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