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iPlayer Figures and Feedback

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Ashley Highfield | 16:34 UK time, Thursday, 21 February 2008

Some very interesting pick-up on our announcements yesterday about the 2m+ users of the iPlayer so far, and the strong growth in usage that we've witnessed since the Christmas day launch, seeing us break through the half million programmes mark on one day last week.

The Guardian's Mark Sweney asked whether "BBC iPlayer could be broadband TV's Freeview moment?".

My answer: quite possibly, and let's hope so - but let's give it six months.

iplayer_proms.jpgIt's true that all on-demand TV services have seen an up-kick off the back of iPlayer, which is great: the real "Freeview over IP" moment will come I believe when, through a range of services such as iPlayer, the upcoming Kangaroo, and a BBC Archive proposition, the UK audience will be able to get practically any programme ever transmitted, on-demand. Lots of work still to be done here, but we've reached the tipping point for broadband TV, I believe.

One of the comments to Mark's blog post answered another question asked by blogger Iain Dale: "why does the BBC intend charging us twice for watching their programmes", referring to BBC Worldwide's deal to offer programmes through iTunes for £1.89.

'Phazer' succinctly answers this question of whether the licence fee payer hasn't already paid (through the licence fee) for a BBC programme offered via iTunes:

No, you paid for the BBC to licence the content for temporary broadcast. If the BBC were to licence it for copies to keep forever, the licence fee would have to be £800 a year. So, just as with BBC DVD's, they're sold, as then a percentage can go to rights holders.

Another interesting post from telco2.net talks about the impact iPlayer might have on the ISP network.

This is an issue that comes up frequently. The fact is that even with the volumes far exceeding our plans, there has been negligible impact on the UK internet infrastructure. This is not to say that we're complacent, or do not take the issues of network capacity seriously; we do.

There may be a win-win for the industry where services like iPlayer drive demand from users for broadband access in the first place, and for higher bandwidth packages, and for (paid-for) quality-of-service guarantees from the ISPs. At a very constructive dinner I hosted recently with the ISPs, mobile network operators, and content providers (02, Virgin, CarePhoneWarehouse, BT, Tiscali, C4 and ITV amongst others), we agreed it was in no-one's interest to see the UK internet struggle.

The post does touch on a further interesting point, that "Despite access unbundling, 'middle mile' costs remain a key bottleneck", i.e. that well before we need a fully fibre end-to-end broadband network in the UK, there will need to be an upgrade to the UK's "back-haul" network.

Put another way, fibre to the home from the box in the street may not be needed for quite some time, and the core fibre backbone across the UK also has plenty of capacity. But the bit in the middle may need upgrading, and more competition may be needed to stimulate building this key part of the distribution chain.

Coincidentally, I was showing Ofcom CEO Ed Richards around a number of our new projects yesterday morning here in White City, and this exact subject came up. Something we've already touched on here and reported on BBC News, but when the industry regulator takes notice, so should we.

He posed the very interesting idea of the government encouraging using other infrastructure, such as sewers, to lay fibre optics down to create this new capacity in this "middle mile" business (the existing telco cable ducts being apparently totally full), and sent me a couple of links to companies operating in this space, including this article in yesterday's Independent. The business community has responded favourably.

As usual, I'd be interested in your thoughts.

Ashley Highfield is Divisional Director, BBC Future Media & Technology. Image by Jon Jacob.


  1. At 06:25 PM on 21 Feb 2008, James wrote:

    I have to say both the iPlayer and 4od on demand services have become invaluable for me. I recently moved to a new student flat that unfortunately has a dreadful TV signal, so now I have taken to streaming or downloading (and watching through my 360) online.

    On the note about iTunes to me this is a non-issue; it’s no different from the BBC offering DVDs for its popular shows.

    Oh and the ISPs should really not even attempt to moan about consumers actually using the broadband connections they have paid for, just because the vast majority did nothing but email and browsing before does not mean they can kick up a fuss due to their networks being inadequate.

  2. At 06:54 PM on 21 Feb 2008, Defiant wrote:

    "On the note about iTunes to me this is a non-issue; it’s no different from the BBC offering DVDs for its popular shows."

    It's a shame we can't put you lot into a special group so the government can keep taxing you double for everything so the rest of us can save a few quid (Yep your a minority)

    Would you buy a can of Coke and then charge yourself again when you take it out of the fridge ?

  3. At 06:59 PM on 21 Feb 2008, Defiant wrote:

    Interesting that you've quoted Phazer. He's a well known BBC troll on the digitalspy forums ;)

  4. At 10:39 PM on 21 Feb 2008, frank wrote:

    Has anyone stopped to consider the cost of the bandwidth ?

    I had a 5GB/month cap on my broadband service. Before I realised - the family had hit 30GB at £2/GB over the cap purely down to iPlayer use.

    That was a £50 hit, I had to upgrade to a 20GB/month and limit the use.

    My ISP & BT are the beneficiaries of the BBC iPlayer not the BBC. I have already paid the BBC for producing the content - the BBC could have offered a lower bandwidth option.

  5. At 01:36 PM on 22 Feb 2008, Mike wrote:

    Frank clearly you did not consider the bandwidth costs :) Which is unfortunately where the onus lies currently. Can I point out that the BBC does in fact offer a lower bandwidth option it's called broadcast. The downside of broadcast is you have to be there to watch it at the right time or set your recorder. So the question really is does the convenience of the iPlayer justify the extra cost you are incurring ? I guess the answer is yes other wise you would just refuse to pay it. At least you have the option and choice is always good...

  6. At 02:59 PM on 22 Feb 2008, Rob Ollier wrote:

    Ashley is a bit misleading here by quoting an article from last year, before iPlayer launch – I talk to many ISPs and they are feeling the pinch.
    "This is an issue that comes up frequently. The fact is that even with the volumes far exceeding our plans, there has been negligible impact on the UK internet infrastructure. This is not to say that we're complacent, or do not take the issues of network capacity seriously; we do. "

    I agree with the point that adding more desirable content and services (and traffic) on the internet can actually get the ISPs out of the hole they've dug themselves by using an over-simplified "unlimited" product description that doesn't match the experience provided by a heavily contended/shaped service. PlusNet were used in the Telco2 article, and they are probably the strongest proponent of aggressive traffic shaping/low-cost broadband (based on tightly-defined web and email traffic profiles) - streaming video consumes far more bandwidth and cannot be shaped, so their business model is totally shattered.

    ISPs need to move away from bandwidth-based service descriptions (which the customer doesn't understand anyway) and think about more service-based descriptions, e.g. 'Gold tier' provides high-quality video streaming/download.

    The BBC must work collaboratively with ISPs to build an intelligent internet infrastructure in the UK that can scale to provide mass-market video streaming. Placing video streamers deep inside ISPs’ networks (closer to the user) would provide huge cost savings to ISPs and the BBC while improving the consumer experience. This could be done relatively quickly and simply if the BBC built a ‘streaming vault/hub’ to which other ISPs could connect to. The BBC could place their own streamers into the ISPs’ networks.

  7. At 05:44 PM on 22 Feb 2008, Darren Palmer wrote:

    If ISPs hadn`t lied in the first place I doubt we'd be in this much of a mess.

    It wasn`t that long ago I was downing 300+ gig a month on a residential line with an ISP everyone loves to hate.
    I also blame BT, or the UK`s telecoms as a whole for keeping us so behind and not wanting to invest more.

    I always remember seeing BTs broadband options having caps from early on. ISPs have been greedy though and after being a pivotal part of everything that got us in this state can`t now turn round and say it isn`t fair. Course it costs to carry data, but we shouldn`t be penalised for these different business` being unable to communicate with each other properly for the consumers and in the long run for themselves.

    Also, they need a bandwidth awareness mascot to go out to schools with cack songs.

    Bandwidth Badger!

  8. At 05:54 PM on 22 Feb 2008, Defiant wrote:

    "Has anyone stopped to consider the cost of the bandwidth ?"

    Frank bandwidth is the cheapest it's ever been and even cheaper if you don't cross the Atlantic. You see if the iplayer service is supposed to be just for BBC TV Licence payers then bandwidth is next to nothing.

    I pay $14.99 (works out around £8) for unlimited downloads from Newsgroups so don't pay too much attention to this rubbish about bandwidth. The only real problem I can see them having is their networks unprepared for the traffic. I know one cable company (wont mention name) who only invest £3 million on the network while giving themselves £25 million bonuses

  9. At 07:00 PM on 22 Feb 2008, Dave Tomlinson wrote:

    Rob Ollier wrote - "streaming video consumes far more bandwidth and cannot be shaped, so their business model is totally shattered."

    Far from it, our (PlusNet's) business model was actually designed with the type of effect that iPlayer and other things can have.

    Quite simply, if our customers start to use more then our revenue increases too. A Broadband Your Way customer on Option 1 with 1GB paying £9.99 might become increase their usage to 2GB and pay £10.74 or upgrade to Option 2 with 8GB and pay £14.99. That increase in revenue then goes back into our product design and pays for the extra capacity those customers need for the extra usage.

    On a one size fits all "unlimited" basis where as the usage increases the revenue per customer stays flat you can see where that ISP would need to take a close look at things because when mean usage is growing but revenue per customer isn't and there's no decrease in the customers you can easily run the danger of costs spiralliing out of control.

  10. At 07:28 PM on 22 Feb 2008, Andrew Clover wrote:

    “services like iPlayer drive demand from users for broadband access in the first place, and for higher bandwidth packages, and for (paid-for) quality-of-service guarantees from the ISPs”... in other words, it has to get worse—service so bad as to be completely clear to everyone it's broken—before it can get better!

    There's another way things can improve, which is by regulation: most of the ISPs sold ‘unlimited’ broadband packages, which they then failed to honour. Many of them are still today advertising that, when they are offering nothing of the sort (and, in the case of the BT-bound providers, can't possibly provide that sort of service economically).

    Before real high-bandwidth (and naturally higher-cost) options can become marketable, this false advertising has to be stopped.

    Calling on the BBC to make up the difference by paying the ISPs to continue their broken business model is utterly futile, and only perpetuates the problem, postponing a solution a little further. (Not very much further, since iPlayer's traffic needs are but a small portion of the wider story of people using the internet more.)

  11. At 04:20 PM on 23 Feb 2008, Nigel Curson wrote:

    Interesting your hint about access to the archives - I remember this being discussed on and off for a while but this sounds a bit more concrete. How much can you say about this at this stage?

    Is it likely to be broadband only, or might it be accessible through cable, as is planned for iPlayer?

  12. At 05:43 PM on 23 Feb 2008, chrissmari wrote:

    charge for people outside of the uk

  13. At 11:59 PM on 23 Feb 2008, david manchester wrote:

    its interesting that the unicast Iplayer is being blamed for higher costs and data use.... and in some ways that may be true.

    however,whats more interesting is the fact the UK ISPs have had the multicast capabilitys in all the UK kit from day one yet refuse to re-activate this capability all the way to the end user.

    why interesting, well because the BBC have been trialing IP Multicast for a very long time.

    but the open call to the likes of Virgin Media and BT retail ISPs to turn back on Multicast and peer with them in co-operation for the benefit of all was refused/ignored.

    thats including the end users wanting to join the Multicast trial and the UK ISPs in general as multicasting has been proven time and agin to save vast amounts of IP bandwidth.

    the ISPs refusal to re-active the existing Multicast options insid eevery router and related kit to the end users, has in effect excluded masses of the UK populas that dont have one of the small Multicast enabled ISPs.

    and whats makes it werse, the BBC could put this multicast ability inside a multicasting IPv4/IPv6 tunnel that the Iplayer could then use and bypassed the ISP exclusion and saved masses of bandwidth and costs in the process, why is that?.

    10 users =10 unicast (iplayer) data streams.

    10 users=1 Multicast (Iplayer) data stream.

    the more people join the Multicast option the greater the saving in data sent.

    its simply a far better option were more than one single person wants the same data.

    alas most of the UK ISPs want currently allow you as the end user paying the bills to use Multicast, and the players (BBC,vuse,4OD etc)dont seem to want to provide end to end multicast tunnels to save bandwidth and provide a far better bitrate and Qos in the process.

  14. At 01:01 PM on 25 Feb 2008, Marc wrote:

    Surley using Multicast would mean everyone watches the same stream - a bit like Freeview TV? Where's the "on demand" in that?

  15. At 04:50 PM on 25 Feb 2008, adama wrote:

    Using the current BT ADSL infrastructure, the multicast would only be multicast up to the end of the ISP's network. 100 users watching a 4mbit multicast stream would cause the ISP to split the stream into 100 4mbit streams at their handoff between the BT ADSL network and their network.

    Similarly, when people talk about 'bandwidth costs' with relation to UK ADSL they generally mean the cost of getting data from the ISP to the end user via BT (which is around £150 megabit per month)

  16. At 03:43 AM on 26 Feb 2008, david manchester wrote:

    "...like freeview weres the 'on demand' in that..."

    your thinking 'IP Broadcast' in that
    the data would be transmitted over the wire at a fixed time ,and everyone wishing that data needs to tune in as it were.

    thats also a model that can be used to good effect, after all that too has been in the TCP:IP/UDP spec since day one as well.

    however in relation to the current wastful IP Unicast model, theres a saving to be had with IP Multicast model when a mear two people want the same data at any time of the day or night.

    of course, the more people joining that Multicast data stream the better the saving.

    and even if there were no other users at the time you want your 'On demand' data, then the data throughput would be the same as your current Unicast streaming is today.

    that fact is, as with the torrent networks, there will nearly always be more than a single person wanting the 'on'demand' data at any given time of day or night.

    so theres going to be a massive saving on the average when a Multicast tunnel client/server is used.

    if for any reason that so called realtime 'On Demand' didnt work for the ISP kit, then theres always the Near realtime 'On Demand' model in that you ask for or are told about a data stream coming up in the next 5/10 minutes thats been booked/cued and every interested party just collects/buffers the incoming Multicast data, much the same as they do now with the wastful Unicast data today.

    "... ADSL infrastructure.... Multicast spit into Unicast etc...."

    the new *21 infrastructure allows for Multicast, infact its part of that required spec, i suspect to be used as a tool against the Virgin Media Multicast abilitys that have never been used to date.

    however, thats the reason i mentioned the use of Multicast tunnels , so as to bypass any and all ISP resticted/excluded Multicast abilitys.

    the Multicast tunnel will deliver and and all data directly to the end users LAN network if the data Provider BBC,Vuse,and even Joost were to setup and inject the users requested data streams into a multicast tunnel setup at their data provider end.

    they can, but they dont, thats the point im making, madness given the proven savings even two users accessing the same Multicast data stream will provide everyone concerned.

  17. At 11:19 AM on 26 Feb 2008, Andy wrote:

    When you say "UK Audience" are you including those who use:
    Ubuntu, PCLinuxOS, Debian, Fedora, Suse
    Mandriva, Linspire, Slackware, Gentoo, Damn Small Linux,
    FreeBSD, OpenBSD, NetBSD, Solaris, HP UX
    (etc, there are literally hundreds of vendors the BBC is discriminating against, the above 15 are just a sample.)

    running on:
    Alpha, Arm, MIPS, Sparcs (etc.)

  18. At 01:43 PM on 26 Feb 2008, marc wrote:

    Andy, it is possible to install flash on most of the operating system's you listed. Most Linux distributions come with firefox which makes it pretty easy to get the plugin.

    However. the BBC have to stop somewhere
    What about my BBC Micro or Palm IIIe ?
    Do you want your tax money going on supporting a few hundred users? As long as Mac, Linux and Windows work, then I'd be happy with that. They are after all, the major client operating systems, and quite frankly anyone running anything else probably isn't looking for a desktop media centre (if they are, then they've clearly picked the wrong OS)

  19. At 02:49 PM on 26 Feb 2008, Matthew Johns wrote:

    This seems to show that simple,easy to use solutions sell well in a free marketplace. Can you pop the Iplayer stuff onto iTunes rental too please and then I'll be able to watch my Ashes to Ashes on the train.

    P.S. I don't want P2P solutions and I already dislike Kangaroo.

  20. At 04:09 PM on 26 Feb 2008, Nick Reynolds wrote:

    People discussing broadband may be interested in these two posts: Ashley Highfield on "The Digital Divide" and Bill Thompson on "Do We Have The Backup?".

  21. At 10:53 PM on 27 Feb 2008, Tony wrote:

    Despite the significant upturn in video traffic and the shift towards Internet and broadband TV, I'm amazed that the major content providers and ISPs are not pressuring BT Wholesale into provisioning IP Multicast in the Access where the impact is felt most. I'm pleased to see one or two bloggers here also making the case for it.

    Whilst not suited to "watch what you want when you want", it would be quite easy to add/modify the iPlayer model to include repeat scheduled playout of programmes, which does lend itself to multicast. Furthermore, I've read nothing to suggest the BBC has any plans to migrate its "eternal" multicast trial into mainstream production.

    Quite simply - there is only ONE technology capable of delivering live and near-on-demand to the masses in a scalable and cost-effective way, and until we have a network and Access that ubiquitously supports it (and has a fair charging model!) we'll be muddling around with vastly inferior solutions. In the meantime there's really only one winner, and they're laughing all the way to the bank!

  22. At 01:02 AM on 28 Feb 2008, Jeremy Boden wrote:

    Why can't I download on my Linux PC?

  23. At 12:05 PM on 29 Feb 2008, david manchester wrote:

    you can download it on your linux PC but trying to play it on your PowerPC based PS3 PPC linux installed HD machine is another whole ballgame.

  24. At 06:23 PM on 03 Mar 2008, Alan in Belfast wrote:

    Probably about time someone blogs about the service problems that have beset iPlayer this week - including the early deletion of downloaded problems (waste of download quota when you don't get to watch it) and late availability of content.

    The abundance of Masterchef and Dawn-goes-missing threads on the iPlayer forums suggest there's a story to be told.

    Pity a statement wasn't put up centrally on the iPlayer UI. And no real explanation of why some downloaded programmes were auto-deleted early and couldn't ne re-downloaded since they weren't in iPlayer's catalogue.

    A bad experience for people only watching a series on iPlayer and not recording the episodes as backup!

    Any sign of series stacking being released?

    And trying to comment on a BBC blog is still a trying experience! 502 errors galore :(

  25. At 09:11 PM on 03 Mar 2008, James wrote:

    I agree with comment 4: "the BBC could have offered a lower bandwidth option."

    As brilliant as iPlayer is, there is still the nagging problem that, even just streaming, a program is huge. Take for example, "The Owl". (Type it into iPlayer to see what I'm talking about). It's around 40-50mb to download the single-minute program, whereas on Youtube, where it is also available, it is only 4-5mb, and quality is still fairly good. Can't the BBC have the option of a low-bandwith option?

  26. At 02:07 PM on 09 Mar 2008, Ian Stirling wrote:

    Multicast doesn't work - BT break it.

    At the moment - for the vast majority of people outside the cities, there is no choice but to use an ISP that does not have actual physical equipment in the exchange.

    Each user is connected over a virtual BT-owned pipe (nomatter who the ISP is) to the ISPs operations centre.

    Each of these pipes are _completely_ seperate encapsulated internet connections.
    The ISP pays an equivalent of some 60p/gigabyte of transfer (at peak times) for this service.

    There is no way other than the hugely expensive route of putting equipment in each exchange for the ISP to actually make any bandwidth saving by using multicast.

    What happens is that the multicast signals get to the ISPs operation center, then they are split into copies, and all the copies are sent to each user individually.

    Even if you have 50 people in one street all watching it, there isn't a way for the ISP to use this knowledge - they simply can't inject multicast packets at the user end from some seperately bought multicast service, as this does not exist.

  27. At 07:00 AM on 09 Apr 2008, Tony wrote:

    Had to LMAO at Mr Gunter from Tiscali complaining about the "demands" on them caused by the i-Player, what a load of complete nonsense.

    If (for example) one is paying their ISP for a 1 or 2 Meg connection the i-Player would put no strain at all on that kind of D/L connection.

    Some ISP's are a joke.

  28. At 02:18 PM on 13 Apr 2008, John Bates wrote:

    As an iPlayer user who has recently fallen foul of my ISP's fair use policy I would like to see the iPlayer Download Manager include an option to download only at off-peak (or given) times. When I queue up a program for download I often watch it a day or two later - there is no need for it to be downloaded at peak time.

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