UK media regulator Ofcom this morning announced it has approved the BBC’s proposed changes to it’s on-demand iPlayer service, which will see content kept on the service for 12 months after first airing, rather than 30 days as is currently the case. But while Ofcom agreed that the changes are necessary, the regulator remains concerned about the impact they will have on other UK broadcasters. It expects the updated iPlayer will draw views away from other broadcasters’ linear and over-the-top (OTT) services, rather than from the subscription video on-demand (SVOD) giants.
The changes will allow the BBC to keep the majority of its content on iPlayer for a greatly extended period of time. All drama and scripted comedy programmes can be kept on iPlayer for 12 months, with up to 25 returning titles (shows which have previously aired) available as box sets each year, and up to 25 non-returning titles available for an extra 12 months. Children’s programmes meanwhile will have a standard five year availability, with up to 30 returning shows available as box sets, and a further 50 archive titles also available as box sets. All other commissions will also be available for 12 months after first airing, with a limited number of returning and archive shows available as box sets.
The BBC had argued that the changes were necessary to keep pace with consumers’ evolving expectations of how and when they’re able to consumer content. The aim is to make iPlayer less of a ‘catch-up’ service for its linear channel, and more of a content destination in it’s own right. Ofcom agreed, given the rise of global SVOD offerings like Netflix and Amazon Prime Video and the impact they’ve had on live TV viewing, concluding there could be significant public value generated by the proposals.
But while the measures are seemingly designed to help the BBC compete with the global giants, Ofcom predicts that other broadcasters will feel the largest negative impact, due to the fact that other broadcaster video on-demand (BVOD) services are closer substitutes for iPlayer than SVOD services. Based on market research around which services and activities consumers are most likely to switch from, Ofcom predicts viewing minutes on other BVOD services to fall by up to two percent, while viewing on SVOD services could fall by up to 0.7 percent.
A two percent fall in viewing minutes isn’t necessarily a disaster for other broadcasters, hence why Ofcom has approved the move, but some remain worried that the impact will be bigger than Ofcom has anticipated. Channel 4 in particular said it believes Ofcom has “significantly underestimated […] the impact on the viewing of other services, particularly on viewing of All 4”. And UK media trade association Pact said that while the changes in viewing minutes might be relatively small, Channel 4 has “little scope to absorb even relatively small revenue falls without potentially being forced to cut its content spend”.
The changes could have consequences for Britbox, the joint SVOD service from ITV and the BBC set to be released in the UK later this year. A lot of content will only arrive on BritBox once it’s left ITV and the BBC’s own catch-up services, which becomes less attractive if it’s already been available on iPlayer for a year, rather than thirty days.
In an attempt to address these concerns, Ofcom says it’s approval is dependent on the BBC providing it with data around the content it’s keeping on iPlayer, and the impact it’s having on consumption. The regulator says that through this, it hopes to “mitigate risks to fair and effective competition”.