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BBC Revamping iPlayer Online TV Service

11 Jan, 2017 By: Erik Gruenwedel

Tony Hall, director-general, BBC

With the 10th anniversary of iPlayer set for July, the BBC wants to reinvent the online TV platform for a next-generation audience, making it No. 1 for the public broadcaster’s centennial celebration in 2020.

In a Jan. 11 to staff in Birmingham to start the BBC’s new 11-year charter agreement underscoring its independence from the British government, director-general Tony Hall said changing market trends about TV consumption, the rise of subscription streaming services such as Netflix and Amazon Prime Video, sports on Twitter and uptick in social media, necessitate new thinking. 

“We have to ride two horses: doing brilliant things on our existing channels and services, but also innovating in the digital space,” Hall said.

Citing data that suggests adults spend 8% of their media time on social media and messaging, compared with 25% among 16- to 24-year-olds, Hall said traditional TV and radio consumption among younger viewers has fallen upwards of 30%.

With Netflix and Amazon spending billions on original content — the latter reportedly on the hook for $250 million to reboot erstwhile BBC hit “Top Gear” into “The Grand Tour,” featuring the original cast, Hall said such deals are making the “very biggest” players even bigger. 

“Increasingly, younger audiences and older audiences are consuming media in different ways. So we have to respond,” he said.

The BBC remains a popular choice among viewers — around 11 hours a week per viewer, and 400% more than time spent on Facebook. The network attracts more than 50 million viewers (37% of TV viewership) to sports despite having less than 2% of live sports programming.

Popular broadcasts include Golden Globes winner The Night Manager and Planet Earth II, the latter topping Sunday night ratings.

“More 16- to 34 year-olds watched it than watched ‘The X-Factor’ on ITV, Hall said.

Regardless, the executive wants to reinvent iPlayer into the top video-on-demand service in the United Kingdom.

“We need it to make the leap from a catch-up TV service to a must-visit destination in its own right,” he said.

To achieve this, Hall wants to dramatically improve personalization of content and embrace virtual reality so viewers can access content relevant to their wishes. To achieve this, the BBC wants to better harness user data — and more of it, in addition to employing voice-recognition software for search functions.

“Each month, we have around three million active signed-in users," he said. "I want to make that 20 million. And I want us to get there as quickly as possible.”

Hall said at the corporate level the BBC has reduced overhead costs to 6%, cut senior management levels in half and reduced the number of divisions and company boards.

“The priority has to be that we’re able work together across teams, and work fast. Because, for me, the old way of doing things — working in silos — simply can’t succeed,” he said.

About the Author: Erik Gruenwedel

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