BBC push to widen appeal of iPlayer

The BBC is making a fresh push to take its iPlayer service from the computer on to television screens in an attempt to widen the appeal of the online video service.

With a rising number of games consoles, set-top boxes and internet-ready televisions being plugged into broadband connections, the BBC believes that iPlayer viewing on television will overtake that on computers in the next few years.

A total of 1.7bn programmes were viewed on the iPlayer last year, with a record 8m weekly users last month, around 21 per cent of the UK’s online population.

But usage of the iPlayer is still dominated by younger, tech-savvy audiences, something Daniel Danker, the BBC’s general manager for programmes and on demand, plans to change over the next 12 months.

More shows from the BBC’s archives will be added to the iPlayer and more series will be available online for longer than the typical seven-day window as part of the drive to reach more licence-fee payers aged over 35, he said.

Viewing the iPlayer on television has risen five-fold in the past six months, via one of the 300 internet-connected devices on which it has been made available over the last three years, including Samsung and LG “smart” TVs, Blu-ray players, Freesat boxes and Nintendo’s Wii console.

“We are bringing the iPlayer to its natural habitat,” Mr Danker said. “At this rate, in the next few years more than half of iPlayer consumption will be on the TV. The landscape is shifting.”

The first step in Mr Danker’s strategy is the release of a new big-screen iPlayer for the PlayStation 3, the Sony games console which is already the second-largest source of viewing for online video on the TV, after Virgin Media’s cable service.

The iPlayer’s TV interface has been redesigned to make it easier to use with a regular remote control, and it will be easier to search for and bookmark shows. “We wanted to make using the iPlayer on TV as easy as channel flipping,” Mr Danker said.

In the coming months, these new features will also come to other internet-connected TVs and devices, including YouView, the long-delayed internet-TV venture in which the BBC is a shareholder. Mr Danker hopes the BBC can also help educate consumers about new uses for their televisions, as fewer than a third of sets with internet capabilities are actually connected to broadband.

The BBC also plans to keep more series on the iPlayer for longer. Shows such as The Killing and Luther became slow-burn successes after several episodes had aired on TV thanks to so-called “series stacking”, where the whole run is available online throughout its broadcast.

Viewing on desktop or notebook computers remains the iPlayer’s mainstay, accounting for 66 per cent of viewing requests in June. However, that figure is down from 73 per cent a year ago as iPlayer comes to more mobile devices, tablets and TVs. Mobile viewing has grown 46 per cent since December.

According to Comscore, the online measurement firm, the BBC is second only to Google’s YouTube in the number of people watching its output on PCs.

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