Ofcom changes rules to help BBC keep up with Netflix
Posted on: Saturday 15th of June 2019
UK broadcasting regulator Ofcom has given “provisional” approval to plans that would enable shows to be available on the BBC iPlayer for longer. The BBC will be allowed to keep programmes on its iPlayer service for up to a year after they are first broadcast rather than the current 30 days, in an attempt to help the corporation compete with Netflix. Under the current system, the first episode of a popular series often vanishes from iPlayer before the final programme has been shown, meaning there is no option to “binge watch” an entire series as a box set. The BBC also won approval for children’s programmes to remain on iPlayer for up to five years, creating an archive of material aimed at parents and younger viewers.
The BBC helped create modern catch-up streaming services when it launched iPlayer in 2007, in 2014 iPlayer had a 40% share of the UK streaming video market, but this has declined to 15% following the dramatic growth of Netflix and other VOD streaming services. In April 2019 the BBC published a submission report proposing that most shows would be available for up to a year by default, after which point many programmes would then become available on the forthcoming paid-for BritBox service. In its submission, the BBC steered Ofcom to the conclusion that there is no chance it will be able to catch up with Netflix in British online market share: “The proposals will simply allow the BBC to stop the continued decline we expect to see over the next five years.”
Younger viewers are turning to Netflix for programme recommendations but generally only watch iPlayer when they have missed a specific show. The BBC says there is no sign that younger audiences will return to viewing traditional TV channels as they get older, meaning the corporation’s future relies on making iPlayer more popular. “We expect that, unless we can do something to make our offer more relevant to our audiences, over time this may lead to people turning away from the BBC for good, challenging the core purpose of the BBC to provide a universal service.”
The availability of individual programmes on iPlayer may also depend on negotiations with independent production companies who produce shows for the BBC. Many BBC programmes are likely to transfer to the forthcoming paid-for BritBox service after 12 months, which will require an additional subscription on top of the licence fee. All of these future changes will have ramifications for composers and producers who license music to the BBC and independent production companies.