BBC is planning a total revamp of BBC iPlayer, as the corporation looks to step up its competition with Netflix and other streaming platforms.
In an age where the battle for eyeballs and attention spans is tougher than ever, BBC iPlayer’s market-leading popularity has seen its audience share lose a chunk to other rival services. In response, the BBC has been readying for a revamp in the past year, investing in personalisation and lobbying to get its default catch-up window extended from the previous 30 days to the now-approved 12 months.
Speaking last night, BBC Director of Content Charlotte Moore confirmed that next year will see another relaunch of BBC iPlayer – its fourth revamp to date. The BBC, she said, will “put iPlayer at the heart of everything we do”.
“iPlayer will be the gateway to all our programmes – a ‘Total TV’ experience which will bring everything you want from BBC television into one place. It will be where you watch our channels live or where you choose from all the films, drama, comedy, entertainment or factual on demand,” she explained.
iPlayer will be home to “live music, the latest news, the big sporting events and all the shows that feel utterly relevant to Britain on any given day, alongside a rich library of boxsets and films”.
That mix of live and on-demand, which Moore billed as “unique”, is the same proposition offered by Channel 4’s All 4 and ITV’s ITV Hub. iPlayer, however, has multiple channels feeding into it with arguably higher profiles for each than ITV or Channel 4’s portfolio of brands. They certainly help distinguish the BBC from Netflix or Amazon Prime Video.
“Our channels are our greatest advantage. In a global video on demand (VoD) landscape, they are what set the BBC apart, the envy of the streaming world,” Moore declared. “The channels are strong British brands with really clear distinctive visions that British audiences know and love. They reach millions every week. They will be critical to our success.”
Indeed, the channels have been strategically used to help launch shows and expand audiences alongside on-demand streaming. Killing Eve is a show that has been launched consistently as a box set on day one of its broadcast, helping to drive audiences both on linear TV and online.
After 28 days, Episode 1 of Peaky Blinders’ latest season consolidated at 7.4m with over 5m requests on iPlayer. But that has also boosted the demand for previous seasons, available on BBC iPlayer as a box set.
“These numbers are growing every day,” said Moore. “Since the past series went up in July, the full five series box set has had 42m requests.”
In the year ahead, BBC iPlayer and its channels will draw mass audiences in through the Euros, the Olympics, Glastonbury’s 50th anniversary and the Cricket Hundred, with audiences then finding other choices within the iPlayer ecosystem.
“Just think of the numbers we’ll be bringing to your shows,” she told an industry audience.
“Perhaps the most exciting thing about all this is that it changes what we’re commissioning,” she added. “We can see there’s real appetite for stories outside the mainstream, with new and original things to say. Stories that really mean something to British audiences.”
The challenge for BBC iPlayer, however, will be getting independent producers to agree to the longer 12-month catch-up windows, with industry body Pact raising concerns that indie third parties are not being given a choice in the Beeb’s plans to transform iPlayer. The Beeb will also have to juggle its ambitious aims to grow BBC iPlayer with its commitment to grow Britbox, its new subscription streaming service that launches in collaboration with ITV later this year.