Major changes coming to BBC iPlayer — everything we learnt from Beeb plans ahead of licence fee review

a screenshot of the bbc iplayer app on-screen showing the boxsets available to watch and download

BBC iPlayer will enjoy a slew of new features and underlying improvements, thanks to bolstered investment in the streamer over the coming months, the Beeb has confirmed in its latest Annual Plan for 2024/25

BBC PRESS OFFICE
Aaron Brown

By Aaron Brown


Published: 03/04/2024

- 06:00

BBC has promised new search, exclusive live channels, and fan-pages for its biggest shows

  • BBC has offered a glimpse at the major works planned for iPlayer
  • Improved search, content discoverability, and personalisation are coming
  • Dedicated hubs for most popular BBC shows will launch on the app
  • New live channels and experimental release schedules are coming too
  • Everything will be powered by a new product architecture, BBC says

BBC has offered a glimpse at planned changes coming to BBC iPlayer between now and the end of the current BBC Charter in 2027.

Despite its annual savings target rising to £700 million a year by 2028, the BBC has pledged to increase investment in its digital portfolio. iPlayer will be one of the main recipients of this cash injection, enabling ambitious new plans to compete with the likes of YouTube, Netflix, and Prime Video.


BBC iPlayer will overhaul its search and personalisation, helping viewers to find the shows, behind-the-scenes featurettes, and movies they enjoy. iPlayer started life as a simple catch-up service, with episodes appearing after their broadcast on live television channels and vanishing from the catalogue within seven days.

A lot has changed in the 16 years since the first beta of BBC iPlayer was released, and the service is now a direct competitor with the likes of Netflix, Apple TV+, Disney+, and Prime Video. Fan-favourite shows like Top Gear, Peaky Blinders, Death in Paradise, and Killing Eve are available in their entirety so anyone who missed out first time around can binge-watch all episodes.

All on-demand episodes are shown ad-free.

Many of the trimmings of modern streamers are already baked into iPlayer, like the ability to download shows, documentaries, and films to your device to watch offline, like on a flight. But content discovery is something that Beeb knows that it needs to improve.

As outlined in the BBC's Annual Plan for 2024/25, published within the last few days, extra investment in iPlayer will be used in part to bolster the way that viewers find its best content. Netflix is the gold standard here.

More than 80% of new TV shows people watch on Netflix are discovered through the streamer's recommendation system.

Netflix has categorised its humongous catalogue of boxsets, blockbusters and documentaries with 76,000 incredibly specific genres. It will suggest new content based on your viewing history, ratings, what other members with similar tastes have binge-watched, the time of day you usually watch Netflix, the device you're watching on, how long you watch, and much more.

With so many boxsets and films now packed into the BBC iPlayer catalogue, the Beeb must find its version of the clever Netflix algorithm. And it sounds like that's the plan, with the Annual Plan for 2024/25 highlighting "improvements to content discovery, search and personalisation".

The Beeb has pledged "continued experimentation with content release patterns" over the coming year, so expect to see entire series drop on the same day as well as weekly releases.

ITVX is also toying with different release schedules, with paid subscribers getting access to boxsets before they air on live television channels, like Love & Death, starring Elizabeth Olsen as a 1980s Texas housewife accused of murder.

"We will further improve the live experience across our products, ensuring this content is more discoverable, with a focus on making iPlayer the destination for big live events," the BBC adds.

New linear channels will also launch on iPlayer, the BBC has revealed.

Details are few and far between on exactly what these channels will broadcast, whether they're be showing new content 24/7 or just during peak times (like BBC Four and BBC Three), and finally, why these linear broadcasts will be best suited to iPlayer over traditional television, like Freeview or Sky. We'll have to wait for further announcements.

One final change to make your next favourite show easier to find will be a new emphasis on fan pages. BBC started this initiative with The Whoniverse, an aggregated fan page that hosts over 800 brand-new and classic episodes of Doctor Who, Making Of... documentaries, spin-off series, video commentaries, and much more.

This successful formula will be rolled out to other fan-favourite series, especially those with vast number of episodes that can be difficult to scroll through using the traditional search function. The BBC pledges that it will "make these even more discoverable – enabling fans of certain shows to experience the full breadth and depth of our digital offer."

a promotional image for the whoniverse with david tennant and darleks featured

Whoniverse is a hub hosted on BBC iPlayer with over 800 episodes of the British science-fiction show, behind-the-scenes featurettes, spin-off series, and more ...it's a formula the Beeb now wants to apply to other properties in its catalogue

BBC PRESS OFFICE

To enable all of these improvements to roll out to BBC iPlayer in the coming months, the Beeb plans to overhaul the "product architecture" that powers this streamer, which is available online, iPhone, Android, iPad, and dozens of set-top boxes, like Roku and Fire TV Stick. According to the Beeb, upgrading the foundations of its BBC service will allow it to "improve the user experience more rapidly".

LATEST DEVELOPMENTS

With more people watching shows on-demand on services like BBC iPlayer over traditional linear channels, the changes outlined above are a recognition of the evolving preferences of the Beeb's audience. And given that all of the above changes were revealed in the BBC's Annual Plan for 2024/25, we won't have long to wait before these upgrades start to land on your Smart TV and mobile devices.

In terms of the content you'll be watching on this bolstered BBC iPlayer, the corporation talks about “a combination of new commissions, growing our catalogue of past shows, and bolstering our offer with acquired content. We will continue to seek exclusivity on key titles to give audiences more reasons to come to the BBC over the largely global streamers.”

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