One year of BBC iPlayer: An industry responds

BBC iPlayer
BBC iPlayer

Given its impact on the worlds of VOD and internet video, you'd be forgiven for being surprised that the BBC iPlayer is only just celebrating its first year of existence.

But it was December 2007 that most people were first given the option of casting their eyes over the best of 'Auntie' online – and although the concept was nothing new, the way in which it caught the public imagination certainly was.

Within 12 months iPlayer has redefined the industry, shown itself on platforms as diverse as Virgin Media's cable service, the iPhone and the Nintendo Wii, and blazed a trail that other broadcasters are rushing to follow.

"I am an enthusiastic supporter of the iPlayer and its impact on video online," MSN's executive producer Peter Bale told TechRadar.

"There is no doubt that the BBC is taking a lead in educating the entire British online audience in consuming video online.

"It has benefited all of us in the industry, though that may not be obvious to all. MSN's video traffic has tripled since the iPlayer was launched.

"IPlayer raised the bar on quality and made people realise there was more to video online than skateboarding dogs and Mentos and Coke."

User experience

The user experience is certainly the most mentioned factor when people discuss just what made the iPlayer a success.

"That was the great thing about the iPlayer – you looked at it and people would go – oh that's just the internet," Sky's Director of OnDemand Griff Parry pointed out.

"I think you delight people just by delivering TV quality stuff; people's expectations of video on the net are still set by YouTube but the iPlayer has changed that."

Lesley Mackenzie, CEO of NetTV247 and the former CEO of Project Kangaroo agrees: "The online user experience for some of the big broadcasters is poor. The reason iPlayer is so successful is because it delivers easy user experience."

Demanding viewers

As viewers have become more au fait with the concept of television on demand – fuelled by the success of things like boxed sets, Sky+ and peer-to-peer, alongside more global brands like YouTube and TiVo – they have become less tolerant of missing out on the shows that are gathering buzz.

As Virgin Media's CEO of content Malcolm Wall said when the BBC iPlayer was brought to Virgin Media: "The enormous success of iPlayer online has demonstrated the desire TV viewers have for viewing quality programmes at a time that suits them."

The way in which we consume media in this post iPlayer world appears to have split – with people desiring the latest cutting edge high definition images for their plasma screens on one hand but also adapting to laptops, handheld games consoles and mobile devices as a secondary viewing platform.

What Satellite and Digital Television deputy editor Grant Rennell believes that bandwidth issues will mean that high definition and television over the internet will not be merging any time soon.

"In a very short time, though thanks in part to relentless plugging from the BBC, the iPlayer concept has changed the way the online generation watches BBC shows, but whether it will overtake traditional TV viewing however is debatable," said Rennell

"As HD grows in popularity and with Freeview HD around the corner, bandwidth issues probably mean we'll be sticking to our set top boxes and flatscreen TVs for our hi-def jollies in future."

It's a rare negative view as the iPlayer celebrates what many would see as a vastly successful first year. It has certainly forced its way into the public consciousness in a way that no other VOD service bar perhaps YouTube has managed.

Bandwidth arguments

Indeed, a very modern measure of its success has been the ongoing argument from ISPs like Tiscali that the BBC should be paying for the increased amount of bandwidth being used as people consumed the iPlayer online.

"ISPs may not be happy about the amount of bandwidth it chewed through in the past year, but iPlayer has been a huge success, and it's no surprise that the BBC scooped the 'Best Web App' gong in this year's .net magazine awards," the magazine's editor Dan Oliver told us.

"However, it's not all back-slapping for the Beeb, as it still hasn't launched the Mac version of iPlayer, which was promised to arrive by the end of 2008. We're still waiting."

The iPlayer is far from perfect – but the BBC's mandate to drive on the rest of the industry with the public funding it receives has rarely been apparent as the work in which it has done with the iPlayer.

The overriding sense you get from talking to the media about the impact of the iPlayer is that, quite simply, without it we would not have seen the acceleration of television on the internet.

But instead – 12 months on, the UK is one of the most forward thinking nations in this area.

So, happy birthday iPlayer – you may the kind of colour scheme that only a mother (or perhaps an Auntie) could love, but you have achieved more in your first year than anyone could have anticipated.

Patrick Goss

Patrick Goss is the ex-Editor in Chief of TechRadar. Patrick was a passionate and experienced journalist, and he has been lucky enough to work on some of the finest online properties on the planet, building audiences everywhere and establishing himself at the forefront of digital content.  After a long stint as the boss at TechRadar, Patrick has now moved on to a role with Apple, where he is the Managing Editor for the App Store in the UK.