BBC iPlayer has broken its own record for the largest number of TV streams in a single month.

The state-owned British broadcaster beefed up the amount of content on their online catch-up service this past month, solidifying its place as not only the most popular streaming service in the UK, but also a preferred choice for consuming online media in the UK.

The ‘Beeb’ reported a record 320 million TV and radio stream requests in March 2014, representing an 18% year-on-year increase, with 248 million of those streams for television programs. This builds on their previous high of 315 million stream requests in January of this year.

The data, reported in BBC iPlayer’s Monthly Performance Pack, also provides a number of important insights into the viewing habits of the British public, and the changing demographics of the people consuming content on the service.

Not surprisingly, cell phones and tablets made up almost half of the total traffic to iPlayer. Tablet usage has also risen exponentially over the past year, to the point that now, for the first time, the number of iPlayer users streaming from a tablet is almost equal to the number of users streaming from a PC – 29%.

With this in mind, it should come as no surprise that iPlayer usage peaks around an hour after television usage peaks, indicating that viewers are no longer spending hours glued to television, and are instead taking their tablets to bed and watching any programs they missed online instead.

The demographic breakdown of visitors is also interesting. While their audience is dominated by under-55s, more young people than ever are using the service, skewing it towards a much ‘younger’ profile than the typical television viewer. A near-equal mix of men and women using iPlayer also demonstrates the content diversity of the platform.

Victoria Jaye - BBC's Head of Content for iPlayer
Victoria Jaye – BBC’s Head of Content for iPlayer

Popular driving program Top Gear’s 2-part Burma Special proved to be incredibly popular, despite allegations of racism surrounding the show. Each episode received over 3 million stream requests, making it the most popular content on the platform by far. Other popular shows such as talent competition The Voice UK and improvised family sitcom Outnumbered also proved to be a hit with the British public.

The BBC has also started experimenting with exclusive content on iPlayer. Just last week, the Beeb announced they will premiere a whole series on iPlayer 48 hours before it airs on TV. The show, Jonah From Tonga, was written by and stars Chris Lilley – The man behind Summer Heights High and Ja’mie: Private School Girl – Two programs that were popular on BBC Three. In March 2014, BBC Director General Tony Hall confirmed he plans to close the BBC Three television channel, which was used as a testing ground for new content on the BBC; with a view to trying out new programming online instead starting from 2015.

With so many popular television programs coming through the pipeline, and more exclusive online content earmarked for the future, iPlayer’s future looks bright but there are technical challenges ahead.

With the continued growth of the platform, BBC’s head of online platforms Richard Cooper shared some of the broadcaster’s challenges and goals at the ISPA Conference last year. iPlayer’s growth is expected to continue uninhibited through to 2025, and are taking steps to make sure that they’re able to handle the increased traffic, which is increasing exponentially by Petabytes every month.

BBC iPlayer Traffic Growth

For those outside of the UK, it’s unlikely you’ll get to help them with that growth. Citing competition from Netflix and Amazon, the BBC ended a two-year experiment into international streaming, which saw them distribute a subscription-based ‘iPlayer Global’ app in Apple’s App Store across 16 countries – But, interestingly, not in the US.

In May 2013, Hulu reported a total of 457 million video views, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings reported that his company had streamed over 4 billion hours of video in the first three months of 2013.

While that’s stiff competition in the U.S. market, I’m still convinced an ad-supported international iPlayer would make a killing (potentially enough to lower license fees for British citizens), and effectively end online piracy of many BBC programs. But hey, one can dream…