iPlayer paved the way for Netflix, now Netflix is setting the pace

iPlayer: moving from TV online to online TV.

We're big fans of the iPlayer, and so is everybody else: the BBC's excellent entertainment app kick-started the online TV boom and helped pave the way for Netflix and the rest of the streaming services that define the way we watch TV today. The latest version is the best yet - and it's interesting not just because of what it can do, but also because of what it represents.

The latest iPlayer is two things: it's the BBC coming full circle, taking ideas from the services that followed in its wake, and it's a blooming great nail in the coffin of traditional TV.

The iPod of TV

The BBC is the Apple of internet TV: it didn't invent the technology, but it looked at the sorry job everybody else was doing and came up with a better way of doing it. In much the same way the iPod popularised digital music, here in the UK iPlayer popularised online TV. Not only that, but it also laid the pipes that services such as Netflix use today.

No, not literally. But iPlayer did drive demand for decent broadband. It sounds odd now, but back in 2008 some ISPs were kicking and screaming about the massive bandwidth demands of catch-up-crazed BBC viewers. They had a point: as Plusnet blogged at the time, the iPlayer had a massive effect on the way people used their internet connections - and ultimately that changed the kind of internet connections people bought.

iPlayer made Netflix possible, and now Netflix has shown iPlayer some tricks: the BBC's revamped service has more emphasis on some of the features Netflix users already take for granted, such as discovery and personalised recommendations, and watching across multiple devices.

Shifting times

The BBC says it's moving iPlayer "from TV online to online TV", and of course the latter kind of TV is something Netflix knows a bit about. If you're going to borrow ideas, you might as well borrow from the best.

The new iPlayer isn't just about the Netflixification of the BBC, though. It's part of something more fundamental. The BBC is shifting its emphasis, and as Stuart Houghton wrote last week, "the iPlayer model will become the norm, not the exception."

TV, like music before it, is fragmenting - and it's fragmenting because we've moved from scarcity to abundance. Three decades ago the launch of Channel 4 was impossibly exciting - then, everybody watched the same thing because there was literally nothing else on. Now we have instant access to pretty much everything, whether that's people torrenting True Detective, Netflixing Breaking Bad or buying old episodes of NYPD Blue on Amazon.

TV is no longer something that tells you what to watch and when. It's becoming something that comes to you when and where you want it, time-shifted and caught-up and on-demand instead of broadcast through the ether. It's TV with recommendation engines instead of the Radio Times, where viewers choose programmes on the basis of Facebook Likes, not listings.

We'll still watch the really big stuff on live TV, the football matches and the talent show finales and the huge news events, but we'll be streaming everything else. When you look at the iPlayer, you're looking at the future.

Carrie Marshall

Writer, broadcaster, musician and kitchen gadget obsessive Carrie Marshall (Twitter) has been writing about tech since 1998, contributing sage advice and odd opinions to all kinds of magazines and websites as well as writing more than a dozen books. Her memoir, Carrie Kills A Man, is on sale now. She is the singer in Glaswegian rock band HAVR.