BBC iPlayer sees record-breaking start to 2021, with biggest week ever

The start of 2021 has seen viewing surge on BBC iPlayer, with the first full week (4-10 January) breaking records as viewers streamed 162 million programmes - as they flocked to watch programmes like The Serpent, A Perfect Planet, Traces and EastEnders on iPlayer.

Published: 12:01 am, 19 January 2021
Updated: 11:43 am, 26 January 2021
iPlayer record January 2021
More people than ever are using BBC iPlayer and they are using it more often, with a staggering 5.8 billion streams in 2020. They are finding more boxsets to choose from, a growing Ultra HD offer and a brand-new kids experience for our youngest viewers."
— Dan McGolpin

That week also saw a record 4.1 million people aged under-35 signed into their BBC account to watch BBC iPlayer - with Pretty Little Liars, The FA Cup, A Teacher, The Serpent and A Perfect Planet proving popular with them.

This follows a record-breaking 2020 on BBC iPlayer – which saw:

  • 5.8 billion programmes streamed from Jan-Dec - up 31% on 2019
  • Killing Eve, Normal People, Bing, The Nest and Gavin & Stacey top the most streamed episodes on iPlayer in 2020
  • Normal People, Killing Eve, MasterChef, Strictly Come Dancing and The Split top the list of series box sets in 2020

Dan McGolpin, controller of BBC iPlayer, says: “More people than ever are using BBC iPlayer and they are using it more often, with a staggering 5.8 billion streams in 2020. They are finding more boxsets to choose from, a growing Ultra HD offer and a brand-new kids experience for our youngest viewers. The BBC iPlayer experience will keep getting better whatever your age and wherever you’re based, and we are already seeing 2021 breaking new records with viewers flocking to The Serpent, A Perfect Planet, the FA Cup and many more.”

BBC iPlayer’s growth in 2020 was accelerated by an expanded catalogue of drama, comedy, and documentary box sets and longer availability for many films. 

Normal People was the biggest box set of the year, with the romantic drama getting 63.7 million streams on iPlayer across 2020. Set in Ireland, the adaptation of Sally Rooney’s hugely popular novel followed Connell and Marianne’s story of young love, and led a number of strong performances for new dramas, including Sydney-based series The Secrets She Keeps, Mike Bartlett’s Life, which followed the lives of four families in Manchester, Michaela Coel’s extraordinary I May Destroy You and the spectacular Scottish-set thriller The Nest.

Other big dramas in 2020 included the returning series of globe-trotting spy thriller Killing Eve, divorce drama The Split, forensic crime drama Silent Witness and long running sci-fi drama Doctor Who. Entertainment shows like MasterChef and Strictly Come Dancing also continued to prove popular with audiences, as the third and fourth most popular series of the year. This Country was the biggest comedy of the year, as Kerry and Kurtan took a final bow on their Cotswold-based adventures with the third and final series, while the first series of the show also made it into the top 20 series boxsets. And audiences still can’t get enough of Barry’s most famous couple Gavin and Stacey, as the first two series of the classic comedy also made the top 20.

BBC iPlayer’s most popular box sets in 2020 are*:

Rank

Programme

Series

Streams

1

Normal People

 

63,715,000

2

Killing Eve

Series 3

39,655,000

3

MasterChef

Series 16

22,206,000

4

Strictly Come Dancing

Series 18

20,769,000

5

The Split

Series 2

19,058,000

6

Silent Witness

Series 23

17,252,000

7

The Secrets She Keeps

 

17,037,000

8

Life

 

16,131,000

9

I May Destroy You

 

16,127,000

10

This Country

Series 3

15,788,000

11

MasterChef: The Professionals

Series 13

15,290,000

12

The Nest

 

14,684,000

13

Doctor Who

Series 12

13,422,000

14

Killing Eve

Series 1

13,348,000

15

Call the Midwife

Series 9

13,227,000

16

Killing Eve

Series 2

13,040,000

17

This Country

Series 1

12,397,000

18

Gavin & Stacey

Series 1

12,254,000

19

Gavin & Stacey

Series 2

11,937,000

20

Celebrity MasterChef

Series 15

11,241,000

*List does not include children’s programming, news, sport or continuing titles

The return of Killing Eve saw BBC iPlayer’s biggest single episode in 2020, with 7.4 million streams for the Villanelle’s return. Normal People’s first episode was the second most popular episode of the year, as audiences first met Connell and Marianne in their Sligo hometown, and there were strong performances for the recent Gavin and Stacey Christmas special, Hugh Laurie political thriller Roadkill, the terrifying first episode of Dracula and fact-based drama The Salisbury Poisonings.

BBC iPlayer’s top episodes per series in 2020 are:

Rank

Programme

Series

Episode

Streams

1

Killing Eve

Series 3

Episode 1

7,442,000

2

Normal People

 

Episode 1

6,506,000

3

Bing

Series 1

Fireworks

4,278,000

4

The Nest

 

Episode 1

4,105,000

5

Gavin & Stacey

 

Christmas Special 2019

4,011,000

6

Dracula

 

Episode 1

3,518,000

7

The Split

Series 2

Episode 1

3,480,000

8

The Gruffalo

 

The Gruffalo

3,469,000

9

The Secrets She Keeps

 

Episode 1

3,394,000

10

Bing

Series 2

Fossil

3,334,000

11

The Snail and the Whale

 

The Snail and the Whale

3,246,000

12

Roadkill

 

Episode 1

3,155,000

13

This Country

Series 3

Episode 1

3,135,000

14

Stick Man

 

Stick Man

3,099,000

15

Hey Duggee

Series 1

The Drawing Badge

3,051,000

16

Zog

 

Zog

2,987,000

17

Life

 

Episode 1

2,946,000

18

This Country

Series 1

Episode 1

2,817,000

19

Room on the Broom

 

Room on the Broom

2,721,000

20

The Salisbury Poisonings

 

Episode 1

2,700,000

RB