The Growing Imbalance – How BBC iPlayer Marketing Is Undermining BBC One
December 5, 2023
For nearly a century, BBC One has stood as the cornerstone of British public service broadcasting. However, in recent years the channel has faced a challenge from within as the BBC shifts its focus towards digital and on-demand viewing. While the growth of BBC iPlayer has transformed the corporation’s online presence, some argue this success has come at the expense of supporting BBC One. This extended analysis will examine the growing imbalance between investment in the two platforms and the risks this imbalance poses to both the BBC’s public mission and financial sustainability.
Analysis of BBC annual reports and marketing budgets reveals a stark disparity emerging in promotion spend. Between 2018-2023, iPlayer marketing investment increased over 400% to £45 million annually according to sources. In contrast, BBC One marketing rose just 20% to £35 million despite commanding larger live audiences. Insiders claim nearly two-thirds of the overall TV marketing budget is now prioritized for iPlayer campaigns at the expense of linear channels.
This shift comes as BBC One viewing declines while iPlayer booms. Critics argue under-promoting the channel risks accelerating its ratings fall as audiences migrate to other options like streaming. With no marketing to raise awareness of new shows, casual viewers will be lost. While digital growth should be supported, a balanced approach protecting BBC One is needed to maintain the BBC’s overall popularity.
Declining Live Audiences
Viewing data confirms BBC One is struggling to hold viewers, particularly younger demographics. Between 2018-2023, its live audience share fell 10% to an average 25% according to Barb figures. In contrast, streaming rivals like Netflix grew their share by 150% in this period.
Among 16-34s, BBC One’s live viewing dropped by nearly a quarter, with executives concerned it risks losing a generation of potential lifelong viewers. With reduced marketing, new shows struggle to break through and retain casual viewers. While catch-up helps, over-reliance on this risks undermining the channel’s role as a destination for premiere broadcasting.
Reliance On Catch-Up Viewing
BBC iPlayer has undoubtedly succeeded in expanding the BBC’s digital footprint, with streaming hours up 350% since 2018. However, further analysis shows over 85% of all iPlayer viewing is now for content watched via catch-up rather than simulcast live alongside broadcast as originally intended.
With live BBC One audiences declining, there are fears the BBC risks becoming overly reliant on viewers remembering to watch shows days or weeks after airing. If the channel’s profile and promotional support continues to diminish, it could damage the very content that drives the record iPlayer traffic the BBC relies on to report digital growth.
Some argue the BBC’s laser focus on promoting iPlayer risks sidelining BBC One as a standout brand over time. While iPlayer serves an important purpose, it does not carry the same iconic status or cultural resonance as the venerable BBC One channel established across generations.
By prioritizing iPlayer in communications, critics say the BBC risks making BBC One seem like just another generic broadcaster rather than the leading public service it represents. At a time when commercial rivals are investing heavily in channel identities, keeping BBC One’s profile high is vital for the BBC’s reputation overall. Failure to do so risks confusing audiences and weakening the brand.
Financial Sustainability Pressures
An over-emphasis on digital also poses financial risks as broadcast platforms currently generate the bulk of BBC income through the license fee. While online and on-demand viewing grows, television still accounts for over 80% of license fee revenue according to the latest figures Here.
As BBC One audiences decline, it threatens this core income stream. With the license fee model under pressure from inflation and a new settlement looming, the BBC can ill afford any erosion of broadcasting revenues that fund its unique public remit. Maintaining the strength of BBC One must be a top priority for financial sustainability in the coming years.
A Need For Balance
At the conclusion of this topic, while BBC iPlayer’s growth has transformed the BBC’s digital presence, this analysis argues the imbalance emerging between investment in the two platforms risks serious long term consequences if left unchecked.
BBC One remains fundamental to the BBC’s public service mission and financial health for the foreseeable future. As such, keeping its profile and live audiences high through balanced marketing support should be a strategic priority on par with digital expansion.