Virgin Media says that there were over four million views of the ITV Player in its first month on the cable television video on demand service. That compares to nearly 15 million video views for the more established BBC iPlayer on the same platform. Both figures still represent only a tiny proportion of all television viewing. Meanwhile, many more millions watched clips from ITV shows on YouTube.

Some of the most popular programmes on the main commercial television network in the United Kingdom were predictably among the most popular video on demand programmes on the ITV Player in March, led by the soap operas Coronation Street and Emmerdale and popular Saturday night entertainment shows. Also featuring, perhaps surprisingly, was The Jeremy Kyle Show, a daytime slot specialising in subjects like “My mum thinks I stole her boyfriend”.

“We are really excited by the early success of ITV Player on Virgin Media’s TV platform,” said Ben McOwen Wilson, the director of online at ITV. “The popularity of our key genres–entertainment, daytime and drama, shows how we’re bringing the very best of ITV programming to new audiences, on demand, online and on your TV.”

Virgin Media viewers are able to watch up to 40 hours of catch up programming from ITV1, 3 and 4 each week, with a total of 500 hours of ITV programming available on demand.

The figures for ITV are some way behind those of the BBC, which reported nearly 15 million video on demand views in the same month for its programmes, promoted as a BBC iPlayer service but also available through the main video on demand menu. The BBC is now adding some programmes in high definition, for those Virgin Media customers with an HD V+ set-top box.

In all there were over 58 million monthly views on the Virgin Media video on demand service, an average of around one a day per home using the service. Last year there were half a billion video on demand views, which sounds a lot, but must be seen in context of many billions of hours of television viewing.

Over half of the 3.5 million digital cable television homes use the service in any month, which still leaves nearly half that do not. The number using video on demand appears to be rising, now at 54% compared to 46% a year ago, no doubt partly as a result of on air promotion by major broadcasters.

“Our customers are choosing their own TV schedules and shifting essential viewing to the time that suits them best,” said Katharine Burns Rivington of Virgin Media. “On demand is changing the way we watch TV and the success of ITV Player continues to drive the uptake of on demand viewing across our platform.”

Yet these numbers need to be put into perspective. Four million views across 3.6 million homes in a month is not a big number for ITV, whatever they may say. It represents just over one view per home per month, which may be less than a complete episode of a programme. The average individual in the United Kingdom still watched around 20 hours of ITV 1 that month and around a hundred hours of television in total.

ITV is itself playing catch up when it comes to video on demand. The broadcaster has seen viewing to its legacy linear channels consistently fall over the years. Although it maintains its share relative to direct competitors, its peak audiences are nothing like they once were.

The company is now searching for a new chief executive to replace Michael Grade, who failed to find a formula to turn around the fortunes of the franchise, once seen as a licence to print money.

There has been some criticism that ITV initially failed to capitalise on the online success of Britain’s Got Talent on You Tube, which generated tens of millions of views but little commercial return for the channel.

At last count one clip of winner Susan Boyle had been viewed over 50 million times, making it one of the most viewed videos on YouTube, although still some way behind a boy being bitten by a baby.

The reality is that even if ITV had been able to commercialise its international online success, the contribution would have been marginal compared to its current commercial revenues.

Therein lies the problem for traditional broadcasters, faced with the challenge of extending their existing businesses into online and on demand media.