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The State of Media and Entertainment Video 2015
Changes in delivery and discovery are making 2015 a turning point in OTT video. Learn why the BBC iPlayer, YouView, and Netfilx and leading a wave of innovation.

The main driver of the continual increase in online video consumption is entertainment, and people are increasingly watching that video on tablets and mobile phones. According to comScore, about 78 percent of internet traffic is now video content, and YouTube says about 50 percent of its video is viewed on mobile devices.

One of the key drivers of this growth in the U.K. continues to be the BBC iPlayer, with requests to the service reaching 318 million in October 2014 (the last reporting available at the time of this writing), a growth of 21 percent year-on-year. As with other video entertainment services there is significant and continuing growth in the use of mobile platforms for viewing; now only 23 percent of total iPlayer views are on a computer.

The non-computer platforms are used by a demographically diverse range of users as the male/female ratio of users has evened out over the years, while the typical age still remains predominantly under 55. This is younger than the typical TV viewer and more in line with home broadband users. These figures suggest that the younger, more tech-savvy portions of the audience are still overrepresented compared to the U.K. population.

In terms of usage to view TV, iPlayer is used at the same times of day as linear TV viewing, although there is proportionally more daytime and late-peak use. This suggests that the on-demand services don’t radically alter the time at which people view content, just the way in which they view it.

One of the hardest issues facing content owners is content discovery, and this was fundamental to the BBC’s redesign of the iPlayer in 2014. The redevelopment of the system focused on three tasks: helping users find something they were specifically looking for, helping users discover new content, and building a foundation for the future development of more personalisation of the iPlayer.

Finding particular content and discovering new programmes are the two main user activities on iPlayer. More than half of users come to watch something specific, so the new design seeks to aid discovery of new content while not getting in the way of the majority of users, who are looking for something specific.

The BBC iPlayer continues to set the standard and lead the pack when it comes to OTT services, with the majority of requests for TV programming coming from tablets and mobile devices. 

This design could be a major step forward in the design of interfaces for both discovery and finding specific content. At any one time, iPlayer had 1,200 hours of content on it, but with the content now being made available for longer at the end of 2014, that could rise to more than 5,000 hours. The design is too new to have demonstrated any solid results as yet, but if it can truly get users directly to what they’re looking for, while allowing effective discovery, it could revolutionise how content providers design their interfaces. With the iPlayer’s wide-ranging audience demographic, other providers will be watching with interest the results and looking at how they can imitate the design if it is successful.

From Broadcast to Online

An additional design element to aid discovery is the featured or curated content pages, which allow editorial teams to showcase programmes from each channel. This form of discovery is particularly important for content made available exclusively for iPlayer or premiered on iPlayer first, and will be key going forward as the BBC launches its first iPlayer-only channel in 2015.

BBC Three already exists as a broadcast channel, aimed at a younger demographic to the main channels BBC One and Two. As part of cost-cutting exercises, BBC Three will become the first iPlayer-only channel, subject to BBC Trust approval. If this goes ahead, the content discovery and recommendation aspects of the service become more essential to enable audience to find BBC Three content. It will be interesting to see the results in 2015: given the existing demographics of the channel’s viewers—who are already consuming the vast amount of their content online—it could be argued that this is a sensible measure to cut costs and still maintain audience engagement.

This could give us a very interesting insight into the long-term future of broadcast television. If the BBC can make a success of BBC Three as an online-only channel, then there could be an argument for moving its other smaller channels, such as BBC Four, online. This could in turn call into question the need for live broadcast at all.

The final element of the new design will be the customisation of user’s experience including favourites and personalised recommendations. Although personalised recommendations on such a service are not a new idea, it will be interesting to see whether iPlayer, based on the amount of data it generates, can build both a more accurate recommendations engine for a broader demographic then those that have already been created by services such as Netflix.

The number of users and views on the iPlayer still continues to grow at a healthy pace, and it is part of the television viewing habits of a significant proportion of the U.K. It will be intriguing to see if it can deliver a better discovery experience in 2015 and whether even with its significant resources it can make a success of a niche channel that is only available online.

In terms of other entertainment platforms, YouView has had a troubled history, with numerous false starts since its inception in 2007. However, in last year’s review we looked at how the platform was gaining significant market penetration and talking about its ambitions for the future. At the end of 2014, it could claim to be the fastest-growing platform in the U.K. market, with total users numbering more than 2 million.

YouView is offered in broadband subscription bundles from TalkTalk and BT, and the falling price of its set-top boxes (STBs) has definitely helped drive growth. However, it is also beginning to add more viewers by a combination of offering channels which feature audience-grabbing content, such as Premier League football matches and access to Netflix, all while integrating that diverse content into its universal search functionality.

YouView chief executive Richard Halton claimed a major breakthrough in getting Netflix integrated with the TV platform. “Netflix just doesn’t do these deals,” he said. “They don’t allow platforms to integrate their content into a unified search.”

Once of the big questions is whether having a free-to-view service with VOD elements alters the public perception of the platform and confuses the consumer. At the Netflix announcement, Halton denied that introducing pay TV elements to YouView would undermine the free-to-air ethos of the service. “What we were always concerned about was that people who did not want to pay a lot still got a great TV proposition,” he said. “The fact that you can opt-in to upgrade into paid services is a brilliant choice. It feels like with Netflix we have the full set.”

YouView’s next growth target is users of Freeview, the U.K.’s subscription-free digital service, offered through the one-off purchase of a STB. The goal is to persuade Freeview customers to upgrade to the service and on the back of this, YouView aims to build its customer base to more than 10 million.

Halton claims that the free and pay TV markets in the U.K. are quite distinct and by offering both options on one platform, YouView can grow its audience significantly. “The free and pay markets have always been pretty stable,” he says. “They have always been about 10 million free and about 13 [million] to 14 million pay, once you add in Virgin Media.”

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