First green shoots of the U.K. online video long tail

4 08 2007

This morning was my first real opportunity to play around with the BBC’s Open Archive trial, a corucopia of vintage treats — made even more rewarding by the addition of newly-shot contextual pieces wrapped around the original video, as well as extra material from some of the BBC’s best-known faces.

Wildlife presenter David Attenborough, for example, talks about life on both sides of the camera; while comedian Lenny Henry shares his thoughts on [the now very un-PC] 1970s variety format The Black and White Minstrel Show. 

Browse is filtered by decade or category, with the real reward coming through ‘serendipitous’ linking of related content, turning a mere experience into a voyage of discovery.

Lots of predictably worthy ‘public purpose’ stuff there, but I’m afraid it was a 1982 episode of The Keith Harris Show which I gravitated towards. They don’t [thankfully] do song and dance routines like that any more 🙂

The trial service is currently available to just 20,000 people, but it’s hoped that the BBC’s Trust unit will soon grant permission for it to be made available to a broader audience.

The ITV Broadband service, meanwhile, is open to all and features an increasing range of full-length classic drama, comedy and children’s titles. While the availability of the programmes is rewarding in its own right, the BBC service differentiates itself with the additional contextual material mentioned above.

Channel 4’s 4oD service also offers a small back catalogue of titles, but these are accessible only a pay-per-view basis (vs. ad-funded for ITV and free for the BBC) and with the majority being titles which were broadcast within recent months, the service is generally more based on extended catch-up than a true long tail offer.

Anyway, I’m off to catch some more of Keith Harris, Orville and Bournemouth’s answer to Vegas showgirls.

ITV Broadband rollout gathers pace

17 07 2007

UK broadcaster ITV has been slowly adding to its online video service, which now offers a selection of treats from the archives, alongside catch-up episodes of popular soaps like Emmerdale and Coronation Street. Vintage classics such as Morse, the first episode of Brideshead Revisited are offered alongside classic documentaries, such as Diana: Story of a Princess and Whicker’s World. Plus my faves, children’s series Joe 90 and Metal Mickey.

Live streaming of ITV’s four channels is also available, though when I checked in on ITV1 for the tail end of GMTV, all I got was a message saying: “Sorry the current programme is unavailable”.

There are also Celebrity Playlists from the likes of Zoe Ball, This Morning anchors Phillip Schofield and Fern Britton, and Amanda Burton. Not an entirely new concept: iTunes has been doing this for a while and the BBC offered a similar feature during the trial of its iMP service — but ITV do seem to have got the choice of celebs right for the tone of offer which will likely success with its core audience.

At first glance the navigation is woeful: content discovery is anything but intuitive, but there may be method in ITV’s madness. All content is offered as on-demand streams, so it could be the broadcaster’s way of managing capacity.

The future just happened

11 07 2007

What’s going on over at the BBC? A bit of futuristic navel gazing in the speech writing department? Another opportunity to trot out some Tardis metaphors (yes, we know Doctor Who is a big show) to paint a picture of Britain in 2012?

First came the Creative Future; then new media director Ashley Highfield’s amusing fast-forward to 2009 at last summer’s Edinburgh TV Festival, predicting TV’s long tail accounting for 25% of all consumption (the bit about Microsoft’s digital home finally working successfully by 2011 got a snigger); and yesterday, director-general Mark Thompson’s speech to an invited audience (complete with a Marty McFly reference too).

But beyond the dourness of Creative Future (a fitting prelude to the Brown premiership), the playfulness of Highfield’s world of Martini media and the excess baggage of allusion in Thompson’s latest speech, it obscures the bigger story and one which will take another nine years to fully play out.

Not whether the BBC rolls out on-demand services (it already has some, with more such as BBC iPlayer on the way). Nor whether the linear landscape will have changed by 2012; it’s inevitable.

The real story is the BBC digging in to hustings for the long, winding road to renewal of its Royal Charter (or mandate to exist). The UK has a new Minister of Fun. He’s got first-hand knowledge of Auntie’s lobbying tactics (he used to work there) and, the small matter of the London Olympics aside, it may explain why DCMS spending on consultants has more than quadrupled.

Thompson’s speech yesterday lays the virtuousness of public service broadcasting on in spade-fulls… but he has a point. What would Britain’s TV, radio and web landscape be like if the BBC wasn’t able to do all of the wonderful things which helps it touch the lives of almost everyone in the UK? Though admittedly, it could be doing more to reach yuonger and ethnic minority audiences.

The latest licence fee settlement has already required the corporation to make some harsh judgment calls: from staff cut-backs to having to put some ideas which could well shore up its future performance back into the toy box, because there isn’t the money to launch them.

Then there’s the BBC’s new governance unit, the BBC Trust, which has a remit to make the corporation accountable for every major decision. At face value, no bad thing, but when this results in the arduous requirement for a Public Value Test each and every time the BBC wants to innovate, the danger increases that the rollout of every new service (or tweaks to existing ones) will be subject the kinds of delays which have plagued the launch of the BBC’s iPlayer.

It’s been a largely septimanus horribilis for the BBC. News chief Helen Boaden’s hint that the axeman cometh, the £50K fine from Ofcom over the Blue Peter fiasco and a spate of high-profile departures from the broadcaster’s documentaries department.

But at least there’s one genuinely good piece of news amid the woe: news correspondent Alan Johnston is home. Welcome back, Alan.

Bear Sterns on the Long Tail

1 07 2007


You’d expect the smart money to get all things online video-related, so it’s gratifying to see Spencer Wang of Bear Sterns, someone who’s been looking at the on-demand promise for as long as I have, update his note from last November on what the long tail means when it comes to £, shillings and $. Here it is, enjoy.