The BBC has been expanding its digital business in anticipation of a time when revenue streams from traditional products like TV and physical distribution become less strong, and that strategy is steadily beginning to bear more and more fruit. The media giant’s commercial arm, BBC Worldwide, today published its annual review, which indicates that in headline sales of £1,085 million ($1.7 billion), digital now makes up 12.8 percent of revenue — up from 8.1 percent a year ago. The BBC now aims to take that proportion to 15 percent by 2015.
The boost in digital looks like it’s coming in large part from two areas: the rise of VOD sales, and the growth of apps — with both of those in turn fuelled by the rise of better broadband, as well as tablet and smartphone usage. BBC Worldwide says that it saw 12.5 million app downloads in the last year, and has now has racked up a total of 25 million downloads overall. Cumulative VOD downloads now stand at 31 million.
“Digital continues to be a priority for BBC Worldwide and this year shows we have made both financial and strategic progress,” said Daniel Heaf, EVP & MD, BBC Worldwide Digital, in a statement. “Crucially, a greater number of consumers are enjoying a greater range of the BBC’s content on more platforms than ever before. The pace of change looks set to continue and we’re excited about the new opportunities we’ll have to simultaneously grow the BBC’s reach and BBC Wordwide’s profits.”
Those VOD downloads, the BBC says, were triple this year compared to the year before, with sales coming not just from over-the-top providers like Netflix, but also “established broadcasters,” a sign of how these older companies will not go gently into the night as Netflix continues its download march, with an increasing shift of viewing time on its service dedicated to TV shows rather than films (a trend that would play into the hand of BBC Worldwide, which has a far greater catalog of TV shows than it does feature films).
Within apps, BBC says that in the year since it launched the Global iPlayer — now available as an iPad app in 16 markets including across Western Europe, Canada and Australia — it has seen 1 million downloads. It’s still technically in trial phase, although the BBC says that it is now extending that trial until autumn of this year (not clear whether it becomes a full commercial operation at that point, or whether it closes down in preparation for a full launch).
The most popular app over the year, however, is BBC News, which picked up 10.3 million downloads on iOS and Android devices. The company also launched 11 games and currently has 12 more in development, taking the total downloads of games to 3.5 million. Among the titles launched this year, Top Gear’s Stunt School Revolution, which picked up 2 million downloads in its first month, the fastest ever achieved by a BBC game.
The BBC offers some content on demand that you can buy via Facebook credits, but it doesn’t break out in its annual report how successful those products have been. It is, however, continuing to build up its audience there, with some 25 million fans now spread across its different pages on the social network, and the site proving to be a massive referral engine for its main websites, generating some 40 percent of traffic to key web brands.
BBC pages getting especially high traffic on Facebook included Top Gear, Top Gear USA and The Stig. The BBC says that together these three provided 17 percent more engagement with fans between May and June (up from 8 percent the year before), with the total brought in by the Top Gear properties up to 17.6 million. Doctor Who, meanwhile, saw a 27 percent engagement from users (up from 19 percent). It now has a 2.5m fan base. As with other media brands, the BBC is finding that Facebook is a strong traffic referral engine. It says that about 40 percent of traffic to our sites including: TopGear.com, LonelyPlanet.com, GoodFood.com and bbc.com comes from Facebook.
You can see also why Facebook is an important traffic driver for BBC when you look at stats on its wider presence online. It’s big, but its biggest property not growing so fast at the moment: BBC.com had 58.5m unique users throughout the year, but that’s only 3.7 million up from 55.1 million in 2010/2011. Smaller “lifestyle” sites like BBCGoodFood.com are growing much faster, although are also significantly smaller: it was up 58.5 percent, while Lonelyplanet.com reached 700,000 registered users (yet an impressive half a billion+ page views in 2011/2012) on a monthly average of 11.3m unique users, a rise of 35.8 percent on the previous year.
The company’s headline profits for the year were £155 million ($240 million) up from £144 million a year ago. This figures did not include the sale of the BBC Magazine titles last year for £121 million.