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Slow broadband affects video streaming for nearly 1m Britons

People’s use of the BBC iPlayer in the UK appears to be affected by regional broadband speeds, according to a King's College London study of 1.9bn iPlayer logs across the country.

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Looking at the period from May 2013-January 2014, the study shows a correlation between broadband speed and usage, with areas of higher speeds showing greater use.

It highlights the importance of high-speed broadband infrastructure in accessing online services and shows how whole regions can be left behind due to slow internet. 974,000 people live in the ten areas where BBC iPlayer streaming levels are at their lowest, with many more likely still impacted by slow broadband speeds.

The ten locations with the lowest BBC iPlayer usage levels are:

  1. South Ayrshire - 4.48 monthly sessions per capita (MSC)
  2. Ards (N. Ireland) - 4.52 MSC
  3. Isle of Wight - 4.66 MSC
  4. East Riding of Yorkshire - 4.69 MSC
  5. North Down (N. Ireland) - 4.72 MSC
  6. Midlothian - 4.81 MSC
  7. Northumberland - 4.82 MSC
  8. Stirling - 4.85 MSC
  9. Highland - 4.89 MSC
  10. Aberdeenshire - 4.92 MSC

The top ten locations for BBC iPlayer streaming are:

  1. London - 7.42 MSC
  2. South Gloucestershire - 7.3 MSC
  3. Bristol - 6.85 MSC
  4. Edinburgh - 6.83 MSC
  5. West Dunbartonshire - 6.81 MSC
  6. Leicester - 6.78 MSC
  7. Brighton & Hove - 6.61 MSC
  8. Manchester - 6.55 MSC
  9. Hertfordshire - 6.53 MSC
  10. Portsmouth - 6.52 MSC

Monthly sessions per capita were calculated by dividing the average monthly number of sessions and the average monthly number of unique users in the region.

Dr Nishanth Sastry, a senior lecturer at King’s College London and the lead researcher comments: 'As far as we know, this is the first population-level study into a nation's internet usage, made possible by the advent of on-demand services. By correlating the differences in BBC iPlayer usage from about 50 per cent of the country's population with fixed-line broadband speed statistics, it is clear that high-speed broadband is an important factor in the use of bandwidth-intensive applications such as BBC iPlayer.

With technological advancements, it is likely that more services important to daily life will move online, yet there is a significant proportion of the population with inadequate broadband connections who won't be able access such services. The Government has initiated funding schemes for improving rural broadband access as part of the National Broadband Strategy, so steps are being taken to tackle the issue, but these results highlight how there is more to do to ensure universal quality.'

Dr Sastry and post-doctoral research associate Dr. Dmytro Karamshuk also investigated the difference in streaming across mobile devices and through fixed-line broadband. They found that mobile streaming peaked during traditional commuting hours (7am - 9am and 5pm - 7pm), with a smaller peak around lunch time, whereas fixed-line streaming peaked in the evening (8pm - 10pm). However, mobile activity varied depending on the type of contract subscribed to. On mobile providers with unlimited data plans, a combinationof commuting and evening streaming activities is observed. This data was calculated by analysing the streaming behaviour of customers of five different broadband providers and five different mobile internet providers.

Dr Sastry continued: 'Mobile is starting to play an ever increasing role in how we engage with the world around us, due to the capabilities of devices and the subsequent richness of the services provided through them. The same applies to fixed-line broadband as smart TVs and connected devices become more popular. Yet the lack of high quality broadband is impacting many people's ability to access streaming services. If they can't access streaming services, it is reasonable to assume other data-heavy services, such as music streaming, rich news sites or social media, may not be suitably accessible, leaving a significant number behind. This study provides a quantification of that impact, showing how low quality broadband can translate into lowered application use.'

For more information, please contact Claire Gilby, PR Manager (Arts & Sciences) in the King’s College London press office on 020 7848 3092, claire.gilby@kcl.ac.uk.

Notes to Editors:

Broadband speeds (average sync speed in Mbits/s from Ofcom)  for the ten locations with the lowest BBC iPlayer usage levels are:

  1. South Ayrshire - 8.3
  2. Ards - 18.5
  3. Isle of Wight - 11.4
  4. East Riding of Yorkshire - 11.6
  5. North Down -19.6
  6. Midlothian - 8.5
  7. Northumberland - 10.5
  8. Stirling - 11.4
  9. Highland - 7.3
  10. Aberdeenshire - 8.4

Broadband speeds for the top ten locations for BBC iPlayer streaming are:

  1. London - 20.4
  2. South Gloucestershire - 20.6
  3. Bristol - 24.5
  4. Edinburgh - 23.1
  5. West Dunbartonshire - 23.9
  6. Leicester - 21.6
  7. Brighton & Hove - 24.1 
  8. Manchester - 17.8
  9. Hertfordshire - 22.5
  10. Portsmouth - 24.6

For more information about King’s College London, please visit King’s in Brief

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Nishanth Sastry

Nishanth Sastry

Senior Lecturer