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BBC iPlayer Records Busiest Month Ever

But ease of access under threat from commercial competitors

March 21, 2017

Catch-up TV services—led by BBC’s iPlayer—have become a key means for internet users in the UK to access TV and other video content. For iPlayer in particular, February was a milestone month, with a record high of nearly 10 million daily requests for content.

iPlayer tallied an average of 9.9 million successful requests per day to stream or download content in February, up from January’s record-setting average of 9.8 million, according to the BBC. Total streams or downloads for the month reached 277 million, a 16% increase vs. February 2016.

Requests* for TV Programs on the BBC iPlayer in the UK, by Device, July 2016-Feb 2017 (% of total)

The largest share of requests (46%) came via TVs, followed by tablets (25%), desktops/laptops (16%) and smartphones (12%)—all about average for recent months.

iPlayer has consistently ranked as one of the UK’s most popular platforms for digital video viewing. August 2016 data from RBC Capital Markets found 62% of UK internet users had employed iPlayer to watch movies or TV content in the previous 12 months—ahead of all competitors, including YouTube (54%).

Video-on-Demand Services Used by UK Internet Users to View Movies/TV Shows, Aug 2016 (% of respondents)

That standing could be under threat, however. iPlayer’s popularity has coincided with fairly ubiquitous pre-installation of the app on smart TVs and set-top boxes sold in the UK. But in 2017, with competition for spaces in digital video devices’ typically limited lineups of pre-installed apps increasingly fierce, there’s less guarantee iPlayer and the apps of the UK’s other public broadcasters will be as easy to access as they have been—if available automatically at all.

Writing in The Telegraph on March 19, James Purnell, the BBC’s director of radio and education, warned that “some pay TV platforms are already making ‘free-to-air’ services harder to find.” For example, he said: “On the new Sky box, Sky Q, there is no one button on the remote control that takes you to live TV, the single most popular thing Sky customers do. Instead, ‘Home’ takes you to ‘Top Picks’—a set of recommended programs chosen by Sky.”

Timed to a debate about the issue this week in the House of Lords, Purnell called on ministers to enact measures that would guarantee the prominence of public broadcasters’ TV channels and on-demand players on all major TV platforms.

Cliff Annicelli

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