Interview: Arqiva's New VOD CEO Wants To Be UK's Top Video Site, Eyes Canvas Carriage

Radio mast firm Arqiva may seem an unlikely candidate to make a splash in web VOD, but the freshly announced CEO of its effort to cook something up from Kangaroo’s carcass tells paidContent:UK his aim: “To be one of the three leaders if not the leader of this market.”

There’s still no launch date, and no name, but, speaking after his unveiling on Tuesday, Pierre-Jean Sebert told me details on the business model and launch date are coming in September.

Launching is easy: The project has been in “operational mode for the last six weeks,” Sebert says. The technology Arqiva bought from Project Kangaroo shareholders in July — most notably its video player — was almost ready for market launch before Kangaroo collapsed, so little work has been needed. Arqiva has been occupied mainly by recruiting and needs just a platform controller to complete its five-strong executive team. So neat does Arqiva’s inheritance of Kangaroo sound, one might be tempted to call it “Kangaroo 2.0” – it’s Kangaroo, without the antitrust issues.

But Sebert won’t comment on C21’s report that Channel 4 is one of its early content sign-ups – news that, if true, would dampen Hulu’s wish to get UK exclusives.

“Competition is good”: With Project Canvas hoping to support commercial VOD in the living room, Hulu still trying for a UK launch and Joost’s video player technology being touted on a white-label basis, there is both competition and opportunity in the market. Sebert: “Competition is pretty good because it means going online to watch TV is becoming a more frequent reflex — it enlarges the market.”

Subscription model likely: The Arqiva VOD player will be a mixture of free and paid-for content, but just how much will viewers get for nothing? Sebert won’t get in to paid-free percentages, but does say there will be “considerable choice” on the free side and a “mixed economy” strategy overall. He adds that a subscription model for paying customers is a real possibility.

Despite its analog history, Arqiva – a founding shareholder in the Freeview consortium and a long-time partner of Britain’s public broadcasters – has certain advantages. So far, it’s only spoken of its VOD service being a PC-video player. With Project Canvas’s IPTV VOD gateway intending to dovetail with Freeview, could Arqiva’s desktop offering also broadcast to TVs over broadband?

Looking at Canvas opportunity: Strategic development director Rob Hamlin told me: “Do we see that as an attractive opportunity? Yes that’s certainly something we are looking at and evaluating.” It’s a straight “no comment” on Canvas or any specific initiative specifically, but Hamlin points out that Arqiva’s played a part in broadcast innovation for decades — including trials of mobile TV — and says the company will consider all platforms if they are “commercially attractive”.

International opportunities: As America’s Hulu tries its luck across the pond in the UK, could Arqiva envisage taking its VOD product overseas in the same way? “We’re focused very much on the UK, that’s where our heritage is,” says Hamlin. “But are the international expansion opportunities? Yes, there is, but our primary focus is the UK at the moment.”