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Some insights into how people use BBC iPlayer

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Alison Button Alison Button | 19:42 UK time, Friday, 24 September 2010

The BBC iPlayer launched at Christmas 2007, and in 2008 we conducted our first survey of users.

Unsurprisingly the people who picked up on BBC iPlayer the quickest were most likely to be male, 40-ish, affluent, with a partner but no kids - a classic ‘early adopter’ profile.

It’s a different picture now. Nearly as many women use the BBC iPlayer website as men, and the age profile is similar to that of all internet users.

Women: 43 %
Men: 57%

Age Groups
15-34 44%
35-54 37%
55+ 20%

Obviously the service and viewing platforms have changed hugely in this time too. You can watch together as a family on a big screen, on Virgin Media, through games consoles, down to palm sized devices.  We’ve looked in depth at the way people use BBC iPlayer now. Here are three of the big themes.

Weekends are different
TV viewing on BBC iPlayer is most popular at weekends, when people can watch at any time. Sundays are when the service is used most, particularly on Virgin Media and Nintendo Wii devices. Programmes like Doctor Who have encouraged Sunday use as people catch up.

Apple devices are also used more on Sundays - with a peak at 8am as well as in the evening. For radio listening, which is nearly all through computers, weekend usage is low.

But for handheld devices the listening pattern is more like TV viewing with higher figures at weekends, particularly for sport. Radio 5 live typically makes up about one in seven live stream requests, but on weekend afternoons it can deliver more than 40 percent.

Using the iPlayer for family TV moments
When BBC iPlayer launched on PlayStation 3 last autumn, some of the programmes which did best reflected a young, male audience, as expected given the user profile. This is still true to some extent, with Top Gear and BBC Three comedy still high up the list, and PS3 viewing happening later into the night than average.

However, there is also now a decidedly family viewing flavour to the list of titles, with children’s programmes and pre-watershed films also present.

We think this means PS3s are moving from teenager bedrooms to the living room joining the Nintendo Wii boxes. Viewing through the Wii shows clear skews towards children’s programmes, pre-watershed drama and family films, implying that either the family are watching together or iPlayer is the new incarnation of CBBC babysitting.

Between them, Nintendo Wii and PS3 boxes deliver nearly 10 percent of all programme requests to iPlayer.

Live streaming events
Requests for live streams are very stable. Just over 70 percent of radio programmes accessed were live streams particularly sport coverage, and Radios 1 and 2. The most catch-up requests tended to be for Radio 4 comedy (particularly from the David Mitchell fan club).

For TV, only eight percent of programmes viewed on iPlayer were live and most TV viewing is still done on a computer. We think this is partly because most people would rather watch TV on a big screen, plus many aren’t aware you can watch live TV on the iPlayer.

However the World Cup, Wimbledon and Glastonbury together all boosted live tv viewing. In June, 14 percent of all tv programmes watched on iPlayer were live streams, up from eight percent.

Unsurprisingly, the England matches were the most watched events. Records were broken on a whole range of devices and platforms, and now more people have used this feature it will be interesting to see how it grows.

Alison Button is Audience Research Manager in MC&A.


  • Comment number 1.

    V.interesting post. We use nearly all the methods described across our house. We've got Virgin boxes in the living room and our bedroom, my son uses the iPlayer on his PS3 in his room and I use it on the PC mainly for radio, both live (Radio 5 as I type this) and catch-up (often hear half a programme in the mornings in the car on the way to work, so hear it all later). We don't use it on the Wii as we've got the Virgin box. Marvellous service all round!

  • Comment number 2.

    Interesting post and analysis thanks. One question though. Given the variety of platforms on which it's now possible to access iplayer content, can anyone explain why the content varies between them. One example as it's top of mind. I missed the Singapore GP yesterday and when I came to look for it, no Formula One content was available on Virgin, the qualifying and practice were on the Nintendo, but only the website had the race as well. Which is a bit frustrating if your preferred platform is Virgin through the TV. I've noticed this difference in content before. Any reason for it?

  • Comment number 3.

    If weekends are increasingly being used for catchup, I wonder what future effect this will have on weekend live scheduling.



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