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BBC iPlayer opts for original drama

  • BBC America

The BBC appears to be recasting its popular iPlayer service as a digital online channel in its own right. Up until now, the iPlayer has been a handy way to catch up on shows you might have missed, but the Corporation is beginning to see the potential of niche shows produced directly for iPlayer broadcast.

The BBC has commissioned six original short dramas for iPlayer to be broadcast over the next two years. Created by "up and coming talent", they are part of a project involving BBC Three to discover new TV drama writing. The BBC’s head of TV online content Victoria Jaye said it was important to look at the possibilities of "storytelling outside of a scheduled TV slot or duration", while BBC Three’s Zai Bennett said the new commissions were exactly what the channel was all about.

In the past, iPlayer has been the home of some experimental comedy pilots, spin-offs from mainstream shows, fan extras and a Doctor Who mini-series called Pond Life. With the move towards original drama programming, the BBC is catching up with technology that allows many owners of smart TVs to regard iPlayer as just another channel option, while owners of hand-held devices see it as a handy source of entertainment on the move.

There has already been a discernible leap in the popularity of the service. In January there were a record 272 million iPlayer requests for TV and radio programmes, suggesting that everybody was trying out the new iPads and tablets they had got for Christmas.

Usage of iPlayer increased 42 percent year on year since 2012. Last year there were 2.32 billion requests for TV and radio programmes. The most popular was the Olympics opening ceremony, with 3.3 million requests. The most popular regular series were Top Gear, Doctor Who, EastEnders and (bafflingly) the sitcom Miranda.

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