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 (bbc.co.uk; which includes BBC iPlayer), barely registering on the radar. The one at the top is another of the world’s most popular websites 🙂 YouTube…

graph.png

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).