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BBC Readies Major Overhaul of iPlayer, to Better Compete With Netflix, Amazon and Disney+

Luke Stangel

The BBC is preparing to launch a major update to iPlayer, as the aging streaming media platform grapples with competition from better-funded rivals Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and soon, Disney+.

The national broadcaster describes the effort—its fourth major redesign since iPlayer’s launch 12 years ago—as a “new front door for British creativity.” Notably, the app will get a new look and feel, and episodes will be available to watch for up to a year after they’re broadcast on live TV.

“iPlayer will become the heart of everything we do; the gateway to all our programmes – a ‘total TV’ experience, which will bring everything you want from BBC television into one place for the first time,” the BBC’s Director of Content Charlotte Moore said in a statement.

The changes come as Netflix, Amazon and Comcast-owned Now TV make rapid gains among British consumers. In early 2018, Netflix said it had reached 9.1 million subscribers in the UK just six years after launching there. By comparison, it took the paid TV service Sky 21 years to reach the same number of subscribers, according to analysts at Frontier Economics.

Among British households who subscribe to a streaming service, 39 percent subscribe to two or more services, and 12 percent subscribe to all three of the country’s leading streaming platforms—Netflix, Amazon Prime and Now TV, according to Frontier Economics.

The BBC is the UK’s national broadcaster, which produces some of its own programming, and buys content from independent studios. It launched iPlayer in late 2007 as an early streaming service, showing live TV programming, and re-runs of shows that had appeared on TV within the last 30 days.

Earlier this year, the BBC commissioned a study that found Brits aged 16 to 34 were frustrated by iPlayer’s relative lack of programming, and saw it as a place to watch single episodes of recent shows, rather than binging on an entire series, like they do with Netflix.

That said, 50 percent of Brits under the age of 34 said they would probably watch Netflix less if the BBC redesigned its app and expanded its catalog of available content.

The redesign comes as the BBC prepares to expand its new streaming service, BritBox, to the UK later this year. The BBC teamed up with ITV to build BritBox, which features a mix of programming from both broadcasters and is currently available in the U.S. and Canada for $6.99 per year.

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