Demand for the BBC's iPlayer surged over the Christmas period, according to web traffic monitoring company Hitwise.

According to the Hitwise figures, between 8 December and 5 January the BBC iPlayer site received a 14-fold increase in traffic. During the Christmas period the iPlayer page was the 80th most visited site in the UK, peaking at 62 on New Years Day.

Three main reasons have been attributed for the increase in popularity. One is the BBC's traditional glut of quality programming and festive specials during the Christmas period. The second is the BBC's decision to launch a TV advertising campaign on Christmas Day to remind, or in some cases introduce, TV viewers to the iPlayer. And the third reason is that the service has recently been expanded to non-Windows users.

"The BBC heavily promoted iPlayer on TV and in the press over the Christmas period and it seems to have paid off," said Robin Goad, UK director of research at Hitwise.

Intense criticism

The iPlayer was first launched as a public beta by the BBC in July 2007. Initially, the online catch-up TV service came under intense criticism. Not least from disgruntled Macintosh and Linux users unable to access the service. A petition calling for the BBC to expand the service to non-Windows users received over 16,000 signatures, prompting a government response and action from the BBC.

In December last year, the BBC relaunched the service with a new version of the iPlayer. This new version allows Apple and Linux users to stream archived content directly to their browser. Unlike Windows users, however, Mac and Linux users still cannot download and keep content for 20 days to watch at their own convenience.

But, given time this should change too. In an interview with Silicon.com, the head of BBC's Future Media and Technology unit, Ashley Highfield, said that a downloadable version of the iPlayer was going to be extended to all platforms during 2008.