The main strategy behind Kangaroo – the VOD online TV joint venture announced this morning by BBC Worldwide, ITV (LSE: ITV) and Channel 4 – is to monetise TV shows outside of the existing free-to-online window.
Under a license template negotiated by the BBC with independent TV producers’ body Pact last June, broadcasters can make TV shows available online for free within seven days of their transmission on TV, but those shows must expire within 30 days to protect producers’ right to future exploitation through DVD sales and such like. Under Kangaroo, the public-service BBC will license shows to BBC Worldwide for commercialisation outside of the seven-day window. That is, viewers will get to buy shows from the long tail.
When we got reasonable firm details of the secretive plan in October, we were expecting Kangaroo to offer only pay-for show downloads. But the inclusion of free shows from inside the 7/30 windows offered by iPlayer, 4oD and ITV.com suggests the broadcasters are creating an on-ramp to encourage consumer commercialisation.
If BBC Worldwide can succeed in convincing enough viewers to use its derivative of iPlayer instead of the original, public-service alternative, viewers may feel inclined to buy shows they’ve already watched, right there in the application, when they disappear behind the pay wall. Channel 4’s statement that its 4oD “will evolve into the new service” makes its situation less clear. But 4oD has already been operating pay-for downloads of its own and the opportunity to consolidate that channel may be attractive to the broadcaster.
At several events in the last few months, I’ve asked online TV execs if it wouldn’t be better to consolidate their burgeoning web video efforts to make it easier for users (TV viewers control hundreds of channels with a single remote while web TV users have to download iPlayer, 4oD, Sky Anytime, visit ITV.com and so on).
But the real reasons behind Kangaroo may not be so much about simplification as monetisation. The issue here is what the future of online TV looks like after the 7/30 window. BBC director of future media and technology Ashley Highfield this month said he was ambitiously talking with producers about abandoning DRM altogether, and the BBC has also tidied up its existing Pact agreement to include online-only content commissioned from indies. The framework is certainly emerging, but many of the broadcasters’ existing online TV efforts are still in early, low-takeup stage so only time will tell whether this is a model attractive to viewers.