iPlayer Has Lost to Netflix, says BBC

By Holly Brockwell on at

A maudlin BBC has announced that it's lost the streaming battle to Netflix, despite the fact that no one really considered them competitors.

Yes, Netflix and iPlayer are both streaming platforms, no arguments there. But Netflix is a subscription service for films and TV from around the world, while iPlayer is a licence-funded way to watch things the BBC made. Were we supposed to pick one or the other?

iPlayer was pretty revolutionary when it launched all the way back in 2007, and Netflix chief exec Reed Hastings praised how it had "blazed the trail" for services like theirs in the UK. But apparently the BBC expected nothing to change, and for everyone to watch iPlayer every day, to the exclusion of all other platforms – why else would it consider Netflix's higher audience share a loss?

Newsflash: people watch iPlayer and Netflix and the godawful All 4 and various other things too. We may only have one pair of eyes, but we've got lots of time, and there's room for everyone except Channel 5.

However, the BBC's concession speech contained some important points about the weak points of the service – things we'd all like to see fixed:

"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.

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."

The Beeb is at the mercy of strict regulation that doesn't affect Netflix and co. For instance, it wants to keep shows on the platform for up to a year, but to do that, Ofcom's forced it to carry out a big public interest test first, in case the move would cause problems for other channels. The results of the test have just been submitted, but the BBC won't get a decision until August.

If it's approved, programmes will stay on iPlayer for up to a year as standard, and then lots of them will go over to the BBC and ITV's joint and terribly-named BritBox streaming service.

However, even Aunty Beeb admits that changes like this won't help it beat Netflix. The Guardian reports that iPlayer had a 40 per cent share of the British streaming audience half a decade ago, but now has just 15 per cent. The BBC says if its proposals are granted, it'll be able to hold onto that 15 per cent, rather than seeing it fall further over the next five years. But there'll be no going back to the glory days.

And honestly, that's as it should be. No single channel or production company is going to be able to compete with Netflix, with its huge variety of global content, and going after that goal is the wrong move. The BBC has a clear and defined brand, and we all tune in to its David Attenborough documentaries and gritty Brit dramas (Killing Eve, the Bodyguard, Line of Duty anyone?) as they happen. It's not trailing behind, it's just not the same category of product as Netflix – like comparing a supermarket to a food brand.

Honestly, Aunty Beeb, you're looking at this all wrong. Sort out the thing with programmes disappearing too soon and we'll continue to love you as we always have – just not exclusively.