BBC iPlayer and the U.K. ISP bandwidth row

17 08 2007

So a typical download of a TV programme (of unspecified duration) costs U.K. ISPs £0.67 at peak times, according to Jeremy Penston on The Register, a site which has selflessly devoted itself to BBC iPlayer-bashing in recent weeks — given that BAA, the operator of London’s Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted airports is outside its reporting remit, probably understandable, given it’s silly season.

While the piece offers a more conciliatory slant on the BBC’s position, highlighting the fact that ISPs with unrealistically-tighter margins are feeling the greatest squeeze, it neglects to mention that the recently-beta-launched iPlayer is but a drop in the ocean of online video usage.

YouTube’s figures grow exponentially month-on-month, for every YouTube there are 100s of lookey-likeys, alongside BBC iPlayer there are also dozens of video download services (most of which got to market before); so why is the BBC’s product singularly responsible for all of this greater usage?

While a major marketing campaign to promote the iPlayer once it fully launches is inevitable, together with the halo effect of other services which don’t have access to the kind of on-air time or impact at the BBC’s disposal, just take a look at the chart below, illustrating daily reach over a one month period: the flatline at the bottom is one of the world’s most popular websites (; which includes BBC iPlayer), barely registering on the radar. The one at the top is another of the world’s most popular websites 🙂 YouTube…


Then there’s the £0.67 figure itself: where does it come from? Regulator Ofcom’s earlier estimates were based on an average user downloading 13 x 40-minute programmes over a typical month. Even at peak times of consumption its estimate was that this would cost no more than £0.50 per hour, per user.

But the clincher is that the average iPlayer user (take as a generic for average user of a video downloads service) would typically cost an ISP £0.24 per hour of usage. That’s tough on operators like Carphone Warehouse and Tiscali, who have chosen to underprice competitors, but perhaps they should be pricing in the exponential growth of other online video, or targeting the offer at market segments which are less likely to reach even average levels of consumption (e.g. research has demonstrated that the 55+ market, an ever-more-active online usage segment, is least likely to warm to the idea of consuming big files, like video downloads).



3 responses

20 08 2007
Jeremy Penston

Hi there,

Thanks for reading my piece on The Register!

You are certainly right that YouTube dwarfs the iPlayer today, but as I have described in other articles this week, I believe that the iPlayer is one of the first steps in the next part of the game where “proper content” starts becoming available.

The problem is not the iPlayer today. It is what the iPlayer could become. Ofcom’s own estimates suggest that the iPlayer by itself could double the volume on the UK networks by 2010. Add in ITV, Sky etc and you are up to 10x by the same period.

The iPlayer is a unique project from a unique organisation – as such it is an ideal political football. The game played out now will determine whether there is a commercial model that support the rollout of LLU. If the content owners win net neutrality there will be no ROI on LLU which will mean there won’t any fibre investment later because it will be seen clear that investment is a mugs game.

There is a lot at stake in the bigger picture that the BBC’s iPlayer captures in microcosm. That’s why there is such a fuss. I have written a lot about it on my blog – have a look there, read my thoughts and make your own mind up.

I also have extensive pieces detailing how I do my bandwidth cost calcs. While the 67p is not documented, it follows the same methods as described in those sections. Index below.


Jeremy Penston

iPlayer bandwidth
iPlayer Service Review
iPlayer Technology
iPlayer Conculsions
Historical Problem
Unlimited* Broadband
Last year’s original costing piece
This year’s explanation of the numbers
Something for those who like details…

Final note: The iPlayer costing number of 67p per hour is based on an average file size / running time in my sample, which included some kids programmes which are substaintially lower res than some of the more grown up stuff. The assumption is of using the network during one of the 45 busy hours in any given week and uses BT Wholesale’s IPStream pricing from 1st May this year of £1.16m per 622Mbps Central per year

PS. This is my second attempt at posting this comment. I don’t know what happened the first time so I am trying again!

21 08 2007


Thanks for the comprehensiveness of your reply, which both times round got caught by the spam filter.


22 08 2007
Jeremy Penston

The spam filter probably didn’t like all the links!

Sorry about that – the comment would have been too long otherwise.



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