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According to figures quoted in The Guardian this week, ITV's online video player has been losing traffic, while the BBC iPlayer has grown rapidly since its official launch last month.

ITV's offering beat the iPlayer to market, launching a 30 day catch-up service back in June, so why has the BBC overtaken it so quickly? Let's take a closer look at the two services to find out...

The numbers

ITV's service attracted around 2m views of clips and TV programmes in January, a fall of 200,000 over December, while 11m programmes were viewed online or downloaded via the iPlayer. Both impressive, though we should remember that 100m videos are consumed daily on YouTube (many will be much shorter clips, however). There remains plenty of room for growth.

Marketing 

The BBC accompanied the launch of the iPlayer with a major marketing campaign, and continues to promote the video player heavily on TV, in the press and online, using a number of big names like David Attenborough.

ITV, meanwhile, has been less aggressive in promoting its online catch up service and the initial promotion has tailed off since launch.

Homepage promotion

ITV gives more prominence to its online TV service on its homepage, displaying a number of links to clips and previews, and users can watch there and then via its embedded player on the right:

ITV homepage

The BBC does promote the iPlayer on its new homepage, but users have to navigate to the iPlayer site before they can select and view any programming:

BBC homepage

Content

This is an area where ITV should have the edge as, while the BBC shows only a selection from the last 30 days' programming, ITV.com offers this as well as an impressive range of TV shows from the archives, as well as the ability to watch near-live programmes.

Usability

This is an area where ITV currently lags behind as the BBC has made the iPlayer much easier to use.

While the BBC has a dedicated page for the iPlayer, where viewers can find all of the video content on offer, ITV.com is more confusing. There is a menu page for the catch up service, but you need to hunt around to find anything else:

ITV:

ITV catch up menu

BBC:

BBC iPlayer menu

The BBC also beats ITV for usability of the video player. Its programming can be viewed on screen or downloaded, while ITV just offers streamed content.

ITV's video player isn't as impressive as its rival - the default viewing screen is too small to view full length TV shows, and the full screen option also has its problems:

ITV video player

With fullscreen option, there is no onscreen menu to allow you to pause the video or alter the volume, meaning that you have to press escape to make any changes.

The iPlayer fares rather better - the default video size is bigger than ITV's, while on fullscreen a menu appears and disappears when you move the mouse, so you can easily pause the show or alter the volume:

iPlayer

Advertising

This is obviously not an issue for the BBC (at least as far as UK users are concerned), but ITV is aiming to triple its online revenue to £150m by 2010 so it has to make money from advertising on its video service.

Unfortunately, the advertising can be a little annoying for viewers. To watch any video on ITV you must first sit through a 10-15 second ad, which is a little bit irritating, if understandable. We firmly believe that 15 seconds is the maximum permissable length for a pre-roll.

However, ITV inserts ads midway through videos and, if you forward or rewind the video, you are forced to sit through the ad all over again. Argh!

This gets annoying after a while. ITV should look at other, less intrusive options like the overlays used on some YouTube content, or just showing viewers advertising based on the length of time they are viewing videos on the site.

Conclusion

The iPlayer probably has a built in advantage over ITV.com's online TV service, as the BBC website is a far more popular online destination than its rival.

The ITV player suffers from poor usability when compared to the iPlayer, though some of these issues are relatively simple to fix.

It is also significant that, while ITV has set aside around £20m to develop its service (certainly enough to fix any user experience issues), the iPlayer has a budget upwards of £100m.

At any rate, both the BBC and ITV should be watching usage patterns very carefully, and taking copious notes / gathering and making sense of data, as these players are a stepping stone towards IPTV and the kind of on-demand personalised (or at least segmented) broadcasting that the future holds for us.

Related stories:
ITV.com's 'catch up TV' overeggs advertising cake
Dave and Goliath - the battle for TV audiences
BBC opens up iPlayer 

Graham Charlton

Published 4 March, 2008 by Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton is the former Editor-in-Chief at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter or connect via Linkedin or Google+

2565 more posts from this author

Comments (10)

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Chris Shepherd

I think you may have missed the most important criteria! Quality of content...which I think BBC wins hands down.

over 8 years ago

Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton, Editor in Chief at ClickZ Global

Hi Chris, I agree that the content on the BBC's 30 day catch up service is more appealing than the ITV equivalent, but ITV has some excellent archive programming which they are not promoting effectively.

over 8 years ago

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Hilary Pollard

I was able to watch itv catch up until about 3 weeks ago when it suddenly stopped. They said they had problems but even since they have mended it I can't watch anything now and the diagnostics says that everything is in order. I like bbc iplayer and 4 on demand but itv gets the thumbs down at the moment.

Hilary

over 8 years ago

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Louise

I also have had problems with ITV. I have been trying to watch the unseen pushing daisies episode and frustratingly cannot watch it in full screen mode. i just get diagonal lines, so i can only watch it on that tiny useless screen. It used to work. However I have to Say i have never had any problems with BBCi so BBCi wins hands down.

over 8 years ago

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Christopher

I got frustrated with the useless ITV user interface that I wrote a Firefox add-on to get round all the annoyances of the Catch Up service:
https://addons.mozilla.org/addon/8202/

about 8 years ago

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alan

phew i thought it was only me that couldnt work out itvplayer it is far too complicated and if you want to watch a program which was shown after the watershed you have to enter a "pin" number which i have been trying to do but couldnt succeed no wonder itv is losing out.

about 8 years ago

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Stuart Oliver

Itv catchup player is Loading.........Please wait.......Loading.....Loading......Loading..........please wait........

almost 8 years ago

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Simon

I think this article under-estimates the effect of the ads. Part of the point of using a TV service like those offered is to get away from the stupid and annoying ads. Being forced to sit through them will make a low-attention-span internet user change channels. 15 seconds is an optimistic industry's view of how long someone will watch internet content they are not interested in. This is not TV.

I think the Windows-only limitation also plays a part; MS Silverlight in ITV's case and the Windows Media Player in Channel 4's. I am guessing Mac users are over-represented in the online TV viewing public and the iPlayer is the only one that works on OS/X. If you read the other comments on this thread, then aside from quirks in the user experience most are limitations with the players and failures at the client end.

Bottom line is that Flash on OS/X works. DRM is not an argument which will wash much with the average viewer and a bad reason for them to be forced into a poor or complicated viewing experience - especially when a better one is available for free without the annoying ads and limitations somewhere else.

almost 8 years ago

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Beauty Be

I am guessing Mac users are over-represented in the online TV viewing public and the iPlayer is the only one that works on OS/X

Thanks for your information :D

over 7 years ago

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michae langelonez

The itv player is simply useless as it misses the whole point of the user being in control of the experience. At this rate, advertisers will, very soon, no longer be interested in advertising with them. At least not on the itv player. Meanwhile the BBC builds up its online viewer numbers. As has happened to many a popular web site, there will be a lot of advantages to gain in the near future.

As much as I like to support the underdog, I felt itv player was a waste of my precious time.

over 6 years ago

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