Has BBC iPlayer traffic peaked?

18 05 2008

The Guardian reports on BT-owned U.K. ISP PlusNet’s claims that BBC iPlayer traffic may finally have levelled off. Launched last Christmas, the service has been the bête noire of U.K. ISPs, particularly those such as Tiscali which pay higher fees to access BT’s U.K. IP backbone at peak times.

The same report includes a rebuttal from the BBC, claiming iPlayer continues to enjoy steady month-on-month growth. PlusNet only accounts for 220,000 consumer and business customers, so it’ll be interesting to see what figures emerge from other ISPs during the coming weeks.





Sky Anytime rebrands as Sky Player

18 05 2008

Proving that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, U.K. satcaster BSkyB has rebranded its online video service Sky Player, in a nod to the success of the Beeb’s iPlayer. New features include live streaming of its six own-brand TV channels, as well as progressive downloads allowing immediate playback of downloaded content.

The re-vamped service, which launched in 2006 as Sky by Broadband and claims to be the first U.K. mass market TV download service, also gets tweaked navigation and some personalisation.

Sky’s mobile TV service will shortly get the Sky Player makeover too, while its Sky+ push VOD DVR service, available to 2.7 million Sky homes, will retain the Anytime brand.





BBC iPlayer bags a BAFTA

12 05 2008

The BBC’s iPlayer catch-up service picked up its first gong last night, beating co-nominees Bebo, Kate Modern and the production team behind U.K. Channel 4’s Big Art Mob to the British Academy of Film & Television Arts Craft Award for best Interactive Innovation – Service / Platform. Congratulations to all involved.





Joost – what went wrong?

6 04 2008

It was heralded as re-inventing the TV paradigm or the end of TV as we know it, yet barely a year after its public launch, online video service Joost appears to be lurching from one crisis into another. The service is planning a major retrenchment, reports the UK’s Sunday Times newspaper, “after failing to attract enough users and top-flight broadcasting rights.”

Joost was the one service guaranteed to get the digerati foaming at the mouth, with the kind of gushing enthusiasm normally reserved for the latest Apple gizmo. The company struck gold early in its history by opportunistically inking a content deal with Viacom – some speculated it was less about Viacom making a serious push into the brave new world of web video and more one-in-the-eye at YouTube, which it is currently suing for alleged copyright infringement.

The online video market has evolved considerably during the last year – most if not all of the big broadcast networks have launched or beefed up their offers: NBC Universal and NewsCorp. have bowed their “YouTube-killer” portal Hulu; the BBC iPlayer eventually made its debut and ‘Project Kangaroo’, the JV between the BBC, ITV and Channel 4 looks set to create a new online video powerhouse later this year.

Meanwhile Joost, requiring users to download and install a desktop application, populated with pedestrian content, is in danger of looking as cutting edge as a parent at a school disco. Moreover, at a time when play now Flash streaming has become the de facto user experience, Joost feels clunky by comparison. True, Apple’s iTunes also requires users to install a desktop app, but it does boast some heavyweights as content partners.

It’s a cruel twist of irony that the ‘revolutionary’ service which looked set to shake up the TV paradigm is in danger of looking so web 1.0 at a time when video is so seamlessly being woven into the fabric of the rest of the web. Joost is retrenching from global markets to focus on the U.S., says The Sunday Times – something it probably should’ve done in the first place.

Moral of the tale #1 is that striking gold very seldom happens more than once in succession – something the entertainent industry understands well. Joost’s founders Niklas Zennström and Janus Friis may have turned the telecoms industry upside down with Skype, but thus far Joost has failed to establish itself as anything more than an over-hyped vanity business.

Moral of the tale #2 is under-estimate the deeply-entrenched business models of media and entertainment incumbents at your peril.

The future for Joost? Renewed focus on the U.S. will likely help the service to leverage its strengths and build a significant niche market. Eventually its founders will tire of it and likely offload it to a media heavyweight. beyondnessofthings predicts Viacom will buy it at fire auction rates.

Update: Joost has rebutted yesterday’s story in The Times, telling paidContents Rafat Ali that it’s not planning any major layoffs, though it is doing a “re-alignment” (not to be interepreted as a sole focus on the U.S. market). beyondnessofthings accepts that Joost may not be refocusing its activity to the extent outlined in the Sunday Times report, but stands by the comments stated above.





The U.K. VOD market – nascent but growing

2 02 2008

Policy wonks, quango officials and broadcast executives met in central London last Thursday to debate the state of the U.K. VOD industry: offering perspectives on incumbent services, those soon to launch, rights management and pending regulatory changes.

Unsurprisingly, the first half dealing with audiences, programming and business models packed them in, while 90 minutes on regulation drove half the audience away, and left the other half in near coma.

Virgin Media’s charismatic Malcolm Wall, CEO of Content, hailed the success of VOD rollout on his platform, proclaiming that “the UK market is coming of age.” The service offers 3,700 of video content, including around 1,000 hours of catch-up TV from broadcasters such as the BBC and Channel 4. Just under half of Virgin customers use the service at least once a month (this compares with around 70% of Comcast subsribers stateside), with around 30% of views to catch-up TV. Some 270 million pieces of content viewed during 2007. His prediction that VOD viewing on the platform would soon outstrip linear viewing of terrestrial channel Five was built on with the further portent that 20% of UK viewing would be non-linear within the next five years. But most striking of all was his disclosure that subscription-based viewing is rapidly replacing pay-per-view.

Both Wall and BBC Future Media Group Controller Erik Huggers used their respective turns to plug the impending launch of a “10 foot” version of BBC iPlayer on the Virgin Media platform, due Q2 2008.

Channel 4’s Sarah Rose, Head of VOD and Channel Development, asserted that partnerships with TV platform partners Virgin, BT Vision and Tiscali TV were “fundamental” and responsible for generating the majority of views to the broadcaster’s 4oD umbrella brand. The biggest mindset change for C4, Rose said was developing approaches for customer relationship management, investing in software functionality and developing new approaches for compliance in an environment where the 9pm watershed is immaterial.

4oD online has an installed base of 1 million users (those who have installed the service software) and unsurprisingly the constituency is 60% male. More striking though was the suggestion that the most active of registered users skews female. Around two-thirds of online users are under 35. No surprises that comedy, drama (about a third of all viewing) and entertainment lead performance, but minority interest programming also does “disproportionately well”. The service is split between around 3,000 hours of (mostly free to view) archive – some of which can “engender loyalty to series” – 60 to 70 hours of new catch-up TV every week and around 300 films.

But there were two star turns at the event: Paddy Barwise, Emeritus Professor of Management and Marketing at the London Business School, and Roger Edmonds, a freelance journalist and one of the key figures behind UKNova, a BitTorrent site which specialises in British TV programmes.

“Calm down dears,” was Paddy Barwise’s opening remark, attempting to balance the boundless enthusiasm of incumbent providers with the reality check that for the overwhelming majority, linear TV rules. Barwise said that while announcements from major players were creating enormous developments on the supply side, but the demand side remained sluggish. Adding: “let’s have a bit of huimility about what will or won’t work, before throwing out too many babies with the bath water.”

John McVay of independent producer trade body Pact chipped in with the challenge that broadcasters may like to consider boosting spend on quality programme-making, before over-investing in technical platforms which were yet to prove themselves with mass audiences.

Roger Edmonds of UKNova threw down the gauntlet to U.K. broadcasters, promising that when they could fully meet the demand for British TV programmes that he sees from his users with a free service, he’d close his site down. With a nod to Project Kangaroo, the soon-to-launch on-demand joint venture between U.K. terrestrial broadcasters, he decried the scarceness of choice from traditional players.

Jeremy Olivier, Head of Convergent Media at regulator Ofcom issued the rallying call which cleared half the room, and devoted his piece to changes ushered in by the European Audiovisual Media Services Directive, which compels member states to move to more robust regulation of the VOD sector, including greater protection from content which may harm or offend vulnerable audiences. Ofcom has pulled together an industry panel to





BBC iPlayer to launch Christmas Day

6 12 2007

The BBC is to fully launch its iPlayer TV downloads service on 25 December, according to this report. Not mentioned by Broadband TV News, but covered in an earlier BBC announcement, the iPlayer will also offer streaming video before the end of the year, promising access to 400 hours of TV shows from the last seven days.





Australia’s ABC launches online video destination

3 12 2007

Following the trend from major TV broadcasters around the world to launch branded video players, Australian public service net the ABC has today unveiled ABC Now.

abc_now.jpg

The service aggregates national and local TV, radio and news content from the ABC into a single downloadable player application. The PC version, built with Flash 8 and MProjector, has just been released in Beta, with a Mac version to follow “soon”.

Unlike equivalent services, such as the BBC iPlayer, ABC Now’s initial content offer is far less ambitious: alongside news, weather and sport bulletins the roster of popular TV shows features home-grown productions, such as The 7.30 Report, At the Movies, The Cook and the Chef, Gardening Australia, Enough Rope, Good Game, Insiders, Media Watch and The New Inventors.

But ABC Now does also include a selection of vodcasts – something BBC iPlayer doesn’t.

In a final twist of irony, offering a broader selection of programmes the ABC shows is doubtless down to the BBC’s commercial arm, BBC Worldwide, which licenses many of the corporation’s most popular shows and formats to the Aussie PSB.