The BBC iPlayer delivered an average of 272 million programmes per month in 2017 and served 3.3 billion requests in total, an 11% increase on the previous year. However, BARB data show average viewing hours fell following the introduction of mandatory sign-in.
The most popular programme of the year was the first episode of the natural history series Blue Planet II with 4.77 million requests. The second most requested programme was the opening episode of the period drama Taboo, with 4.46 million.
Dan Taylor-Watt, the head of BBC iPlayer, described it as “an extraordinary year for BBC iPlayer.”
Usage was boosted by ‘box set’ series remaining available throughout their broadcast run and for 30 days after the final episode of the series aired.
Over the Christmas period a number of box sets and archive programmes were available, contributing to 327 million requests in December, up 17% on the previous year.
Mandatory sign-in was introduced for web and mobile devices from the middle of the year, purportedly to enable personalised recommendations and to allow users to pick up viewing where they left off across multiple devices.
This does not appear to have led to a significant reduction in usage. Indeed an 11% increase suggests the opposite. Yet this increase might be less than expected.
The BBC reported 239 million monthly requests for television programmes in September 2017, which was up just 1% on the previous year. There were 263 million requests a month on average over the first nine months of the year.
If the average for the year was 272 million and the average for December was 327 million, that implies figures for October and November of around 285 million, which is only up around 4-5% on the previous year. This hardly suggests a massive shift towards online viewing of BBC programmes.
BARB data indicates that viewing time appeared to drop with the introduction of sign-in and then recover in the second half of 2017 to similar levels to the previous year. There is generally a seasonal dip in the summer months, although the previous year saw a bump in viewing as a result of the European football championships.
Averaged over the last thirty weeks of the year, for which comparable data are available, total viewing actually fell from 9.78 million hours a week in 2016 to 9.25 million hours a week in 2017. Average viewing was 9.66 million hours a week over the course of 2017.
This only accounts for viewing on phones, tablets and computers. It may not be reflected in viewing on television screens, which is growing faster than on other devices.
BARB reported 11.17 hours of BBC iPlayer viewing in the last week of December 2017, compared to 10.88 hours the same period the previous year.
However, the BBC reported 69.2 million requests and 25.6 million hours of iPlayer viewing for that week in 2017, compared to 58.6m requests and 22.5 million hours watched that week in 2016.
If we accept the higher figure of 25.6 million hours a week of viewing, which was the highest so far for BBC iPlayer, divided by 69.2 million requests, it works out at an average of about 22 minutes of viewing per request.
25.6 million hours a week works out at about 25 minutes per person in the United Kingdom. In comparison, BBC 1 was watched for an average of five and a half hours a week per person in December.