BBC iPlayer boss defensive after third monthly fall in viewers | Media | The Guardian
After Peter Kay’s Car Share is the most requested show in April, Dan Taylor-Watt blogs about the catch-up service’s decrease in popularity

The number of TV and radio programmes watched on the BBC iPlayer has fallen for the third month in a row, prompting its chief to defend the popularity of the catch-up service.

There were 271 million requests to view TV and radio programmes on the iPlayer service in April, down on 278 million in March, 299 million in February and the record-setting 343 million in December.

There were 218 million requests to watch TV programmes, a slight drop on March’s 221 million, with Peter Kay’s hit Car Share proving to be the biggest hit of the month with 1.5 million views.

The fall in April would have been much greater but the corporation has admitted that about 10 million TV views from March that month were not “captured” in its official data. In February there were 242 million TV programmes viewed.

When the published March’s iPlayer statistics last month the service was criticised in some quarters of the media for the slowdown.

That has prompted Dan Taylor-Watt, the head of BBC iPlayer, to take the unusual step of posting a blog to “correct some misleading headlines”.

While April’s biggest hit, Car Share, proved to be nowhere near as popular as the leading programmes in March (Top Gear 2.65 million views) and February (Top Gear 2.17 million) – which also benefited from the fall out of the Jeremy Clarkson fracas –Taylor-Watt says that the popularity of the iPlayer has always fluctuated in a seasonal pattern.

“BBC iPlayer usage changes significantly depending on the season with higher volumes of requests in the autumn and winter months, and lower volumes in the spring and summer,” he said. “Also, as the majority of iPlayer consumption is still catch-up TV, there is a strong link between what’s broadcast on ‘telly’ and programmes requested on iPlayer.”

Taylor-Watt pointed out that taken annually BBC iPlayer continues to show significant growth year-on-year, from less than 1 billion TV programme requests in 2009 to over 2.5 billion in the year to the end of March.

However, he does acknowledge that with the arrival of US players such as Netflix and Amazon, as well as rivals including Channel 4, ITV and Sky developing their own players and on-demand services, growth rate will inevitably slow.

“Even though the iPlayer continues to grow it won’t be at such a rapid pace,” he says. “The market has also changed significantly since iPlayer launched, with a host of new video-on-demand services now available in the UK. What is remarkable is how the iPlayer has not just maintained but continued to grow its usage with the increasing number of video-on-demand services.”

Top five BBC iPlayer TV shows in April

1. Peter Kay’s Car Share, episode 1 – 1.5m requests
2. Poldark, episode 5 – 1.45m
3. Poldark, episode 6 – 1.07m
4. Eastenders, 10 Apr – 1.04m
5. Eastenders, 2 Apr – 1.03m