Are UK broadcasters being googled?

David Graham asks what the impact of You Tube's TV ambitions will be on the UK broadcasting market.
David Graham
19 April 2010

Visiting Virgin Media in London recently, I found the guys at reception watching the Indian Premier League on You Tube. You Tube has its own “IPL channel” – with subscription (no fee), a count-down clock to the next game, tabs for News, Team, Photos etc., banner advertising (Brylcreem, no less), and a library of games and interviews. It’s very, as they say, “immersive”. IPL is also available on ITV 4 and on Recent ITV4 match audiences are around 200,000. That got me thinking: how many people are now watching TV on You Tube? It’s a more material issue now since the deals with C4 and Five at the close of 2009 that licensed You Tube to offer full-length programmes.

So we now have two models for viewing TV content on the internet – the iPlayer (and other broadcaster sites) and You Tube (and other non-broadcaster sites).


Figures are hard to get, but what is clear is You Tube’s dominance in the video space, though the story on Hulu (see the first table) is interesting and gives us some further perspective. The data on the left comes from comScore who actually use “Google Sites” as the Property category, but since this is 99% You Tube I have changed it.

Unfortunately comScore has not released comparable figures for UK since last April (below). But, at that time, You Tube was even more dominant than in the US. Though the broadcaster sites were advancing quickly between ’08 and ’09, the shares barely change if you project similar rates of growth to 2010.


OK, so You Tube, you may say, is mostly user-generated clips. The US data, usefully, gives the average numbers of videos viewed for each site. Hulu with (mainly) traditional broadcaster content is probably more like the I-Player in the UK. The average Hulu viewer watches 23 videos per month against You Tube’s 94, spends 2.3 hours a month watching them, and its audience is growing fast. So is You Tube heading to become a global platform for TV like Amazon for books? That could start the media war of the decade! Right now – and here in the UK -- C4 and Five are very visible on You Tube and they seem to think the ad model is working for them. The more immediate question for me concerns the BBC Licence fee. The BBC Licence fee is payable, according to my sources, when someone is receiving a television programme at the same time (or virtually the same time) as it is received by members of the public. As I understand it, you do not need a licence to watch the iPlayer if the content is not live. The majority of You Tube content and a lot of iPlayer content is not watched live. Sure, the vast majority of viewing to TV still takes place both on a conventional TV and in the home, but things are changing.

A lot depends on how fast internet TV gets to the domestic set. But some people may soon start to feel that they should not be paying £140 a year if nothing they watch is live. As watching Embarrassing Bodies at your convenience via the internet becomes more common, as it surely will, what happens? As one of my colleagues said: “Will everyone with fast broadband end up having to pay a licence fee?” It would be a good to hear the BBC's views on this, for that would need a change in the legislation.


This article was first published on David Graham's blog on the future of television media.

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