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Connected TV Growth ‘Meteoric,” Says BBC: Content Delivery Summit

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Calling the number of connected TV viewers small, but growing at a "meteoric" rate, Richard Cooper, controller for digital distribution and operations for the BBC, shared statistics on the growth of the nearly four-year-old iPlayer at the 2011 Content Delivery Summit in London.

iPlayer use is dominated by desktop and notebook computers, Cooper said, with gaming consoles and mobile devices showing small audiences. Connected TV use is also small, but is growing especially quickly.

Live video makes up only 15 percent of the iPlayer's traffic, and is marked by major sports and world news events. The previous Olympics, Wimbledon, FIFA World Cup, Arab Spring, and tsunami-related flooding all caused live usage spikes.

The BBC always relies on more than one CDN (content delivery network), Cooper shared. CDNs have their "bad days," he said, so the BBC uses at least two at any one time, and currently has four in place, including its own.

Other challenges for the iPlayer include securing rights to stream content to a variety of devices, supporting multiple formats, and providing a smooth end-user experience. The BBC constantly measures "heartbeats" from individual players, to get a continuous view of network conditions, and this stream of data requires constant analysis. Eliminating buffering is essential, he said, as viewers tune out if they get two buffering interruptions.

Monitoring this data shows the BBC that cable and DSL connection speeds are getting faster over time. While some viewers could barely stream the site's 1.5MB connection when the iPlayer launched, many can now stream the 3.2MB high-definition stream.

Cooper highlighted upcoming challenges for the iPlayer, including transitioning from HTTP-based formats to HLS, HDS, and MPEG-DASH; serving to more home viewers; streaming more HD content; and tackling the 2012 London Olympics.

The iPlayer was born on Christmas Day, 2007, Cooper said, not a popular choice for the IT staff that had to make it happen. It's been evolving ever since, and now provides links to programming from other U.K. networks. "If you come through and you type ‘Coronation Street,' we'll take you to ‘Coronation Street,'" Cooper said. ‘Top Gear,' ‘Doctor Who,' ‘Torchwood,' and ‘Eastenders' are all popular iPlayer programs.

The iPlayer served 91 million video requests in August, 2011, Cooper said, and 40 million radio requests. Recorded video is more popular than live, while live radio is more popular than recorded. Radio listeners stay tuned for twice the length of video viewers. The player averages 4.2 million requests per day and 7 million unique users per week. The peak viewing time is late in the evening, about an hour after the broadcast TV peak viewing time.

The iPlayer recently launched a PlayStation version, which Cooper described as being more of a challenge than his team anticipated, but doesn't yet have an iOS app.


Traffic is growing and costs diminishing for Michael Sandbichler, head of technology for Germany's ProSieben Sat 1, who took the day's second keynote address. While ProSieben streamed for one device - at one resolution and one format - in 2008, it now streams to many, including iOS and Android devices. Even though traffic has exploded, his company managed to cut traffic costs by 97 percent by dropping a high-priced streaming contract for one with a far better rate.

Storing older material has been as struggle for ProSieben, however, as its archives have grown by 5,000 percent. The channel has grown from live streaming 10 hours per year to 1,000 hours per year. While he would love to stream more live content, getting the rights is a challenge, and switching to a different set of commercials for online viewers is a time-consuming manual process.

In 2008, video streaming was in its infancy, Sandbichler said. Now, it's a teenager - growing every day, changing its appearance often, and becoming demanding and expensive. Traditional broadcasters, he noted, are becoming aware of the growing threat facing them.

Other CDS panels examined European challenges for CDNs and next-generation services.

To view the entire session, scroll down: 

BBC iPlayer – Because of the Unique Way We Are Funded

Richard Cooper, Controller Digital Distribution & Operations, BBC

The BBC's controller of digital distribution and operations offers a firsthand insight into meeting the challenging demand for content created by the iPlayer and other digital distribution requirements generated by the BBC.

Online Distribution Challenges for European Broadcasters

Michael Sandbichler, Head of Technology, Prosieben Sat 1 Digital
To continue the contextualisation of the content provider within the CDN market in Europe we explore the challenges faced by Prosieben. We look at the specific issues this company has faced and explore how CDNs have helped them.

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