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7 on-demand viewing facts

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Justin Bairamian Justin Bairamian | 16:49 UK time, Wednesday, 17 February 2010

olympiciplayer.jpgJust as TV didn't end up killing the radio star, it doesn't look like on-demand is going to kill linear TV. Current evidence suggests that on-demand is actually enhancing the live TV schedule, rather than replacing it.

Here are seven facts that are testament to on-demand's positive influence on the live TV schedule:

Fact 1 Most catch-up is close to first broadcast
The bulk of PVR and iPlayer viewing is in the first 24 hours after live transmission - suggesting that the bulk of 'on-demand' is in fact catch-up and still anchored to the live channel schedule.

Fact 2 Young people still 'do' live TV
For 16 to 24s, live viewing still accounts for over 90% of the TV they watch. In fact, for the whole audience, catch-up viewing (including PVRs, VCRs and iPlayer) only accounts for 5% of the TV we watch. This is growing, but very slowly.

Fact 3 Audiences can only take so many channels

The number of channels viewed per person per week has only grown from 7.1 in 2001 to 8.5 in 2009. But there are hundreds of channels available in the UK.

Fact 4 iPlayer is not the main catch-up device

50% of all BBC time-shifting is via the PVR compared to 15% via PC iPlayer. For 16 to 24s, iPlayer usage rises to 31% of all time-shifting and PVRs is 46%.

Fact 5 TV viewing is not in decline
TV hours watched per head in the UK have remained stable since 2001 at approximately 25 hours per week. There is no evidence of decline - the latest quarter of figures has actually shown a slight increase.

Fact 6 Time-shifted viewing gets higher AIs
The ability to view content you want at your convenience has led to AIs (Audience Appreciation Index) for all programmes going up and especially for those programmes that audiences have time-shifted, by approximately 5 percentage points.

Fact 7 We still love our TV sets
10m people watch any kind of online video in the UK but only 0.4% of the population watch TV through online alone.

Future viewing
There will be a crucial role for on-demand in audiences' lives and it will undoubtedly become greater as it makes the journey from the PC to the television through IPTV (Internet protocol TV).

But predictions suggest that it will only ever account for a relatively small percentage of overall viewing and the bulk of it will revolve around the immediate linear schedule.

Why is the live schedule so robust?
This doesn't seem to be for technological, commercial or structural reasons, but human ones.
For all that we claim we want personalisation, choice and control, our ability to digest the information and time required to exercise it is limited; we need guidance, simplicity and someone to do the hard work for us.

We're also still led by the fundamental desire to be part of something, to share experiences and to use TV as a social currency. The live schedule is the only place to do this.

On-demand may never compete with live TV in terms of overall viewing - but it provides convenience and choice, and crucially, the sense that TV is still innovative and relevant, 50 years after it was 'new media' itself.

(Justin Bairamian is Head of Audiences, BBC Vision)


  • Comment number 1.

    Surely the reason iPlayer viewing so closely resembles live transmission viewing is that iPlayer only does catch-up. People have to watch within a set period of time which is dictated by the linear schedule.
    I'm sure if you made a whole series available at the same time and kept it available indefinitely, you'd find very different viewing patterns.

    Also, why does the BBC put so much emphasis on "channels"? Of course, they're useful in broadcasting as they allow more than one programme to be transmitted simultaneously. But in the world of on-demand, surely this concept becomes redundant? Does the fact that series 1 of Gavin & Stacey was on BBC3 tell the viewer anything about the show? And does the fact that series 3 was on BBC1 mean that series 3 was fundamentally different in some way?

    On-demand isn't competing with live TV in terms of overall viewing because on-demand is being forced into the same constraints as live TV. On-demand doesn't need schedules and channels, in fact, it would do a lot better without them.

  • Comment number 2.

    Last week I posted the BBC’s latest iPlayer monthly viewing data which got me thinking about how much I use the service to ‘catch up’ on missed programmes.

    I must admit that I am a huge fan of iPlayer and my support continues to grow daily as new bells and whistles are added. However I mainly uses iPlayer to catch up on BBC’s archived radio shows and tend to only watch TV shows online on a handful of occasions.*

    The user experience is brilliant and I love the fact that I can access the content using my iPhone (despite there not yet being a dedicated app).

    From time to time, I stray to other on-demand services from other providers to watch must-see programming I may have missed first time around. Channel 4’s 4oD service has a really impressive back catalogue of content which goes back to truly iconic shows which were made in the eighties and nineties (Desmonds, Eurotrash and some of the early episodes of Brookside – Channel 4’s sadly decommissioned original soap).

    However, 4oD just doesn’t have any of the style / sexiness of BBC’s iPlayer.

    My girlfriend often uses Channel 5 five’s new-look on demand service to catch-up on Home&Away and Neighbours at the weekend (tragic, I know) but the bandwidth issues persist and I invariably advise her to watch them on YouTube’s new TV channel which now syndicates selected content from both 4oD and demandfive. That said, I do quite like the redesign that five has done with their service.

    So, is ‘live’ TV dead? Have we forsaken the urgency of rushing home in time to watch [insert your guilty pleasure here] on the box? The Beeb says no.

    Some good insights in this post although Lucas42's comment above was quick (and correct)to point out that the iPlayer’s limited archive distances it from other ‘on-demand’ services.

    It’s interesting (for me at least) to see that the iPlayer accounts for only 15% of delayed viewing compared to 50% for PVRs. This shouldn’t come as a huge surprise to me as my parents still use their VHS to record shows they absolutely have to see but can’t. It’s only when the VHS fails them (often the case) that they may watch the show online (with a lot of down-the-phone counselling from yours truly).

    In fact, I remember the day we bought our first ever VHS recorder in the Lakhani household. It lasted my folks nearly 20 years – amazing when you consider that the iPlayer interface goes through a refresh in what seems to be every few months.

    How do you ‘watch’ TV?

    *I’m only writing this post as I have missed the live airing of the BBC’s brilliant Being Human series finale and am waiting for it to appear on iPlayer.


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