When the beta of the BBC’s iPlayer released in July 2007, Netflix had only just pivoted to streaming movies over the internet. Fast forward a decade and Netflix is dominating. And that’s a worry the BBC. “iPlayer has to change,” Tony Hall, the BBC’s director general, said earlier this year when outlining the corporation’s plans for the live-streaming and catchup service. In 2017, Hall said the BBC needed to “reinvent” iPlayer.
“Our goal, even just in the face of rapid growth by our competitors, is perfect for iPlayer to become the main online TV service in the UK,” the BBC boss said this past year. As the saying goes, should you can’t beat ’em, join ’em. Netflix, which continues to have an excellent DVD rental arm, has amassed 130 million subscribers globally. In the UK, http://iplayerusa.org/ is utilized in 8.2m households, with Amazon Prime on 4.3m and Now TV on 1.5m, according to figures from your Broadcasters Audience Research Board (BARB).
Netflix, Amazon Prime, and today TV have some fundamental differences towards the BBC’s offering: they’re all according to user subscriptions and mostly give attention to movies and boxsets which are viewable for many months, or years. In comparison, iPlayer mostly makes shows designed for 1 month after they were first broadcast and it is purchased from the annual licence fee.
To contest with Netflix, the BBC is making iPlayer a lot more like Netflix. “It absolutely was way in front of everything else,” says Tom Harrington, a senior broadcast research analyst at Enders Analysis. “It offers really plateaued due to it becoming a catchup service instead of one where one can get full combination of television shows.”
“They’re concerned about iPlayer and understandably enthusiastic about declining viewership numbers for younger people,” Harrington adds. 82 percent of youngsters use YouTube for on-demand content, 50 % often use Netflix and around 29 per cent use the BBC’s iPlayer, according to the public broadcaster’s annual 2018-19 plan says. Every week, people aged 16 to 24 take more time on Netflix than each of the BBC’s TV output, including iPlayer.
So, with iPlayer getting fewer younger viewers as well as the BBC admitting it needs to reinvent the service, what’s happening? “They would like to transform it from the pure catchup company to a service that folks go to and browse for content,” Harrington says.
The goal is for iPlayer to feature implies that haven’t been on television recently and folks may want to watch. In 2017, Hall said iPlayer needs to “create the leap from the catch-up service to a necessity-visit destination in its own right”. During the last 6 months, the iPlayer’s archive section has become filled with more shows than in the past. Analysis from Enders found that boxsets added around Christmas 2017 brought 360,000 unique viewers each week to iPlayer.
The BBC’s own data for April 2018 shows there was 277 million TV programme requests for that month – a three percent year-on-year increase. The most-watched shows were dramas with many viewers younger than 55.
Separately, the BBC’s director general has argued that user personalisation is vital to iPlayer’s growth. The BBC says 15 million people sign-directly into iPlayer every month and are presented with shows they could be thinking about. The corporation is planning more personalisation, though it has not said what or how, during 2018.
The BBC has also been concentrating on new content especially for iPlayer and it has commissioned popular YouTuber’s to create a number of 20-minute shows targeted at 13 to 15-year-olds. The stars it relies upon will also be increasingly involved: Louis Theroux has selected a selection of documentaries that had a profound effect on his work, which are now available to stream on iPlayer. Separately, Netflix is increasing the quantity of original shows it really is creating and spending $8 billion on new content in 2018.
Most of the TV shows and movies commissioned or produced by the BBC don’t end up on iPlayer for prolonged periods of time as it is able to make money using them elsewhere. BBC shows are licensed to Netflix – Planet Earth, Luther and Sherlock as an example. BBC Worldwide also sells shows to international markets.
Harrington says if the BBC keeps their own shows on iPlayer for prolonged it is incorporated in the tricky position that they may be worth less when it comes to sell them. “The immediate problem of transitioning a bolstered iPlayer into a competitive offering is that the added price of purchasing or retaining additional rights to make the platform desirable to viewers will cut qisdjx content expenditure over the board,” he wrote in a research paper earlier this coming year.
But other events mean the UK’s on-demand TV market could change more radically. Virgin Media has dropped channels from UKTV, which is part owned by BBC Worldwide, after a row around it being able to show the channel’s shows on-demand. Reports have also suggested the BBC and ITV will work on the subscription service and might remove their content from Netflix. Before streaming your favourite shows gets any easier, it seems set to acquire a whole lot more complex.