Over 50 million people around the world are watching BBC iPlayer for free, according to new research.
BBC iPlayer is a service for UK users, funded by the licence fee, but a study by GlobalWebIndex, which interviewed around 47,000 people in countries such as China, India and Japan, has found that 1 per cent to 8 per cent of online adults in each country surveyed use proxy services to bypass geo-restrictions to access the broadcaster’s content.
“Although the iPlayer is funded by the UK licence fee and is therefore geo-restricted to be viewable only by people resident in the country, GWI’s data shows that the service has a huge global audience – with many turning to virtual private networks (VPNs) or proxy servers in order to access the service from abroad,” says the report.
Indeed, 38.5 million people are estimated to be using it in China, while 65 million people worldwide are thought to be accessing the site. Being able to watch “better entertainment content” is the main reason for illegally using the service.
The study arrives after the closure of the global BBC iPlayer, which previously charged overseas audiences in Western Europe, Australia and Canada to stream videos. According to the Guardian, the BBC was threatened by US pay-TV companies to have BBC America pulled if iPlayer launched in America, where it could have taken people away from their audiences.
In 2013, though, the BBC said that it would close the global service so that iPlayer could be integrated into BBC.com, which will eventually include a long-form video player as well as the BBC Store, which will give audiences the chance to buy and keep a selection of programmes. The Beeb also plans to increase its main site’s global reach from 250 million (in 2013) to 500 million per week by 2022.
The future of the BBC, though, is currently in some doubt, as the UK government launches a green paper over the licence fee and Royal Charter. As the broadcaster faces a potential squeeze on its funding, a global service where the BBC can charge overseas users to access iPlayer legally is becoming more and more important.