BBC iPlayer Viewing Figures Fall; Is it Time For a Rethink?

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For the first time since launch in 2007 the popularity of BBC iPlayer has fallen causing some to question whether the Corporation can maintain its lead in online innovation.

This is at a time when the new Conservative-led government is considering an overhaul of the way the BBC is funded, possibly pulling the plug on the licence fee.

Latest iPlayer viewing stats show that requests to watch TV shows fell 7 per cent in March to 230 million, compared to the same period last year. Overall the service grew about 2 per cent year-on-year in the first three months of 2015, the slowest growth on record.

With millennial audiences tuning into YouTube for video around their specific interests and with streaming players now looking to combine VOD, catch up, live TV, and user-generated content to give subscribers the full package, is it time for a new approach to meet changing user demands?

“With falling iPlayer subscribers, criticism directed at its licence fee model and a potential future cull of its portfolio of channels, the BBC is currently facing a crisis of confidence in its position as a ‘pioneer’ of online video,” warned Nick Fitzgerald, CEO of digital media solutions developer TV2U.

“When it was first introduced, iPlayer heralded the future of online video streaming. But as the latest iPlayer user stats show, it’s no longer sufficient to provide just live TV and catch-up content, particularly if consumers are paying for it but not necessarily making the most of the content available to them.”

The licence fee generates £3.7 billion per year for the BBC and has been frozen at that level since 2010 until 2016, while the government also required the broadcaster to slash costs.

Those cost-cutting measures will lead to the BBC closing its BBC Three channel later this year, moving the brand and some of the content online.

This week BBC Worldwide—the broadcaster's commercial arm—said it will shutter the Global iPlayer subscription service in July. It was available for Western Europe, Australia and Canada, although not the U.S.

BBC Worldwide first announced it intended to pull support for the Global iPlayer app in October 2013, saying it would instead focus on making material available via the website.

The BBC has also run into problems with Top Gear, one of its best performing international TV brands. New presentation talent for the show is expected to be announced soon.

“With many consumers flitting between live TV, subscription-based services, and shorter online video content, broadcasters like the BBC need to focus on innovating their entertainment services in line with changing appetites," Fitzgerald added. "By partnering with alternative cloud entertainment services and technology providers, broadcasters can fight against the changing TV tides and remain relevant in an ever-evolving market.”

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