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iPlayer Launch: First Indications

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Ashley Highfield | 11:25 UK time, Monday, 14 January 2008

Well, it's been three weeks since the BBC iPlayer launch on Christmas Day. Yesterday, we released some figures on its performance, showing that over 3.5m programmes have been streamed or downloaded on demand within a fortnight.

porridge_iplayer.jpgThe Observer has described the early figures as "remarkably promising". I'd agree. In the first week, we saw more users than we had tentatively expected in the first month; way more. Perhaps we underestimated, but I based forecasts on the known industry ratio of consumption of audio to video on iTunes and other sites. Given that we already have a very healthy audio podcasting and streaming service for BBC content (16m downloads last month), we applied the same industry ratio to estimate video demand from BBC iPlayer.

Except it now looks like demand for long-form video over the web may be much higher than iTunes has witnessed so far: It's too early to say, but I think we may be at the start of rewriting the rule book. So does The Guardian's Mark Lawson, who wrote that "iPlayer may represent the biggest step-change yet in the way television is seen".

Anecdotally, it seems to have preserved some people's sanity over the Christmas break: typical of the feedback is a comment on my earlier post:

have to say that the iplayer has changed my life. Over Christmas I realised that my laptop had turned into an automatic personal video recorder and I would quietly step away from the mahem of the children watching Shrek (again) and have a peaceful moment in my study watching Top Gear in fine streaming quality. Theres no going back now, this is the future, its here and it works! Well done.

One blog post I've come across describes iPlayer as "You Tube for the discerning viewer", which I kind of like. There's more comment here.

On most days, we're already seeing between a quarter and a third of a million programmes watched. This might be a part of the trial that won't convert to long-term regular use, but then again we've not started the internet part of the marketing campaign yet, so one shouldn't read too much in these figures either way.

Streams are outnumbering downloads by a factor of eight to one. I would imagine that eventually this might settle at one download for every three streams, especially when we have implemented bookmarking (pre-ordering of programmes to be downloaded, possibly ahead of transmission so that they are available in your "download manager" immediately after the programme has aired) and "series stacking" (downloading the first few episodes of a drama and binging on them to catch up with the story).

What is being watched, then?

iplayer_most_watched.pngWell, the obvious programmes are at the top - Best Of Top Gear, EastEnders, Sense And Sensibility, Doctor Who - with a small, but not marked, skew to programmes that appeal to a male audience. The top ten programmes account for about half of all consumption, and then the long tail effect starts to really kick in.

The ten programmes between numbers 40 and 50 in the chart still collectively account for 5% of all demand, and all the programmes outside the Top 50 added together still account for nearly half of all programmes. (Programmes as diverse as episodes of Porridge or a history of Factory Records). This chimes with other long tail evidence (and a prediction I gave last year), and bodes very well for Kangaroo, the joint venture between the BBC, ITV, and Channel Four.

What's going to hold back more consumption? I expected difficulty of use, technology issues, or non-compliance with particular platforms to be the main complaints into our call centre run by Capita. Call volumes were, according to Capita, very low, in total hundreds rather than thousands, and the number one complaint is actually the non-availability of a particular programme (usually for rights issues). Number two is the absence of a download button against some programmes (probably from Mac users, a known issue which we're working on).

The in-house support team, and our colleagues in Red Bee did a tremendous job keeping everything running smoothly over the Christmas and New Year period; huge thanks to all of them. The development teams are already hard at work on the next range of features, many aimed at helping the audience discover even more of the programming available through iPlayer, and bringing radio more closely into the fold.

More on all of this next month.

Ashley Highfield is Director, BBC Future Media And Technology.


  1. At 01:59 PM on 15 Jan 2008, steve connor wrote:

    I'm not surprised it has done so well, the technology works very well the streaming is very reliable and the picture quality is very good.

    Being a Mac user I'm looking forward to downloads being added but I'm very happy with the progress so far and I congratulate the BBC on being at the forefront of this new technology.

  2. At 02:16 PM on 15 Jan 2008, Art wrote:

    It will be useful If each who wants to listen any bbc' programmes around the world could do it..no boundaries..I don't want teach an american english I like bbc programmes..

  3. At 02:57 PM on 15 Jan 2008, Matthew wrote:

    I am also using the iPlayer on a regular basis and I find the latest figures very impressive.

    I know several people who are now using the iPlayer, including people usually scared to go within 10 yards of a computer. It seems to of made a big impression on the public and I believe that it can only to grow in popularity.

    Everyone involved in the iPlayer deserves a lot of praise. I believe that over the next few years, it will have a major influence on how TV is watched, as well as encouraging people to use the internet for streaming and downloading. It will not just have a big influence on the public though, it will also help other networks to see the potential of this sort of thing which ultimately is a good thing for everyone.

    In my opinion, the iPlayer is something the BBC can be really proud of. Leading the way with new technology and offering different ways to watch programmes is exactly the sort of thing the BBC should be doing to justify the license fee.

  4. At 03:03 PM on 15 Jan 2008, Rich Wareham wrote:
    Number two is the absence of a download button against some programmes (probably from Mac users, a known issue which we’re working on).

    Although I'd agree the majority of phone complaints might be from Mac users, remember there are a large number of Linux users out there as well.

    I'm the recent proud owner of a Linux-bases Asus EeePC which strikes me as a wonderful platform for watching BBC downloaded content on the train, on a flight, etc. The lask of download support for it's Operating System is a small annoyance in the otherwise excellent iPlayer.

  5. At 04:01 PM on 15 Jan 2008, J Davies wrote:


    Do you have figures for the popularity of the various platforms (Windows, Mac, Linux) for the streaming service?

  6. At 05:27 PM on 15 Jan 2008, Mark wrote:

    Any chance of an RSS feed, updated whenever a new programme is available? Or RSS feeds by category?

  7. At 06:24 PM on 15 Jan 2008, nhcp wrote:

    Do you think that the TV promotions (featuring Top Gear across America) and radio promotions (about classic episodes of Have I Got News For You) are misleading, since you can't see either of the shows due to the 7 day limit?

  8. At 08:08 PM on 15 Jan 2008, Scott wrote:

    I'm not surprised its been so popular - its brilliant being able to watch and catch up on something good that its all to easy to miss in the schedules. Its certainly changed my viewing habits - I love being able to watch things at my convinience.

  9. At 09:51 PM on 15 Jan 2008, Josh wrote:

    I'm not supprised at all. It's a fantastic service. It is remarkable though, that it wasn't hyped that much, and yet that many people know about it.

  10. At 01:03 AM on 16 Jan 2008, Orville wrote:

    I would gladly download it except it's for UK users only... I live in the USA, but would love to see BBC things I can't get here.

  11. At 01:56 AM on 16 Jan 2008, Charlie wrote:

    I reckon you could make a killing if you released this worldwide. Either in advertising, subscriptions or simple sales.

  12. At 03:30 AM on 16 Jan 2008, Sy Downham wrote:

    The BBC should look to providing a streaming service to those around the world for a fee....as an ex-pat...I'd pay.

  13. At 08:00 AM on 16 Jan 2008, John Bradford wrote:

    I'm baffled, have I been living in another universe recently?

    The BBC iPlayer launch on Christmas Day? Christmas Day 2007? But the service started long before that, I know, I downloaded several programmes long before then via iplayer, and very good it is too. Someone please explain!

  14. At 09:23 AM on 16 Jan 2008, ef waters wrote:

    Why is it that prior to this launch the BBC removed even the possibility of subtitle delivery via iplayer downloads. Thereby ensuring the service is not available for deaf and hard of hearing people who require subtitles to access the video delivered by the service.

    'Launching' a project which is not technically mature, or is ineffectively organised (or alternatively which deliberately flouts the BBC's paper commitment to accesibility) reflects badly on the BBC's ability to provide value for its public funding.

  15. At 10:39 AM on 16 Jan 2008, Josh Smith wrote:

    Call volumes were low? I'm hardly surprised - until I read that, I didn't even realise you had a phone number until reading that.
    The fact that it's quietly hidden (underneath the Data Protect statement below the email form on the contact page that can only be reached after viewing an individual answer in the help site) hardly encourages people to call.

  16. At 10:48 AM on 16 Jan 2008, Daryl wrote:

    @13 - this was probably the beta version, which I too was using, so am not sure when the "final" version was released. (Although Christmas Day looks likely!!)

  17. At 11:11 AM on 16 Jan 2008, Nick Reynolds (editor, BBC Internet Blog) wrote:

    John Bradford (comment 13) - you can blame me for this one John - the original post used the phrase "marketing launch". But I removed it as I thought it might confuse people. But removing it has just caused confusion.

    Daryl (comment 16) - the iPlayer has been around since the summer of last year. But streaming was added just before Christmas and at Christmas the marketing campaign was launched.

    I don't think this is the "final" version. There will be more features added in time.

  18. At 12:45 PM on 16 Jan 2008, Josh Smith wrote:

    Whoops. That'll teach me not to proofread.

  19. At 02:45 PM on 16 Jan 2008, Daniel Bennett wrote:

    What's the latest on Project Kangaroo? Because I'm a demanding member of the new media generation, I want all my 'On Demand' services in one place.

  20. At 02:56 PM on 16 Jan 2008, Nick Reynolds (editor, BBC Internet Blog) wrote:

    Here is Ashley's poston Project Kangaroo from last year.

  21. At 03:30 PM on 16 Jan 2008, Daniel wrote:

    Having just started testing the iplayer, i think it is an improved service and look forward to testing further improvements to it.

    funny how everyone is using the 'i' in front of everything now, copying Apple ipod.

  22. At 06:40 PM on 16 Jan 2008, Greg wrote:

    Its brilliant, i look forward to the programme list being expanded, but...

    The front end is dire tho, having to click repeatedly to try and find what programmes are available, then waiting for the over heavy flash to load, to show... 6 whole programmes, then clicking again, then waiting for the over heavy....

    A much simplifed icon list would make me happy, and/or the ability to display more programmes at once, even people who havent moved on from 640 x 480 could handle a scroll button.

  23. At 03:42 PM on 17 Jan 2008, Richard wrote:

    I would just like to say thanks for the Mac version (flash steaming). This is how it should work in my view - just like YouTube. It's instant, intuitive and good quality.

  24. At 07:05 PM on 17 Jan 2008, rob j wrote:

    I hope Mt Highfield gets to read this. Why is the resolution of iPlayer content so poor? The days of postage stamp video playback on PC's is long gone. Why cant we have video resolution that lends itself to full-screen playback ? Currently iplayer in fullscreen is very poor.

  25. At 01:15 AM on 24 Jan 2008, Xbehave wrote:

    "pre-ordering of programmes"
    "downloading the first few episodes of a drama"
    be added to the flash version aswell.
    i mean i know that you cant download them but you could add a list of bookmarked programs and have them marked availible

    and perhaps having playlists of qued programs

    p.s well done on the implementation of flash it doesnt seam to kill my computer and im on linux

    p.p.s comedy could do with its own category

  26. At 11:41 AM on 26 Jan 2008, Paul Brett wrote:

    iplayer is a superb idea. and seems to work great for me on stream - apart from a bit of digital juddering. However, every time i attempt to download, I am running windows XP SP2, it informs me that the download server could not be found?? and I should restart iplayer... Help

  27. At 11:24 AM on 14 Apr 2008, Ray Banks wrote:

    "Windows platforms" needs clarification. It is not as good as it sounds.

    The iplayer download service does not support the flagship edition of Windows, Windows XP Professional X64 edition. Enthusiasts who use this flasgship product in the XP range are denied iplayer download service. iplayer doesn't install because it doesn't regognise this version of XP as XP. Channel 4 VOD is the same. Hopefully now that Ashley has been appointed CEO of "Kangaroo" he will make sure the Microsoft platforms are *PROPERLY* supported. It seems MAC and Linux people are listened to, but people at the cutting edge on Windows XP are ignored.

    Sky incidentally have their aact together - Sky Anytime PC does install on XP X64 and downlaods work perfectly.

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