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BBC to revamp iPlayer

January 11, 2017

By Colin Mann

BBC Director-General Tony Hall has said the corporation needs to reinvent its on-demand iPlayer service to make the leap from a catch-up service to a “must-visit” destination in its own right in the face of rapid growth by its competitors such as Netflix.

In a wide-ranging New Year message to BBC staff on ‘Reinventing the BBC for a new generation’, Hall described 2017 as a particularly important one “because it’s year one of our 11-year charter. It’s a great moment: the beginning of a new chapter”.

According to Hall, the start of a new Charter is a critical moment. “It’s the chance to set our sights high for the next 11 years, to mobilise the whole of the BBC behind a really clear, really ambitious goal,” he declared.

“So, this is my challenge: over the next few years, I want us to reinvent public service broadcasting for a new generation. Now, let me say straight away: this does not mean somehow forsaking our existing audiences – that would be stupid. As I’ve said many times before, we have to ride two horses: doing brilliant things on our existing channels and services, but also innovating in the digital space,” he said. “Our task therefore is to reinvent public service broadcasting so that it works for all audiences, so that everyone gets value from the BBC.”

He noted that audiences continue to value what the BBC does. “In fact, they value it more than ever. And – Ofcom’s research shows – young people value public service broadcasting as much as all of us – a really crucial point to remember. But if young people value what we do, reaching them is a whole different matter. In fact, it’s one of the single biggest strategic issues we now face,” he admitted, because there is so much competition for their time.

“Increasingly, younger audiences and older audiences are consuming media in different ways. So we have to respond. I think the second big issue is that the media landscape has changed beyond recognition. It is hugely more global and more competitive. We’re now in an environment where Amazon, Netflix, and others are willing to invest huge amounts of money with no certain return in an attempt to capture market share where Facebook is looking at commissioning its own TV programmes, and Twitter is buying up sports rights and where moves such as the Fox-Sky merger are making the very biggest players even bigger,” he observed.

Noting ongoing success in the linear and digital arena, he said: “We all know we can never stand still – we always need to generate new ideas, innovate further, and take greater risks. This is what has to motivate us constantly in all our traditionally-delivered services but now we also need to look again to the online space, where competition is highest, new audiences are most present, and where I believe we can serve them in brilliant new ways,” he stated

“We need to reinvent iPlayer – It was the biggest revolution of the last Charter. It’s been the number one video-on-demand service in the UK, reaching more people than any other. Now we need it to make the leap from a catch-up service to a must-visit destination in its own right. Our goal, even in the face of rapid growth by our competitors, is for iPlayer to be the number one online TV service in the UK. That will mean doubling our reach, and quadrupling the time each person spends on it every week. And we want do it by 2020. That’s tough, but I know we can do it,” he averred.

“We need to do the same for audio – or radio. Today we have the best speech and music radio in the world. I think we can do so much more with our world-class content. And, by the way, win new global audiences,” he suggested.

Personalisation was a major priority for Hall. “Data is creating a flight to quality. It means audiences can find the best of public service broadcasting – but only if they sign in. Each month, we now have around three million active signed-in users. I want to make that 20 million. And I want us to get there as quickly as possible. More than anything else, this is what our future success will depend on. By finding out more about our audiences and what they like, we can make better content, make it more relevant, and bring it to them more effectively. The closer and more personal our relationship with our audiences, the more I’m certain they will choose the BBC,” he asserted.

“And one other point: I want us to examine what big technological changes – such as voice recognition, and virtual reality – mean for us. How can we push boundaries, do new things, in the way that we have done so well with new developments in the past.”

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