BBC Bullish on iPlayer Despite Recent Usage Drops

BBC London headquarters HQ - H 2015
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The head of the VOD service in a blog post discusses seasonal peaks, competition from streaming services and the difficulty of fully measuring usage.

The BBC iPlayer, the U.K. public broadcaster's popular VOD service, has seen sequential usage drops in recent months, leading the executive in charge to defend its performance in a blog post.

"There were a number of articles suggesting iPlayer’s popularity is on the wane," BBC iPlayer head Dan Taylor-Watt said in the post on Friday. "With April’s stats now in, I thought it would be useful to put this in context, correct some misleading headlines – and share a bit more around the trends we see in iPlayer usage."

The iPlayer drew 271 million requests to view TV and radio shows in April, down from 278 million in March and 299 million in February. For December, the BBC had reported a record 343 million requests. In April, TV show requests alone amounted to 218 million, down minimally from March’s 221 million.

Taylor-Watt highlighted that the iPlayer since its launch on Christmas Day 2007 has seen more than 14 billion requests for TV and radio programs. "The last 12 months alone have seen a record-breaking 2.6 billion requests for TV programs  — up 10 percent on the previous 12 months  — and November, December and January saw the biggest three months in iPlayer’s history," he said. "It’s a fantastic place to be."

He then highlighted that the service has long experienced winter peaks in usage. "iPlayer usage changes significantly depending on the season, with higher volumes of requests in the autumn and winter months and lower volumes in the spring and summer," the executive wrote.

"Changes in iPlayer performance can also, unfortunately, be the result of measurement issues," Taylor-Watt said. "Now iPlayer is available on over 1,700 different devices and platforms – ranging from smart TVs, games consoles, mobiles, tablets and obviously still on computers. Making sure we successfully capture all usage is an ongoing challenge, and in recent months we know we’ve significantly undercounted requests from TV devices."

He said that in March, for example, "we estimate the volume of missing requests to be around 17 million – but it’s not possible to verify this." Plus, "we also don’t include what we call 'short-form’ and ‘off-schedule’ [programming]" available on the iPlayer "to make comparing month-on-month usage more meaningful."

Addressing competition from digital video providers such as Netflix and Amazon, Taylor-Watt said: "We know even though iPlayer usage continues to grow, it won’t be at such a rapid pace. There are, after all, a limited number of people in the U.K. and those who are most comfortable using video on demand services like BBC iPlayer ... The market has also changed significantly since iPlayer launched, with a host of new video on demand services now available in the U.K."

He concluded though: "What’s remarkable is how iPlayer has not just maintained but continued to grow its usage with the increasing number of video on-demand services."

Twitter: @georgszalai