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.





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.

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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.





Hulu: thin on content, high on usability

11 11 2007

Online Video Watch gives its verdict on the Hulu private beta over in this post. The service scores highly for ease-of-use and discoverability of content, but poorly for the extent of the content offer itself.

However, that may be about to change, says the Hollywood Reporter, revealing that Warner Brothers Television is in discussions with Hulu, which will likely see a selection of its catalogue added alongside that from Sony and MGM, as well as Hulu co-founders NewsCorp. (Fox) and NBC Universal.

In related news, paidContent offers a pretty blunt assessment of NBCDirect.com, a new TV downloads service which offers content for seven days from broadcast and viewing for 48 hours once first played.





Skinkers second round funding

30 10 2007

Back in July beyondnessofthings reported on Skinkers, a U.K. based company which has been working with Microsoft on a software solution for streaming of live TV. econsultancy reports that the company has just sealed a deal for US $16m (£8m) in second round funding from a consortium led by Acacia Capital Partners. Consortium members include Spark Ventures, which provided $3.5m (£1.7m) in February 2006.

Skinkers will reportedly soon start trialling its LiveStation product with broadcasters





Hulu bows today

29 10 2007

One of the most eagerly-anticipated online video launches Hulu, the tie-up between NBC Universal and NewsCorp., launches in private beta later today, following a week of preview access for journalists and analysts.

The service rolls out with most of the trailed features, reports Variety, including the ability for users to share entire shows or just clips of them with eachother.

Hulu has also inked a deal with Sony Pictures Television for 40 TV series, and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios for an undisclosed number of series and movies.

All featured series will run with two minutes of commercials per hour, in the form of unskippable 15 and 30-second spots.





TV nets face up to growing online competition

25 09 2007

Variety reports on the latest online video forecasts produced by market analysts Screen Digest: the U.K. market for online TV will be worth £181 million (US $362 million) by 2011, but growth of the online movies segment is predicted to be slower.

There’s no doubting that across the Pond, the competitive environment is really gaining traction, as observed by the Financial Times: in the two years since that watershed moment when iTunes first started offering download-to-own TV shows from Disney, all of the major networks have scrambled to not only beef up their own sites, but also to broker those all-important third party syndication deals.

In the last week alone, Walt Disney-owned ABC has agreed a deal to syndicate its shows, for free, via AOL. The net joins CBS, which has been aggressively pursuing its own syndication strategy for the past few months, while Hulu.com, the online video aggregator site JV between NBC Universal and NewsCorp. is due to bow next month.

Hopping back over the Pond to the U.K., the BBC, ITV, Channel Four and five all have online catch-up TV services: the BBC offers the broadest range and volume of hours, while ITV and Channel Four are increasingly bolstering their catch-up offers with back catalogue shows. Satellite broadcaster BSkyB is broadening its Anytime service, with different flavours of the catch-up service available both via broadband and Sky+ DVRs; the company’s recent pact with Sony will also see an extension of the service for Playstation PSPs.

The Screen Digest research referenced at the top of this post acknowledges that established players such as TV networks also face competition from non-traditional market entrants, such as Joost and iTunes. Significantly, it may be players such as Apple and Microsoft, which stand to gain the most if they can finesse their strategies to leverage consumer relationships through ownership of devices, such as iPods, or the world’s most uniquitous operating system.

Four predictions of my own:

  1. The last year or so has merely been about positioning and trying to establish which online video offers work, and which don’t. Note CBS is moving beyond merely offering full-length TV shows online and gradually ramping up 2.0 functionality: conversational content. 2008 will see the space grow up considerably. 
  2. Whether it’s aggregators or TV networks’ own sites, online video offers are principally restricted to ‘walled gardens’ of content, usually from the operating network or a select few content partners. This is wholly alien to the TV viewing experience: consumers don’t watch shows from a single network or producer. The walled garden approach smacks of protectionism and, over the fuller term, it won’t last for all but the smallest handful of players. The creation of Hulu.com is the first acknowledgement by two major players that hybrid partnerships such as thes, which broaden out the available content offer, are the way to go. YouTube is further evidence of a successful broad-brush aggregation model – albeit with some copyright complications.
  3. The market is already overcrowded: come further shocks to the world’s stock markets (an inevitability), watch the venture capital evaporate. Incumbent players looking to second or third round financing, against a backdrop of unproven business models (let alone profit) will shutter or consolidate. Viacom had better be hoping that it can pick up the assets of Joost for a song.
  4. Apple TV and Microsoft Media Center are the first two examples of mainstream PC/TV convergence: but neither has yet created a compelling enough content offer nor low enough price points to give the products a reasonable run at setting the market alight, beyond early adopters. Next gen games consoles from Sony and Microsoft will up the ante by gradually bolstering their IP-delivered VOD offers, but even these may struggle to break through beyond gaming loyalists. Either some boffin will come up with the cheapest and most elegant plug-and-play convergence-enabler – witness what Freeview set-tops did for the U.K. market – or new product categories, such as networked DVD player / recorders or DVRs will hit that magic tipping point of attractive pricing and mainline retail distribution.