Indies embracing the web and new platforms

3 02 2008

The growth of new distribution opportunities via the internet has prompted some independent production companies to find additional options for exploiting their content, while others are producing content specifically for the web.

Here’s a round-up of some of the key players so far:

  • Miles Beckett and Luke Hyams, the co-creators of LonelyGirl15, are rightly dubbed the kings of social networking drama. The duo have gone on to form LG15 Studios, with backing from Hollywood talent brokers Creative Artists Agency, deepening their relationship with Bebo by producing Kate Modern.
  • Veteran U.S. independent Mark Burnett Productions, best known for a slew of reality TV formats, has been actively syndicating derivative programming to web portals for a number of years. Its series Rock Star: INXS was offered via MSN, albeit as an enhancement / spin-off to the linear show. However, the company is getting more active with pure new media plays: last September it launched Gold Rush, an online reality game via AOL.
  • Ex-Disney chief Mike Eisner’s Vuguru was founded in March 2007 and rapidly cut through with Prom Queen, a scripted drama comprising 80 x 90-second minisodes, distributed via its own site , YouTube and Veoh (which Eisner is also backing).
  • U.K. indie RDF is currently developing Rough Cuts. a comedy portal featuring full-length download-to-own programmes from its own catalogues (RDF is a distributor, as well as a production company), other independents and, it hopes, under license from broadcasters. Last July, the company’s U.S. offshoot inked a licensing deal with Daily Motion.
  • Endemol – the company which brought the world Big Brother – was one of the first major indies to license its back catalogue content to U.K. IPTV service BT Vision, as well as to pure web plays, such as Joost and newcomer Next.TV. The company is also producing Gap Year, a web exclusive travelogue for Bebo. At the C21 Future Media conference in London late last year, Endemol’s Peter Cowley, managing director of interactive media, disclosed that its digital division was contributing between 10 to 20% of overall revenues.
  • FremantleMedia’s strategy focuses on marrying up excellent creativity, low budgets and profitability. The company – behind linear hits such as American Idol – owned by media conglomerate Bertelsmann subsidiary RTL Group, has a new platforms division overseen by programme syndication veteran Gary Carter. Aside from licensing deals, the company’s key new media property is web and mobile comedy channel Atomic Wedgie, an aggregation of younger-skewing short-form programmes which achieved nearly 3 million views via MySpace during Q4 2007. The company is working on an interactive drama format for syndication to web aggregators during 2008.
  • IMG and its television division TWI has established a fearsome reputation for global syndication (the business was built out of sports talent management) and boasts a programme catalogue of 250,000 hours of premier sports events (Wimbledon, the PGA Tournament and U.K. Premier League are among those it represents). The company has been developing content propositions for new platforms – albeit based on wobblier technology than today – as far back as 2003. The company’s format (which enjoys the dubious distinction of being banned in China) was one of the first made-for-TV shows to be syndicated to web portals, such as MSN.

Gimme more online video, just don’t make me pay

5 12 2007

U.K. law firm Olswang has published its annual Convergence Report, tracking British consumer attitudes to online and on-demand services. This year’s study reveals that almost a third of broadband users are regular consumers of online TV or movies – but they don’t want to have to pay for the content.

When the ‘Kangaroo’ JV between the BBC, ITV and Channel 4 launches next year, it’ll be interesting to see what mix of business models are offered.

In a related development, BT is experimenting with ad-funded VoD on its Vision IPTV service. A sign that PPV is RIP?

Tiscali expands U.K. IPTV service

2 09 2007

Following its £50 million acquisition of IPTV service HomeChoice, Tiscali yesterday announced the expansion of the service to eight towns and cities outside its original footprint of London and Stevenage.

Around 5 million households in Milton Keynes, Hemel Hempstead, Birmingham, Wolverhampton, Leicester, Liverpool, Salford and Warrington will now be able to access the service, offering 50 digital TV channels, including Sky One, Sky News and Sky Sport News. Customers can also pay extra for
Sky Sports 1, 2 and 3 and Sky Movies channels.

Prices start from £19.99 per month, with bundled offer two-megabit broadband, telephony and TV.

The service competes with BT Vision, which now has 44,000 subscribers and is on track to top 100,000 by Christmas. France Telecom-owned Orange is due to launch its IPTV service for the U.K. later this year.

BT Vision take-up accelerates

25 08 2007

The BT Vision IPTV service has more than doubled its subscriber base, according to unofficial figures published by Brand Republic yesterday.

Subscribers currently stand at 44,000 — slightly ahead of earlier estimates. At current growth rates, the installed base should easily break 100,000 U.K. households by Christmas.

BT has begun a national advertising campaign, with a particular emphasis on its sport package, including Premiership football. While the service remains a relative minnow v. pay TV platforms like Sky and Virgin Media, BT has succeeded in driving customer take-up for IPTV where others, such as Kingston Communications and Tiscali U.K. (nee HomeChoice) have failed.

Microsoft and BT to offer IPTV via Xbox in U.K.

10 08 2007

BT Vision customers who also own a Xbox will be able to access the subscription IPTV service before the end of the year, report 360gamer.

Microsoft already provides the software powering the BT Vision service: a DVR-enabled Freeview set-top box with VOD delivered via IP.

The service launched at the end of 2006 and, despite a broadening content offer , has struggled to significantly grow its customer base, which stood at 20,000 households last month. The company hopes that last month’s launch of BT Vision Sport, a near-live catch service offering Premiership football, will accelerate take-up. In its coverage, The Independent states that BT is connecting new customers to the Vision service at the rate of 2,500 per week, a trend which, if maintained, will see the customer base grow to 80,000 households by the end of 2007.

The pairing of BT Vision with Microsoft Xbox is a filip for both companies: BT is able to extend the appeal of its service to game players, while Microsoft gets an off-the-shelf solution for video content on its consoles in the U.K., an area with which it has encountered difficulties, resulting in delays to the European VOD offer for Xbox Live Marketplace.

France leads European IPTV market

3 08 2007

France Telecom has offset declines in its traditional revenues with a rosy set of numbers from its emerging businesses, including a whopping 52% jump in IPTV subscribers in the first half of 2007, reports the Financial Times.

Some 837,000 households now subscribe to the France Telecom MaLigne-branded IPTV service — up from 577,000 reported at the end of 2006; the company is also approaching one million paid views of TV content. 

The service features 51 indigenous and foreign channels, including the full bouquet of services offered via digital terrestrial and partner bundles from pay TV platform Canal+, together with a VOD catalogue of around 2,000 titles.

MaLigne is one of five IPTV services in France, alongside T-Online, TPS, Canal+, Free Telecom and Neuf Telecom.

U.K. IPTV incumbents Tiscali TV (formerly HomeChoice) and BT Vision must be watching these developments with a mix of astonishment and hope, given that the former service has been available for a number of years, yet subscriber numbers for the two platforms combined are barely passing 65,000. KIT, the U.K.’s third IPTV platform operated by telco Kingston Communications, was shuttered a couple of years ago.

Screen Digest predict that by 2010 the BT Vision service will be the U.K. market leader — but even then with barely a million subscribers. Contrast this with the expected 2.4 million IPTV households in France, forecast by the same market analysts for a year earlier, 2009.

Setanta challenges Sky’s sport offer; bows broadband channel

31 07 2007

There’s been a flurry of multi-platform activity from Irish sport broadcaster Setanta, which yesterday revealed that it is to launch live soccer coverage and a library of archived TV sport via its Setanta By Broadband service.

The new service costs £7.99 per month, compared to the £43.99 per month which satcaster Sky charges for its full complement of premium sport channels.

Setanta has also agreed linear carriage deals with the BT Vision IPTV service and cable platform Virgin Media.