The BBC Trust is conducting a consultation to gauge reaction to the iPlayer, two years after its official launch. The BBC iPlayer received over 100 million requests in December 2009. One in eight requests came from games consoles. The Sony PlayStation 3 contributed 8% of all requests, while the Nintendo Wii logged 3%. Together they accounted for more than the Apple Mac platform. Mobile usage was minimal at less than 1%. The most popular programme received over a million online requests, representing a seventh of its total viewers.
The iPlayer passed the 100 million requests a month in November, receiving 115 million requests in December, up from just over 60 million in January. Of these, 94 million were from online users and 20 million were from the Virgin Media video-on-demand service on cable television. Of the online requests, 66 million were for television programmes and 24 million were for radio. Of the television requests, only 3% were for downloads, as opposed to streams, while 8% were for simulcast channels. In contrast, over 70% of radio requests were for live streams, although the figures exclude podcasts.
The BBC statistics are based on a sample of a quarter of logged successful requests. They count the start of a stream or download, rather than whether a programme was actually played for a particular period.
The most popular programme on iPlayer, an episode of Top Gear, received over a million requests. This was the highest rated programme on BBC Two that month, where it was watched by 6.3 million viewers, so the online audience represents a significant proportion.
The rest of the top 20 programmes were dominated by comedy, light entertainment or popular drama, with an average over half a million requests each. Apart from the three episodes of the popular motoring show, the highest rating factual programme, an episode of the natural documentary Life, was just outside the top 20 with 374,000 request, compared to about 5 million television viewers.
The BBC Trust is conducting a consultation on the BBC iPlayer. Two years after its official launch, the governing body of the BBC is following up on how the 7 day television catch-up service is performing online and on cable. It is also assessing aspects for which it did not originally give approval, including the ability to pre-book programmes in advance and to view entire series after transmission.
Organisations and members of the public are invited to offer their views, either in the form of an online survey accessible on the Trust web site, or as a separate submission. However, the Trust says it is not considering any changes to the on-demand offerings as part of this review. It will undertake a separate review of its syndication policy, which has been criticised by some within the industry for maintaining too much control over the distribution of programmes.
Meanwhile, a second consultation is about to close on the proposals for participation in the planned Project Canvas, which received provisional approval in December. This would see services like the BBC iPlayer available on hybrid broadcast and broadband boxes. However, with this facility already available on some Freeview and Freesat receivers, and with manufacturers keen to offer it on their new ranges of network connected televisions, some may question whether a new platform as proposed by Project Canvas is actually required.
The continuing success of the BBC iPlayer is evident in serving millions of users and delivering over a 15 million programmes a week. However, that usage still needs to be seen in the context of 57 million viewers each watching the main two BBC television channels for an average of nearly 8 hours a week. It is also important not to overstate the current demand for on-demand. In comparison, 2.6 million people watched Doctor Who timeshifted, most of them using a digital video recorder.
The BBC described 2009 as “a breakthrough year for the BBC’s TV channels with audiences growing across platforms for BBC programmes”. Yet the highest rating BBC programme over Christmas only managed 11.3 million television viewers, its second biggest showing of the year, while ITV peaked at 16 million. The share of the main television channels continues to fall. BBC One remains the most popular channel, but with a 20% share of all viewing. It is less than a decade since an episode of Only Fools and Horses on BBC One reached over 21 million on Christmas Day.