My new product of 2008 – BBC’s iPlayer

The most exciting new product launch so far in 2008 come from an unexpected source: the BBC. That’s right, the UK’s state owned TV company. Its called iPlayer, and allows you to watch the last 7 days’ BBC programmes from your PC. It is a very cool application, which is nice and easy to use. [Its only available in the UK]Photo
A few interesting points:

Creating markets in the blink of an eye
This is another example of just how quickly new markets can be created in today’s virtual world. In the first 7 weeks of iPlayer’s launch, 17 million programmes were downloaded or viewed according to VNUnet. That’s a huge habit change, happening in under 2 months!

The results are even more impressive when compared with ITV’s service which officially launched in August 2007. It attracted around 2m views of full-length TV shows and clips in January, so roughly 4m views per 7 weeks, 1/4 of that achieved by the BBC.

Innovation as a symbol of change
The BBC is a business that has had to weather a storm of biblical proportions. Long gone are the days where we had only the BBC’s 2 channels plus two commercial channels. More then 2/3 of UK households now have multi-channel TV. The BBC has a whole lot more competition.

The iPlayer is a great proof that the BBC can cope in this new environment. It is a powerful symbol of change, as much as anything for the people who work for the company. Its great that they are now leading the market, not just following.

Innovation to get new users
There is an even bigger source of competition that iPlayer is fighting: the apathy of younger people to classic TV… they are less likely to sit in front of the TV and watch. And this means the BBC risks not connecting with these viewers. iPlayer allows them to watch stuff on their PC whilst using MSN, listening to music or whatever they want to multi-task.

Second or third can be better
BBC was later to market than ITV, and much later than Channel 4, with a PC player. But I find the product better, and this is perhaps why it has done so well:
– Its better designed visually. Feels much more iTunes-like
– Its easy to use. Rather than free stuff and paying stuff, like on Channel 4, its a single system: watch what’s been on in the last 7 days
– The other good thing about 7 days is that it creates urgency to view

– It works on a Mac, unlike Channel 4’s system. Mac users are only a minority of the PC population, but they tend to be into visual stuff and innovation, and have a bigger than average bunch of opinion formers. BBC are even working on an application to run iPlayer on the iPhone. Cool.

Nice execution
Its good to see a well crafted execution of a new product launch. This is so often what causes innovations to fail. The idea is sound, but the go-to-market execution is crap. With iPlayer, I like the black graphics. I like the end-line: "Making the unmissable unmissable". And I like some of the clever press advertising, like the one used to promote the painful idea of re-watching yet another dire performance by the England rugby team, this time against Soctland: "Not again, again".