ve been a wonderful partner in this transition. The programming will be uninterrupted. We’re particularly excited to welcome a brand like Pop into the Narrative family, which is without question a premier destination network for children across the UK, and to give an incredible new look and feel to the movies and entertainment channels.”



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There’s magic in the air as I step into Iceland’s gloriously warm geothermal waters. Stars shine in the early evening sky and clouds of steam momentarily cut me off from the other guests.

Feeling wonderfully alone, I float effortlessly past jet-black volcanic rocks as snow begins to fall.

It’s an experience you can really only have in Iceland. But I’m not in the geothermal waters of its world-famous Blue Lagoon. Instead, I’m in Sky Lagoon – a new, more intimate pool set in a rocky headland on the very edge of Reykjavik.

Heat treatment: Sky Lagoon features a dramatic 250ft-wide infinity-style edge with views over the North Atlantic

Heat treatment: Sky Lagoon features a dramatic 250ft-wide infinity-style edge with views over the North Atlantic

Neil describes Sky Lagoon, pictured, as an 'intimate pool set in a rocky headland on the very edge of Reykjavik'

Neil describes Sky Lagoon, pictured, as an ‘intimate pool set in a rocky headland on the very edge of Reykjavik’

Less than a year old, it doesn’t make a great first impression. On your way there you’ll pass a lot of ugly warehouses, but turn the final corner and everything changes. 

On a promontory that looks like the edge of the world, there’s a dark, hulking, low-slung reception building. The walls are made of blackened timber and volcanic bricks. The angular roof is covered in hardy, snow-topped turf.

Inside is a warm but shadowy world with the kind of top-notch spa a Bond villain might join. 

Neil says that 'you’ll pass a lot of ugly warehouses' on the approach to the lagoon, 'but turn the final corner and everything changes'

Neil says that ‘you’ll pass a lot of ugly warehouses’ on the approach to the lagoon, ‘but turn the final corner and everything changes’

The lagoon is accessible to all ages, though the over-12s-only rule puts it off-limits for young families, says Neil

 The lagoon is accessible to all ages, though the over-12s-only rule puts it off-limits for young families, says Neil

The walls of the reception area are 'made of blackened timber and volcanic bricks', according to Neil

The walls of the reception area are ‘made of blackened timber and volcanic bricks’, according to Neil

According to Neil, the underfloor heating in the Sky Lagoon locker rooms adds a touch of luxury

According to Neil, the underfloor heating in the Sky Lagoon locker rooms adds a touch of luxury

In the 'enchanted cove' of Sky Lagoon, 'jagged black volcanic rocks rise up on all sides'

In the ‘enchanted cove’ of Sky Lagoon, ‘jagged black volcanic rocks rise up on all sides’

'Feeling wonderfully alone, I float effortlessly past jet-black volcanic rocks as snow begins to fall,' writes Neil

‘Feeling wonderfully alone, I float effortlessly past jet-black volcanic rocks as snow begins to fall,’ writes Neil

Underfloor heating in the locker rooms adds an early touch of luxury, but doubts remain as I leave the zen-like shower area – can Sky Lagoon really beat the old faithful Blue Lagoon?

The answer comes quickly. Walk through clouds of steam and step into its warm, silky waters. Glide forward, leaving the building behind and prepare for your jaw to drop.

You’ll find yourself lost in an enchanted cove. Jagged black volcanic rocks rise up on all sides. 

Step or swim through waters that twist round a series of dark corners and you’ll soon hear the low buzz of voices. Head towards them for the next big reveal.

It’s here that Sky Lagoon’s main pool opens out. The waters stretch away on both sides, while in front is the lagoon’s 250ft-wide, infinity-style edge. Ahead of that is only the sea and sky. Stand at the wall and you’ll feel as if you’re suspended over the very edge of the Atlantic. 

Describing the main pool, pictured, Neil writes: 'Stand at the wall and you’ll feel as if you’re suspended over the very edge of the Atlantic'

 Describing the main pool, pictured, Neil writes: ‘Stand at the wall and you’ll feel as if you’re suspended over the very edge of the Atlantic’

Pictured is the glass-walled sauna that looks straight out to sea at Sky Lagoon

Pictured is the glass-walled sauna that looks straight out to sea at Sky Lagoon

Indulgence: A woman enjoys a body scrub at Sky Lagoon’s spa, the Sky Ritual

Indulgence: A woman enjoys a body scrub at Sky Lagoon’s spa, the Sky Ritual

The wow-factor beats anything I felt at the bigger, land-locked Blue Lagoon. All around me here are faces as excited as mine. And through the steam I see something else: happy couples drinking champagne. For Sky Lagoon has one of the world’s most stylish swim-up bars. Tucked away in the entrance to a dark cave, you pay for drinks using the high-tech wristband that secures your locker and acts as your entry ticket.

Toasting a terrific holiday amid a new flurry of snow made Sky Lagoon feel even more magical. And I hadn’t even paid extra for the Sky Ritual ticket that includes a body rub, steam room and a glass-walled sauna looking straight out to sea.

Missing out on those was a mistake, a proud Icelandic grandmother told me later as I sat by the fire and layered up to leave the lobby. She proved the lagoon is accessible to all ages, though the over-12s-only rule puts it off-limits for young families. She also said that after taking the waters I’d have a fantastic night’s sleep – and she couldn’t have been more right.

Comparing Sky Lagoon with the Blue Lagoon, pictured, Neil says: 'The wow-factor beats anything I felt at the bigger, land-locked Blue Lagoon'

Comparing Sky Lagoon with the Blue Lagoon, pictured, Neil says: ‘The wow-factor beats anything I felt at the bigger, land-locked Blue Lagoon’

Neil recommends hiking to the Fagradalsfjall volcano, which offers visitors a rare chance to see newly formed lava fields

Neil recommends hiking to the Fagradalsfjall volcano, which offers visitors a rare chance to see newly formed lava fields

TRAVEL FACTS 

Entry to Sky Lagoon starts at £40 (skylagoon.com) and guided tours to the Fagradalsfjall volcano cost from £48 (re.is). British Airways, easyJet, Icelandair and Wizz have direct flights to Iceland from £120. Get more inspiration at visiticeland.com.

Head to Iceland soon and Sky Lagoon isn’t the only new attraction to try. Last spring the huge Fagradalsfjall volcano began to erupt for the first time in 800 years.

Hiking to the crater offers a rare chance to see (and smell) newly formed lava fields.

Tour groups and private guides are rushing to take advantage of the sight, knowing the volcano could become dormant again at any time. 

Sign up for an hour-long drive towards the volcano, then walk some 90 minutes to the best viewpoints.

I wasn’t lucky enough to see fiery lava, although I did face horizontal sleet from the moment I left the coach. 

Fortunately, I’d taken the hotel’s advice on boots, hats and warm, waterproof clothing. And the landscapes I hiked through, even when wet, were worth any discomfort.

Better still, the free-flowing geothermal waters that fill the Sky and Blue lagoons also help fill Iceland’s radiators and hot-water tanks, so you don’t need to feel guilty about turning up the heat at your hotel and taking a long, hot shower before diving under a thick duvet for the perfect night’s sleep.

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