The BBC is pushing the iPlayer to extend its television experience. The iPlayer boosted Christmas viewing for the BBC, accounting for a third of views of its most popular programme. In an address to staff from the new BBC Wales building, Tony Hall, the director general of the BBC, promised to move at least two thirds of employees out of London by the time its current charter ends in 2027. He also trailed a future announcement that the BBC and ITV will be taking BritBox into new countries.

The director general said that the BBC will continue to focus investment on iPlayer, which had its best Christmas so far, with over 200 million requests over the festive fortnight, up by over a third year-on-year, with 18 million on New Year’s Day.

The most viewed programme on iPlayer over the holiday period from 20 December to 2 January was the Gavin & Stacey Christmas special, with 4.6 million requests, and a further 6.8 million requests for previous episodes, giving the programme a total of 11.4 million. While overnight figures for the Christmas special were 11.6 million, BARB figures show that within seven days of broadcast the episode had a total estimated audience of 17.92 million, of which 17.01 million views were on a television screen. The iPlayer therefore appears to have contributed over a quarter of total views.

The Christmas Day episode of the long-running serial drama EastEnders received 2.2 million requests, and over the fortnight episodes of the serial received a total of 15.6 million requests over the fortnights, making 9 of the top 20 episodes on iPlayer. The BARB audience for the Christmas episode of EastEnders was 7.21 million, suggesting that over 30% of views were through iPlayer. The total audience was also up on the Christmas episode the previous year, which had an audience of 6.80 million, although the serial has not had over 10 million viewers for six years and it once had over 20 million.

Top 10 programmes by episode on BBC iPlayer over Christmas 2019
  Programme Episode Requests
1 Gavin & Stacey 25/12/2019 Christmas Special 4,553,000
2 EastEnders 25/12/2019 2,207,000
3 Call the Midwife 25/12/2019 Christmas Special 2019 1,785,000
4 A Christmas Carol 22/12/2019 Episode 1 1,608,000
5 EastEnders 26/12/2019 1,506,000
6 EastEnders 24/12/2019 1,404,000
7 EastEnders 31/12/2019 1,352,000
8 EastEnders 27/12/2019 1,346,000
9 EastEnders 01/01/2020 1,324,000
10 EastEnders 20/12/2019 1,252,000
Requests to BBC iPlayer from 20 December 2019 to 2 January 2020. Excludes some data from Sky. Source: BBC

The next most popular programmes on iPlayer by title were Hey Duggee and Bing, both aimed at pre-school children, with totals of 6.2 and 4.9 million requests respectively.

The Christmas Special episode of Call the Midwife had 1.8 million requests, while the first episode of A Christmas Carol had 1.6 million, with the second and third episodes receiving 1.0 million and 0.9 million.

Interestingly, the top 20 episodes on the BBC iPlayer accounted for 28.6 million requests out of a total of 203 million over the period, or just over 14%, indicating that the majority of viewing on the BBC iPlayer was to a long tail of programmes that each attracted far fewer viewers.

Top 10 programmes by title on BBC iPlayer over Christmas 2019
  Programme Requests
1 EastEnders 15,587,000
2 Gavin & Stacey 11,366,000
3 Hey Duggee 6,155,000
4 Bing 4,915,000
5 Waterloo Road 4,533,000
6 A Christmas Carol 3,542,000
7 Call the Midwife 3,366,000
8 Mrs Brown’s Boys 3,330,000
9 His Dark Materials 3,292,000
10 Match of the Day 2,648,000
Requests to BBC iPlayer from 20 December 2019 to 2 January 2020. Excludes some data from Sky. Source: BBC

Over the same period, the BBC delivered 7 of the top 10 rating programmes on television. The second most popular programme was the New Year’s Eve Fireworks, with 10.84 million viewers, most of them watching on television at the time of transmission.

Top 10 programmes by total audience over Christmas 2019
  Programme Channel Viewers
1 Gavin & Stacey BBC 1 17,920,652
2 New Year’s Eve Fireworks BBC 1 10,840,961
3 Call the Midwife BBC 1 8,690,142
4 Strictly Come Dancing BBC 1 7,678,632
5 Coronation Street ITV 7,383,620
6 A Christmas Carol BBC 1 7,330,443
7 The Queen’s Christmas Message BBC 1 7,301,473
8 EastEnders BBC 1 7,207,213
9 Coronation Street ITV 7,061,551
10 Coronation Street ITV 7,059,536
7 day viewing to programmes transmitted from 20 December 2019 to 2 January 2020. Source: BARB

“We’re going to take iPlayer to another level, giving users even more choice — offering the very best of the BBC, all in one place — playing to our strengths: Our liveness, the quality and breadth of our genres and storytelling, the fact that we’re both local and global,” the director general said.

“2020 means even more boxsets; many more new series; more great live moments on iPlayer. It will be a total TV experience. With so much to choose from we’re also developing ways to help people find what’s right for them. It’ll increasingly feel like a service tailored to the individual, tailored to you.”

It will also be possible to create profiles for younger viewers, so that children can have an age appropriate iPlayer experience.

The BBC Sounds app has around 3 million users a week, which twice as many as six months previously. The BBC is going to open up Sounds to other producers and plans to extend the service globally.

The BBC News app will also be revamped to make it more visual and easier to use. Interestingly, he said it will be “an app that signs you in from the start, and is increasingly personalised for each one of us.”

“We must keep on defining who and what we are, against the financial and creative might of the streamers.”

The BBC will also have to start developing its arguments for the next licence fee settlement in 2022, although its current charter runs until 2027. The aim is to demonstrate that “public service broadcasting with the BBC at its heart is an eternal idea”.