Euro 2020 Final: BBC iPlayer vs. ITV Hub

FX Digital Co-Founder, Matthew Duhig, provides his thoughts on the battle of BBC iPlayer vs. ITV Hub at this years' UEFA European Championship.
by Matthew,  16th July 2021
Connected TV

Throughout the UEFA Euro 2020 Championship, two of Britain’s major broadcasters have been showing the games in turn on their free-to-air channels. While many viewers had no choice throughout the most of the tournament as to which channel to watch the action from, having to choose whichever broadcaster was showing the games that day, on Sunday both broadcasted the final game of the tournament as Gareth Southgate’s young England side faced Roberto Mancini’s experienced Italy team. Unlike the action on the pitch, the competition between BBC and ITV for most viewers was not as close.

Also, unlike the game, I think the BBC’s victory here was entirely predictable and down to them being able to achieve something that ITV couldn’t: getting the basics right! Here I’m not going to be talking about the coverage, pundits, and commentators, instead I’ll be looking specifically at the Connected TV applications from both the BBC and ITV, to give an opinion on the technology and the experience, sharing what the BBC did well and what ITV really didn’t.

Availability of the Connected TV Application

First and foremost, it’s important to be where your audience is. I chose to watch the Semi Final against Denmark in the office with some of the team, and I was pretty flummoxed when I cracked open one of our Sony Android TV devices only to realise that ITV doesn’t actually have an ITV Hub application for Android TV.

Luckily we are blessed with a variety of TVs at FX, so I switched over to a Samsung Tizen device and we watched from there. However, not all viewers will have multiple devices to choose from, and with Android TV being the fastest growing Connected TV device, I think this is a gap ITV will very soon need to plug.

Looking into their device support lists, I can also see that ITV Hub has support for Amazon Fire TV, and with this being an Android TV based device, I’m not entirely sure as to the reason why ITV do not have the application available on Android TV too. To the contrary, BBC iPlayer is available on a myriad of devices, not only this, but their device support list is a work of art in comparison to ITVs. So much information!

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Video Streaming Quality

Initial Android TV related shock aside, once I had the ITV Hub application up on my Samsung Tizen device on Semi-Final day, my next task was to get the live stream playing. This was done easily enough, but here’s where my next issue with ITV Hub lies. The quality of the video stream wasn’t even HD. Having previously watched the Quarter Final in HD on BBC, it was so apparent that the quality of the ITV stream wasn’t up to scratch. Viewers are now used to a certain quality of video, and when watching a football match anything less than 1080p will make it pretty tough to pick out players on larger TVs due to the low pixel density. Some viewers are likely used to being able to pick out fans in the crowd on UHD streams, so watching in what I suspect was 720p on ITV Hub wouldn’t have been particularly enjoyable for them either.

Major Connected TV Bugs

If there’s one thing that will lose your audience and their trust, it’s major app and streaming bugs. The frustration for many here, is that without the choice of watching the game elsewhere, most would simply have to put up with any bugs that were experienced.

Unsurprisingly, ITV Hub was awash with technical difficulties during the tournament, and during the Semi-Final those viewers that opted to watch from their Apple TV device were unlucky enough to experience a pretty severe bug that caused playback issues. In some instances viewers reported not being able to stream video for up to 14 minutes during the Semi-Final.

At FX Digital, we more than any know the difficulties of releasing bug free code to Connected TV devices, especially when we consider the severe fragmentation of the devices. However, as I’ve said before, it’s imperative that the basics are done properly, and when we speak of Connected TV applications, robust, smooth, quality video playback is the most fundamental of all the basics to get right.


Now I won’t comment on ITVs choice to show adverts here. Unlike the BBC, ITV cannot rely on the government to fund their service, and advertisements are a huge revenue generator for them. Furthermore, as viewers start to become inundated with SVOD services over the coming years and viewers become increasingly sick of multiple constantly rising subscription payments, I fully expect the trend to begin to shift back towards AVOD services such as ITV Hub and All 4. How big this shift will be remains to be seen, but I for one would welcome adverts on services such as Netflix to help me discover more content!

All things said and done, if you’re going to play ads, you need to be certain that they are not hindering the desired streaming experience. Unfortunately for ITV, there were reports from some that when selecting the live stream to watch, they were being presented with pre-roll adverts before the stream which then failed to play. It’s immensely frustrating for a user to keep retrying the stream and having to watch the pre-roll advertisements each time, before being told once more the stream failed to play. The technical realities of playback on Connected TV mean that it is much easier to play VOD adverts than a live stream that requires DRM encryption for example, but if advertisements are a primary revenue generator for you, you really should be investing to ensure that they are effective, robust, and not killing the experience.

Conclusion: BBC Triumphs

The things I’ve shared here had a really big impact on my decision to watch the final of the tournament on BBC iPlayer over ITV Hub, but I live and breathe Connected TV and perhaps things weren’t the same for others? To help determine if viewers really cared about availability, streaming quality, bugs, and advertisements, it’s probably best we look at the viewing figures.

Unsurprisingly, the viewing figures back up the better overall experience with the BBC iPlayer receiving approximately 6.9 million viewers compared to ITV’s 4.2 million, it was a bit of a rout.

When it comes to football and just about every other piece of video content, the audience does really care, and the modern viewer expects a robust experience delivered through the expert application of the basics.