If the stories are true, the UK PSBs are poised to abandon a decade of competition in the delivery of television online, and join forces to offer a single online VOD player. This new service, in effect a return to the ditched Project Kangeroo, will act to counter the ever growing threat of subscription services as a route away from linear broadcast.
As behaviours change, the ability to access a wider variety of programming from a single point of entry can only be a good thing for the viewer. Obvious questions remain about how it would work, especially in terms of BBC and commercial content working side by side, and of course, it is unclear as to whether this service will be a subscription or free at the point of access service, which if it is begs the question as to how competing sales houses integrate with each other. A lot of details to sort out for sure, but if it is the latter then there are significant potential benefits for the commercial TV industry. VOD is an ever important market, but the ability to buy consistent demographics and in a transparent way, continues to elude us. This tie up in effect would see all PSBs collecting the same information on viewers, to the same standard, in the same manner, for the first time. Given the recent collaboration by ITV and Channel 4 in this field, I wouldn’t be surprised if this manifests.
Whether this has any real impact on the rise of Netflix and Amazon however remains to be seen. On the face of it, we’re initially talking about a reduction in button pressing, which is of course great, but if it continues to be external to the main EPG, then there are still barriers at play, and the success of online players can be down to multiple factors.
We can see this in the performance of the native players themselves as there are some divergences by broadcaster in recent times. BARB TV Player Report data collects viewing data from all streams in the UK and what can be seen is that some are performing better than others.
Now it should be noted, that BARB data within this report only includes viewing to devices (PCs, Laptops, tablets and Smartphones), so it misses out the big growth area of TV applications, but results are interesting nonetheless.
Across the last year, there have been notable declines in viewership to both the iPlayer and Sky Go, but alternatively increases in viewership for All4 and ITV Hub.
Even just looking at quarter 1 this year (and therefore removing the impact of Love Island etc), then we see year on year growth of 14.4% for ITV Hub and 24.1% for All4.
These are impressive statistics considering these players have been available on all devices (operating systems) for some time and therefore just go to show how successful both Channel 4 and ITV have been in curating content for their online players that suit the screen size and the demographic most likely to use it. I myself have been a long time critic of the future growth in viewing on devices, in part noting the growth on TV Set platforms (which it should be clear more than off sets any declines on devices), but these results from ITV and Channel 4 show just how it is still possible to create and target content that works across all devices, even if I do still believe the big screen is the screen of choice.
Whereas the Sky Go results (declining 9% in Q1 2018) can in part be attributed to the growth in the SkyQ app which is not measured by BARB, it is the decline in BBC iPlayer usage that most highlights the changing behaviours of many.
These numbers if anything also highlight the now rather curious decision of the BBC to shut down the BBC3 linear channel which specifically served younger audiences. There is little suggestion they have moved to the online service, on devices at least. That being said, the BBC themselves have recently stated that Q1 2018 was their most popular quarter to date for the iPlayer, so this can only mean significant growth on the TV set platforms and away from devices, which is not surprising given their heavy drama based programming. But it does further re-iterate the need for joined up thinking for player apps, you might have the best integrated collaborative app around, but if it still difficult to access from the EPG then you’re in trouble.
Either way, these recent developments have got to be a good thing, not only for the viewer, but also for the UK television industry as a whole.