The number of requests for television programmes through the BBC iPlayer dropped for the third month running, following a seasonal peak of 264 million in January. Total television programme requests fell from 242 million in February to 221 million in March and 218 million in April. However the overall usage trend continues to rise. The BBC is meanwhile closing its global iPlayer subscription service. It will be replaced by a new BBC Store to sell shows online.
March saw the first year on year decline in the history of iPlayer, with a fall of 27 million monthly requests over the previous March. The figures fell further in April, although were 14 million higher than the same month a year previously.
It is not unusual for the number of requests to fall over a series of months, reflecting seasonal changes in viewing, although the overall trend has been for usage to grow year on year at an approximately linear rate.
Dan Taylor-Watt, the head of the BBC iPlayer, sought to put the figures in context, pointing out that usage is seasonal, with higher numbers of requests in the autumn and winter months than in the spring and summer.
“Even though iPlayer usage continues to grow, it won’t be at such a rapid pace,” he conceded. “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.”
The online ‘catch-up’ offerings of broadcasters now face competition from subscription video services like Netflix and Amazon and the ‘box set’ offerings of pay-television providers.
He also explained that it was a challenge to measure usage across different devices and platforms. He suggested that in March the number of missing requests could be around 17 million.
In which case, the actual decline from March to April could be even higher, unless the BBC is missing a similar amount of data for April. However, we can only go on the monthly figures that the BBC publishes.
Also notable is that requests for radio programmes have also declined, from an average of around 80 million a month in October to December 2014 down to an average of around 64 million in January to March and 53 million in April, the lowest figure since 2012.
For some reason, the BBC no longer includes radio in the main iPlayer, with the exception of some Radio 1 video. The radio networks appear to prefer to promote their programmes through their respective web pages. There is also a standalone iPlayer Radio app and a series of podcasts that can be played through third-party players.
The BBC is also closing its global iPlayer subscription service, officially only ever described as a ‘pilot’. It was available in Canada, Australia and Western Europe but failed to launch in the United States. Operators reportedly threatened to drop the BBC America channel if it launched. Meanwhile the BBC is preparing to launch a new BBC Store to sell shows online.