After nearly a decade of providing programmes online, British broadcasters now have an agreed system for measuring online viewing. The BARB weekly TV Player Report is the first joint-industry audited measure of online television viewing in the United Kingdom. The figures are currently rather limited, as they depend upon broadcasters implementing measurement code in their players. The BBC currently accounts for over 60% of catch-up viewing on Apple devices, but its most popular programme was only viewed 136,000 times in a week.
The TV Player Report covers the usage of online television programming in players controlled by the participating broadcasters. It is based on measurements from code incorporated in the player, rather than upon a representative panel of viewers.
A system of content identifiers is linked to a definitive, industry-wide database so that every online view can be aligned to the correct programme.
The BBC, ITV, Channel Four and Sky have all implemented measurement for on-demand viewing on Apple iOS devices.
In the week ending 23 August 2015, the BBC had a total on-demand viewing time of 173 million minutes on Apple devices, compared to 28 million for ITV, 32 million for All Four, and 43 million across Sky Go.
To put the BBC numbers in perspective, they represent less than 1% of BBC One viewed on television every week.
The top programme for the BBC on Apple iOS delivered only 136,000 average programme streams, for an episode of the continuing drama EastEnders. The programme rated fiftieth delivered just 25,000 streams.
The BBC figures currently only relate to iOS devices. They are working on adding support for Android and web browsers. Even so, 136,000 online views of a soap opera that has been running for over thirty years does not sound like a revolution in television viewing.
The BBC has previously reported around a million online ‘requests’ for an episode of EastEnders, which gets around 7 million television viewers an episode, compared to 15 million or more in 25 years ago.
Mobile and tablet devices represent around 45% of television programme requests on the BBC iPlayer. If Apple devices represent half of these, that is around 45 million streams a month, or about 10.5 million a week. If that is at all accurate, it implies an average viewing time per programme of just over a quarter of an hour.
We might conclude that some of the 200 million or so ‘requests’ a month for programmes on the BBC iPlayer result in very little viewing. It also implies a very long tail distribution of programmes that receive relatively few online views.
Average programme streams is an industry-agreed metric for the total viewing time of a programme on a television player by all devices in the reported period, divided by the full length of the programme. It is analogous to the average audience measure often used to report programme audiences.
The metric has been ratified by JICWEBS, the industry body responsible for the development of standards in measuring online media performance.
Channel Four has implemented the online measurement system for on-demand programmes across Apple iOS, Android and its web player. Its most popular programme across all these platforms was an episode of Made in Chelsea LA, which received just under 200,000 average programme streams in a week and 244,000 over a four week period.
ITV which has implemented measurement on Apple iOS and its web player, achieved only 86,000 average streams for its most popular show, Coronation Street. Soaps filled the ten top slots for the past week and month.
Sky Go, which currently only measures Apple iOS views, scored only 14,000 streams in a week for its most popular on-demand programme, Ex on the Beach, from MTV.
It is early days for BARB measurement of online viewing, but these do not sound like numbers that will particularly excite advertisers. Of course, in aggregate, a range of programmes can deliver greater scale.
Industry excitement about online video viewing often exceeds user demand.
The TV Player Report is available from the BARB web site.