The growing story of BBC iPlayer on TV

Published on 22 August 2011 in , , , , ,

BBC iPlayer on Wii

Photo by Dan Taylor. Creative Commons licensed.

I like stats. Stats are good and fun. Stats tell you things. Stats tell you interesting things. Stats are good and fun. I looked at some stats today. It was the July 2011 BBC iPlayer Performance Pack. They were interesting.

I must declare an interest. Up until 10 June I was the Product Manager for BBC iPlayer on Freeview, Freesat and BT Vision, which were some of the products in the BBC iPlayer connected TV team. I worked on them for quite some time so I wanted to see how my old products were doing.

Very well, is the answer.

My old department, now safely relocated to the banks of the Manchester Ship Canal in Salford Quays, was responsible for (amongst other things) BBC iPlayer on connected TV devices. Basically that covered TV sets, games consoles and set top boxes. Or to put it really basically, iPlayer on yer telly.

I always felt BBC iPlayer belonged on a TV set. I still do. I hate watching TV on a laptop. It’s wrong. Yet it always seemed that the web version was all anyone in the media cared about. Well until the iPhone and then the iPad came along anyway.

However the stats speak for themselves.

BBC iPlayer viewing stats, July 2011

BBC iPlayer on tablets like the iPad account for just 2% of viewing requests, and appear to be staying rather static. Viewing on IPTV devices (basically all TV viewing not done on a Virgin Media box nor on a games console) however has been steadily increasing all year. In April it accounted for 3% of BBC iPlayer viewing. In May 4%. June was 5%. And this July that went up to 7%, outperforming games console viewing for the first time.

Add it all on to the 6% of views from the Wii and Playstation and the 15% from Virgin Media customers and in July 28% of all BBC iPlayer requests were from a device connected to someone’s television set.

If I was my old team, I wouldn’t be resting on my laurels just uey, and I seriously doubt they are because there’s still some way to go yet before TV becomes the dominant viewing platform. The BBC iPlayer website still accounts for 63% of all viewing, however it’s notably in decline, falling from 70% this time last year.

Somewhere in the BBC there’s probably someone worrying about that figure, but I’m not sure I would be particularly much. After all, who wants to watch programmes on their computer when you’ve got a nice big television set instead? That’s where BBC iPlayer belongs.

Bar chart above taken from the July 2011 BBC iPlayer performance pack as published on the BBC Internet Blog.


  • Max Waterman says:

    If they would convert the iplayer into html5, then I would be using it much more often – the flash experience is quite poor. Also, if there were some way to tie a licence to a viewer/user, then I could watch whereever in the world I happen to be. At the moment, even non-licence payers can watch, if they’re in the UK. Also, I bet a boat load of UK ex-pats would buy a licence (if they have a UK address to tie it to).
    I’m sure there’s a solution there somewhere, without us having to use proxies or those ‘casting’ devices (I forget the name, but I’ve been tempted to get one in my UK residence so I can watch while I’m abroad).

  • Lewis Peel says:

    @Max – Regarding your comment about converting the iPlayer to HTML5. I can’t see that happening anytime soon. Sites like the BBC have to protect their content and currently HTML5 video doesn’t support DRM (Digital Rights Management) – which Flash does. Until that issue is addressed I can’t see the BBC or any other content site making video products in HTML5. YouTube have done some tests, but thats all they are at the moment.
    Recently there have been advances in the Flash player – namely StageVideo – which allows video to be sent and processed in the GPU instead of the CPU which makes things runs a lot faster. I can’t say if the current release of the iPlayer utilises this feature or not, maybe Andrew could tell you, but it does require users to have Flash player 10.2 or above installed on their device.

  • Andrew Bowden says:

    YouTube currently have an opt in HTML5 test which allows a significant proportion of content to be viewed using their new code – if you’re using Chrome or Safari then you’ll be able to use it without problem. More on that at Doesn’t seem to work if you’re using the new YouTube beta though, and there’s that big question over DRM. YouTube don’t really use DRM as far as I can tell, preferring to just make it very difficult for people to write programmes which enable download video from their site (not impossible, but difficult.)
    However they do have full length TV shows so I guess they must have something stronger. If I could work out how to leave the YouTube redesign beta I’d be able to find out what they do, but at the minute I can’t.
    As for what the current version of BBC iPlayer is doing with flash, I’m afraid I’m too out of the loop to know!

  • Andy Livingston says:

    YouTube have two players. One that uses RTMP over Flash and where the videos are generally available in H.264 or WebM for mobile/TV platforms or the HTML5 beta (subject to advertising etc – there’s *lots* of content missing from the HTML5 version).
    The other player is Flash only because it doesn’t cache any of the stream for buffering, encrypts the video using RTMPE and uses SWF verification to verify the client. This is used by partner services such as Vevo, Channel 4, the US movie rental service etc etc. I’ve not checked but I imagine the live streaming service for say the cricket does much the same. Suffice to say it is very likely that none of this content will ever be made available via an unprotected stream to a browser using the HTML5 video tag to a general purpose computing platform.
    The best way to leave the YouTube new design beta is to find a link to sign up to it – follow that link when signed in and you’ll be redirected to the on-off toggle.