The BBC iPlayer will be finally available on BT Vision, which is now in just over half a million homes in the United Kingdom. After three years, the BBC iPlayer is being rolled out over five months, to replace the BBC Replay offering on BT Vision, just in time for the planned launch of YouView, in which the BBC and BT are both partners. BT remains committed to its own hybrid broadband video service, although even with the addition of premium sports channels it has failed to make much of an impression on the market.
The iPlayer on BT Vision is being developed by Pushbutton, an interactive development house that has also become the preferred development partner of Lovefilm for their movie player.
Paula Byrne, the managing director of Pushbutton described the BBC iPlayer on the Microsoft Mediaroom platform that supports BT Vision as “both powerful and elegant,” providing “a glimpse of the IP-powered television of the future.”
Daniel Danker of BBC Future Media and Technology noted that October was a record month for the BBC iPlayer, with 139 million programme requests, over 20 million of which were delivered to televisions.
It has been almost three years since the BBC iPlayer launched and a little longer since BT Vision entered the market. So it has taken some time for them to come to terms, no doubt influenced by the participation of both parties in the proposed YouView platform.
BT has meanwhile been unable to renew a commercial agreement with broadcaster Five. Its catch-up service is no longer available on BT Vision, two years after first agreement was first reached. However, Five is reportedly close to a deal with Virgin Media.
BT says it will start introducing the BBC iPlayer with a phased release in early December, available to all BT Vision customers by April 2011 — so no rush then. YouView plans to launch in the first half of 2011, although that seems optimistic to some observers. The specification for the initiative, previously known as Project Canvas, is still incomplete. The participation of the BBC is conditional on this being published no later than eight months prior to the launch of the first wave of set-top boxes.
Quite how YouView and BT Vision will sit together remains a mystery to many. In its most recent presentation to investors, the national telecommunications provider talked about launching BT Vision 2.0 in 2011-2012, offering an enhanced and personalised user interface, interactivity and social media.
BT Vision has struggled to reach half a million homes, despite being given away with BT Total Broadband packages. In the last quarter it added 24,000 BT Vision ‘customers’. This was the highest quarterly net addition for several years, boosting numbers to 520,000.
BT reports continued increase in usage of BT Vision, with average subscription views per customer up 10% in the last quarter, although it has declined to offer any specific figures or revenues.
BT Broadband growth has been more impressive, gaining 114,000 subscribers in the last quarter, representing 45% of all new retail broadband customers, including cable, with Virgin Media taking 12%. BT now has 5.3 million retail customers. Together with wholesale and unbundled lines it now serves over 15 million homes in the United Kingdom.
With 5 million residential broadband customers, it is disappointing that BT has only just reached half a million homes with its BT Vision package, far short of the original ambition of 2-3 million. It is far from clear whether adding Sky Sports channels will really make any difference.
BT reports that over 50,000 customers have taken the Sky Sports service which it is now able to market after a three-year legal battle. That compares to some 5 million that take the channels directly from Sky, which is now in over 10 million homes. BT spent millions of pounds advertising the availability of Sky Sports coverage on its service. It seems a very expensive way to promote broadband, since BT loses money on every subscription it sells on behalf of Sky.