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The State of Media and Entertainment Video 2014
Changes in the BBC's iPlayer, the growth of YouView, and the transformation of Twitter all offer a glimpse into the issues facing content providers throughout Europe.

This year has seen growth both in the number and variety of media and entertainment platforms available in Europe, in addition to various platform owners giving a view of the road they see ahead in terms of both content discovery and delivery. It was a year in which social technology producers began to develop how they could aid content discovery, and hardware manufacturers looked at how they could integrate traditional broadcast with online content.

iPlayer Continues to Lead the Way

No review of media and entertainment streaming space is complete without a look at the latest developments and viewing figures of the 800-pound gorilla in the room of entertainment space in the U.K., the BBC iPlayer. The iPlayer’s growth continues apace. It is now available on more than 1,000 devices, with more than 37% of programme requests now coming from mobile and tablet devices. The platform dealt with more than 261 million requests in October alone, which equates to 23% growth year on year. Continued growth in viewership has now almost become the norm in the 5 years since its launch.

In August, there were a variety of announcements regarding the road map for the platform’s future. One of the key messages is that the BBC wants to evolve the iPlayer from a relatively simple video on-demand service into the audience’s primary way of discovering and viewing content; this is a fundamental shift in approach and in the way the BBC sees viewers consuming content. BBC director-general Tony Hall said of the launch: “In the coming years, for many people BBC iPlayer is going to be the front door to our programming and the experience they have is going to be a world away from that of a traditional ‘one to many’ broadcaster.” This may seem to be a natural evolutionary step for the platform, but it was also a clear statement about how the BBC sees programmes being consumed in the coming years.

There were three key elements to the announcement. The first was a commitment to a broader range of content on the platform. This commitment will be delivered in a number of ways. Pop-up channels will be created around specific events, such as the annual Glastonbury Festival. These channels will be editorialised experiences, rather than simply bins of content, curated by BBC talent. Additionally, channels based around themes and populated by the archived BBC output will be created. Potential themes suggested for the channels in the announcements were Arts, Science, and Radio 1 TV.

Exclusive content will be created for and only made available via the iPlayer. This class of content will in general be associated with existing popular BBC shows such as East­ Enders, Doctor Who, and Strictly Come Dancing, but the platform will also be used to debut more content before it is broadcast on traditional channels.

The second key element was the announcement that new features are to be added to the platform, including the ability to pause and resume TV viewing from one device to another, and an extension of the viewing time for broadcast content from 7 to 30 days.

The third key element of the next version of the iPlayer will be personalisation. The platform will have the capacity to generate more relevant and personalised recommendations based on previous viewing habits. However, the more radical element of the planned personalisation functionality is the capacity to allow viewers to create their own evening schedule based on previous preferences. If executed to a high level, this functionality could be a major step forward in terms of user content discovery.

For Tony Hall, the change in experience is not just about giving audiences what they want; it is also about ensuring the audience can give direct feedback, as he said at the launch. “It will be a relationship where we provide our audiences with what they want, when and how they want it. And crucially through enhanced interactivity, they will also be able to tell us what they think of these programmes and services too. That conversation excites me hugely as it means our audiences won’t just receive the programmes we make, they will contribute to how we make them as well.”

Not only does BBC’s iPlayer continue to be the gold standard in OTT catch-up service, but the broadcaster has announced that it wants iPlayer to be the primary way viewers receive programming. 

The iPlayer will be relaunched in the first quarter of 2014 to lay the foundation for these developments to be implemented in the following years. If successful, it could be a significant step in changing the way the U.K.’s national broadcaster delivers programming to its viewers.

Smart Boxes, Dumb TVs

This was also a year when we saw a range of new devices that can deliver content into the living room and beyond. These devices point at a trend that suggests viewers are beginning to hook a smart box into a dumb TV rather than looking at using smart TVs. This may be due to the fact that it’s easier and cheaper to replace a set-top box than a TV.

In the U.K. linear TV still accounts for 90% of views; however, with the launch of PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, there are now a multiplicity of new devices, including YouView, that allow viewers to view over-the-top content through the TV. Both consoles offer separate apps that allow for on-demand viewing, but Xbox One has planned a much tighter integration with existing TV platforms, including the eventual ability to plug the gaming console into a range of set-top boxes (STBs). As it stands though, this feature, in Europe at least, is not supported out of the box.

YouView, which launched last year after missing its optimum pre-Olympics release window, delivered some interesting innovations in terms of delivery and integration of online content, as well as releasing the first stats about the consumption of streamed content on the service. These stats showed that the service, which is backed by BT and Talk Talk, gets 2.7 million video-on-demand (VOD) requests a week, demonstrating that while these figures are dwarfed by the iPlayer, there is an audience for on-demand content through a television set as well as through other devices.

With a YouView set-top box, viewers see all of the available content in one place, rather than segregated into OTT and broadcast. 

YouView’s approach is somewhat different from the consoles and other STBs, as it presents internet content in the same interface as broadcast television. This is based on the design premise that, in terms of finding content, viewers don’t care if content is streamed or comes from an aerial. Discovery and ease of access are key selling points for YouView devices, as Susie Buckridge, director of product at YouView, told TechRadar in an interview: “The user doesn’t care where the channels come from and that is the absolute ambition for YouView: that they don’t know where the content is coming from. At the moment we provide three little blue dots as a pointer, which go grey if you aren’t connected to the internet, so we do have nods but overall seamless TV is key.”

YouView’s focus is simplicity, attracting viewers to watch shows regardless of where they come from. This is the main reason why you can access catch-up content three different ways through dedicated apps, the backward Electronic Programme Guide (EPG), or search on YouView.

Buckridge said, “They [viewers] come to YouView based on their past experiences. Someone may come from a Sky background, where they have the mini guide, and that person will know to use that side of YouView.”

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