Usage of the BBC’s online VoD system, iPlayer, has doubled in the past year, rising to more than 120m programme requests per month on all platforms, writes David Fox.
Some 20 million of those in January were via cable, as iPlayer is embedded in Virgin Media’s set-top boxes. Most of the rest were online, via Windows and Mac computers, but about 4% of the audience now comes via Nintendo Wii and 8% via Sony’s PlayStation 3. The service is also available via mobile phones, but the BBC has had problems recently gathering accurate data for iPhone users (who had, last Summer, accounted for 7-8%).
The iPlayer allows the BBC to reach a slightly different audience than its broadcast services, with a profile of about 60% male / 40% female (compared to 48/52 for TV viewers). The iPlayer audience is also younger, with 43% in the 15-34 age group, 42% aged 35-54, and 15% aged 55 or older (compared to 30/36/36% for regular TV viewers).
Almost all iPlayer use for video is on-demand, with only 8% of requests for live streaming (iPlayer is also used for radio, where two-thirds of listenership is live).
However, peak demand for iPlayer is broadly similar to that for TV transmissions, typically between 8pm and 11pm. Live TV tends to fall off earlier (about 10pm). Viewership is also higher, proportionately, during the day, but the demand profile is significantly different from that of normal internet usage, which peaks during daytime.
For some programmes, the extra audience gained through iPlayer accounted for 10-20% of the total. The most popular programmes were headed by Top Gear, which snagged 1.1m requests for one of the recent series episodes, followed by the last outing of David Tennant as Doctor Who with 831,000 requests.
Meanwhile, the BBC has also announced new, free applications for mobile devices that will deliver its online services, probably including an iPlayer application for a broader range of mobiles.
Initially, it will provide a BBC News app in April (for the iPhone and iPod Touch, with BlackBerry and Android versions later), followed by a BBC Sport app in May. Both will be available in UK and global versions and will provide breaking news, including video and audio, and will allow users to send comments and pictures in return. The Sport app promises to provide clips of every goal scored at the World Cup in South Africa, with other sports being added during the year. The UK version will be free, but the international app is expected to be advertising supported.
This move has been criticised by rival UK news organisations, who claim that it is reinforcing the BBC’s dominant position online and threatening independent journalism in the UK.