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Interview: Kangaroo’s BBC, ITV, C4 Execs: More Partners Coming, Going Portable

Kangaroo will gobble up 4oD, will leave iPlayer unharmed, is seeking more broadcast partners and will offer transfer to portable media players, a trio of executives behind the upcoming online on-demand TV joint venture confirmed. BBC Worldwide digital media MD David Moody (pictured), Channel 4 new business director Rod Henwood and ITV.com commercial and acquisitions director Tom Betts briefed paidContent:UK jointly with more details following this morning’s announcement

What about existing platforms? BBC has already spent £4.5 million on iPlayer, ITV’s (LSE: ITV) web-embedded catch-up came as part of a £20 million redevelopment and Channel 4 has so far been wedded to 4oD. Each will continue but their purpose is being brought in to sharp relief, with everyone stressing they are now for “catch-up” only – mere “online on-demand extensions of their parent channels’ schedules”, Henwood said…

4oD killed off: First-to-market in November 2006, 4oD is in line for the biggest change. Henwood: “4oD as an application and as a customer base will migrate to Kangaroo. Channel4.com will carry catch-up content and, within Kangaroo, each of the broadcasters’ brands will be represented.”

Whither iPlayer?: So why use BBC’s iPlayer if its seven-day catch-up programmes – like 4oD’s – appear in Kangaroo’s much deeper catalogue? “We don’t see anything changing with iPlayer,” BBC Worldwide’s Moody said. “You will be able to access iPlayer through Kangaroo through a link which will take you through to the iPlayer website – so effectively Kangaroo is an access point to iPlayer.” In this sense, the relationship between the BBC and its commercial subsidiary is no different to that it has with any other – the public service iPlayer team is already planning hook-ups to place links on partners like Telegraph.co.uk that point to its full catch-up shows. Still, using Kangaroo alone will give viewers a far greater choice of material – free and commercial – from which to choose.

Portability and restrictions: None of the partners’ existing platforms offer transferability to media players, but, “clearly, from a long-term perspective, we’re looking to have portability at the heart of this“, Henwood said. Indeed, they will need to allow paying customers to use their purchases as they choose – but then, the commercial rights framework is likely to afford exactly that.

Sharing in iPlayer?: The announcement referred to “sharing costs” – Henwood clarified these items include start-up, marketing, research and content costs, but Moody was keen to point out the public iPlayer investment hasn’t bankrolled this commercial effort: “What is spent by public money stays on the public service side. If we ever buy anything from public service, we do so at arm’s length.” Asked if Kangaroo was a variant of iPlayer, each said no – Moody: “This is a fast-changing market – we all bring deep understandings, there are emerging tried and tested technologies out there which we are using and, going forward, the market will continue to develop and we will give Kangaroo the flexibility to move with the market and add new functionality and adopt new technologies as they become available.” Ashley Highfield used his new blog to stress distinctions between services today: “If BBC iPlayer is like BBC TV, Kangaroo is more like UKTV. There is space for both: indeed, they’re complementary.”

Other partners?: The announcement seemed to appeal for more third-party content. Could that mean direct deals to distribute others’ programming? Henwood said they see it as “a shop window for great content, wherever it comes from”, “so we welcome discussions with content owners, be they multi-channels like Five or Discovery, US studios, independents or so on”. Asked if BSkyB (NYSE: BSY) or Five – notable for their absence – were involved in discussions, he said “we haven’t spoken to anybody yet because we only sent out the press release at 9.30am”. Conversely, Five told paidContent:UK this morning it had spoken to the consortium before today and would do again in future.

Revenue model: C4’s Henwood: “Driven by the consumer, we’re going to have a mix of free-with-advertising, paid-for-to-rent, pay-for-to-own and quite probably subscription available – depending on the content, depending on the consumer and driven by the consumer.”

License to upload: Moody said BBC Worldwide “operates under a different rights regime from the BBC public service”, which has struck its own rights agreements with independent producers group Pact to make shows available on iPlayer within seven days of transmission and for 30 days, but: “Over time, we’ve been updating our relationships with those rights owners so that they can incorporate the mix of rights that are required going forward as consumers want to view that content in many different environments.” Betts said ITV’s Pact agreements “do permit online exploitation of the type we’re contemplating through Kangaroo – particularly in relation to the catch-up window”, so “the framework is there (already) for the vast bulk of our content”.

Volume of offering: Channel 4’s Kangaroo contribution “is predicated on existing agreements and our ability to trade for rights commercially”, Henwood said. “You’ll be able to get the same catch-up plus access to the archive of each of the broadcasters beyond the catch-up window available. So, if you go to Kangaroo, you get everything from everybody, albeit from the BBC it’s through a link to the iPlayer for the catch-up.”