The BBC has admitted iPlayer has lost the battle with Netflix for streaming audiences, warning it risks irrelevancy unless it is allowed to make changes that will let it show more programmes for up to a year.
The corporation helped create modern catch-up streaming services when it launched iPlayer in 2007, with the Netflix chief executive, Reed Hastings, once saying the BBC’s pioneering work “really blazed the trail” for his company’s success in the UK.
However, the BBC has been hamstrung by tight regulation of the service, which has resulted in younger audiences choosing to go elsewhere after becoming frustrated by the shortage of relevant material available to them and the decision to remove it after a limited time.
“In today’s media landscape, audiences do not understand why programmes drop off BBC iPlayer after 30 days, or why sometimes the first episodes of series are not available,” the corporation said. “They are left frustrated by the lack of box sets and confused as to why some shows are available for longer, and others are simply not there at all.”
Five years ago, iPlayer had a 40% share of the UK streaming video market, but this has declined to 15% following the explosive growth of Netflix and other streaming services, with further falls expected unless it is allowed to make urgent changes – potentially putting the corporation’s future at risk.
“This will threaten the BBC’s very ability to deliver its mission to serve all audiences and provide viewers with value for their licence fee,” the corporation said.
The BBC wants to make changes to enable programmes to remain on the service for up to a year, but has been forced to conduct a lengthy public interest test by Ofcom, due to fears the changes could affect other commercial British broadcasters such as ITV and Channel 4. The BBC’s submission was published on Thursday, with the media regulator due to reach a final verdict on whether to approve the changes by August.
Under the BBC’s proposals, most shows would be available for up to a year by default, after which point many programmes would then become available on the forthcoming paid-for BritBox service.
In its submission, the BBC effectively admitted there is no chance it will be able to catch up with Netflix in British online video market share, even if it is allowed to put programmes on the service for longer. Instead the corporation needs to run just to stand still. “The proposals will simply allow the BBC to stop the continued decline we expect to see over the next five years,” it said.
One problem is younger viewers are turning to Netflix for programme recommendations but tend to only watch iPlayer when they have missed a specific show.
The BBC also said there is no sign that today’s younger audiences will return to viewing traditional television channels as they get older, meaning the corporation’s future relies on making iPlayer more popular and avoiding it becoming an afterthought.
“We expect that, unless we can do something to make our offer more relevant to our audiences, over time this may lead to people turning away from the BBC for good, challenging the core purpose of the BBC to provide a universal service,” it said.