Well into his second year as head of the BBC iPlayer, Daniel
Danker says that on-demand usage is surging across all devices and
the corporation's future television strategy is taking shape. But
he still hasn't managed to truly crack Social TV yet. I caught up
with Daniel last week and asked him to tell us more.
KAUSER KANJI: Hi Daniel, you've now been with
the BBC for about 20 months so let's talk about what you've managed
to achieve in that time.
DANIEL DANKER: Well, there are three sides to
this: the product-oriented achievement, the organisational
achievement, and the strategic achievement.
BBC iPlayer's continued success is a remarkable product
achievement. This is a product that is now into its fifth full
year, and it's about to have its biggest year since launch. iPlayer
has performed excellently throughout the beginning of 2012. Total
requests between January and April have averaged around 190 million
per month, up 24% on the same period last year. That comes from
really focusing on simplicity: making it dead simple for users of
varying technical skill to use the product.
"We grew 57% on connected TVs in the last year, and an
amazing 94% on mobile and tablet. Today, less than 60% of iPlayer
usage is now on the PC, while TV, mobile, and tablet are going
through the roof."
It comes from going beyond the PC and getting the iPlayer onto
TV, onto mobiles, and onto tablets. We grew 57% on connected TVs in
the last year, and an amazing 94% on mobile and tablet. Today, less
than 60% of iPlayer usage is now on the PC, while TV, mobile, and
tablet are going through the roof. It's reassuring to see the
audience flock to our mobile and TV experiences, and it's always
nice to get the industry recognition that comes with it. As you may
know, Apple recently declared BBC iPlayer the #1 UK app for the
iPad - a terrific validation of the last year's achievements.
Indeed, iPlayer spent the better part of a year in the top 10 apps
on the Apple App Store.
Equally, take a look at the new channel pages (www.bbc.co.uk/bbcone for
example) and that's the experience we're moving toward. It's
curated, it feels like TV, you can "channel flip" using the
channels along the top. This is a glimpse into the future of the TV
& iPlayer portfolio. I'll let you form your own opinion, but
the reaction so far has been incredibly positive.
The new BBC channel pages on the web. The rich
graphic UI resembles the iPlayer UI on connected TV (see Gideon
Summerfield video below)
We've done some great things on the Xbox too. On launch, one
article said the product was "so polished you could see your face
in it!" That's one of the best quotes in my career. It brings tears
of joy to my eyes!
"Other companies in this space - Netflix, Lovefilm,
Hulu, Google - they all have great technologists. But the BBC's
secret sauce is that editorial component."
The organisational achievement shouldn't be underestimated. I
came to the BBC because I wanted to bring together editorial and
technology. The relationship we've forged between editorial and
product divisions is fantastic. Today, folks from Editorial sit
shoulder to shoulder with designers, engineers, and product
managers. You can't tell where one team ends and another
This is the BBC's differentiator in the market. Other companies
in this space - Netflix, Lovefilm, Hulu, Google - they all have
great technologists. But the BBC's secret sauce is that editorial
component. Initially you might not even notice its impact, but the
future is brighter because of it. The new channel pages are the
first outward-facing example of what's possible when you bring
editorial, design and technology elegantly together.
VIDEO: Gideon Summerfield, Executive Product
Manager for the BBC iPlayer on TV, demonstrates iPlayer on
KANJI: Ok! And so moving to the last
achievement related to strategy -
DANKER: There's an entire strategy now that
goes beyond iPlayer. iPlayer has clear boundaries around it, and
we're certainly very proud of it. But the ambition now connects
iPlayer effortlessly and seamlessly with channels and programmes
and companion experiences, blurring the lines between them so that
it feels natural to watch or interact on any screen.
People have been watching TV for decades, but they only started
interacting with their televisions relatively recently with things
like the Red Button. Now you can effectively watch telly on any
device - a tablet, a mobile, the PC. And soon, you'll be able to
watch or interact flexibly across any screen.
When we consider these experiences, we start with the editorial
narrative and storyline, so the experience is completely smooth.
There's an extensive strategy that brings this to life in coming
years, which I think goes well beyond what people think of as
iPlayer today. So you won't be choosing between watching the BBC on
television or on iPlayer. Instead, the iPlayer will be an
ingredient in how audiences experience the BBC's channels and
KANJI: You've mentioned product, organisation
and strategy, and it strikes me that this is a BIG job that you're
doing here. Was this the plan that you came into the BBC with?
"I have to say, I've never had so much fun coming to
work every day, and it's partially because we were able to build
that experience and roadmap in close partnership with editorial
DANKER: Well, of course I came in with some
ideas, especially after spending 11 years at Microsoft in the
television, music and media space. I had some theories about what
I'd come in with and those theories helped inform potential
roadmaps. But it's equally important to come in and hear and
identify the things you wouldn't know if you weren't working at the
BBC. And I learnt so much about the editorial process, about how we
think about our content, about how the BBC is such a big part of
people's lives. All of that is very different from anything I'd
experienced before. We worked quickly, but we worked together to
figure out what the strategy was, informed by experience and the
ambition of a company that I think is absolutely unique. I didn't
fully appreciate that till I started here.
I have to say, I've never had so much fun coming to work every
day, and it's partially because we were able to build that
experience and roadmap in close partnership with editorial
"I don't think anybody's truly cracked it
[Social TV] yet, and I suppose I'm willing to be
courageous enough to tell you that I don't think I've cracked it
KANJI: As far as I can tell the two biggest
buzz-topics in the industry right now are about recommendations and
social TV. By bringing the editorial guys more into the design and
development process you're already addressing 'recommendation', but
what about social TV? What's your feeling about it?
DANKER: I don't think anybody's truly cracked
it yet, and I suppose I'm willing to be courageous enough to tell
you that I don't think I've cracked it either! We all feel,
instinctively, that TV has always had a social element to it, and
we also feel that younger audiences increasingly discover
programmes through their friends and social networks. But I don't
think we've seen any examples yet where the social element is
genuinely making TV better. And in the industry we're all
experimenting, so for anyone to say that they have the answer is a
little premature today. Social will be an important part around how
people discover and communicate around television and also how they
consume and enjoy it. It will eventually affect some formats and
genres more than others - for example reality shows and news rather
than drama and natural history - but I'm speaking at a fairly
theoretical level right now because, hey, we don't have the answer
KANJI: As we discussed when we met last year,
many people look to the BBC to see where it's leading and it'll be
really interesting to see what moves the BBC makes in this area
DANKER: The good news about it for the BBC, the
industry and for the audience is that we sit in a place where we
combine editorial and technology and there's a constant thirst, a
curiosity, to find interesting new formats, to never stand still.
The BBC is uniquely well-positioned to be among those who define
this - to really find the ways in which social TV can make
"Many companies start with an app store model in mind
because that's the only way for them to reach audiences. Well for
the BBC, we're going to start with television in
KANJI: So last couple of questions. We're now
in a world where channels and on-demand services are proliferating.
What sets the BBC apart from others?
DANKER: The big differentiator for the BBC is
that that we ARE a broadcaster. The BBC is channel number one in
the EPG and 90% of viewing starts right on our channels. Many
companies start with an app store model in mind because that's the
only way for them to reach audiences. Well for the BBC, we're going
to start with television in mind. Audiences have a simple
expectation that it's easy to get to the BBC to watch our live
broadcasts, and that is a very logical place to start from as we
build our connected experiences. More and more, you'll be seeing
that we actually try to create simple, effortless connections from
broadcast to connected experiences, where the technology is
invisible and the content takes centre stage.
KANJI: Finally Daniel, are you happy with what
you've managed to achieve since you joined the BBC?
DANKER: I'm an inherently impatient person and
my colleagues can certainly attest to that! But I'm delighted by
what we've achieved. The team has done a stellar job and have lots
to be proud of. Equally, if you ask anybody on the team "Are you
satisfied?" they'd probably instinctively speak more to the future
and what they have yet to accomplish. That's all about drive and
ambition. But no doubt they also go home in the evening proud of
the privilege they have to build killer products for the audience -
it's a great feeling we all share.