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





The cost of online video-on-demand

30 06 2007

cash.jpg

4oD: not explicitly reported, but new media division – spanning other activity too – spent £34.6 million, up £11.5m on 2005. (Source: C4’s 2006 annual report).

60frames: the JV between Hollywood power brokers United Talent Agency and online ad agency Spot Runner. Start-up capital of US $3.5 million. (Source: Globe & Mail, 31 Jul 07)

Babelgum: €220 million [US$288m] (source: C21 Media [by subscription], 19 April 2007). Other sources suggest seed capital of €10 million [£6.78 million] from founder Silvio Scaglia, with a further €70 million pledged during the next three years.

BBC iPlayer: £4.5 million (source: The Sunday Herald [UK], 2 December 2007). Funded by licence fee.

BitTorrent: backed by US $20 million from  Accel Parners and DCM.

Break.com: Lionsgate has invested US $21million for a 42% stake.

Brightcove: US $81 million so far… Launched 2005 with $5.5 million funding from General Catalyst Partners and Accel Partners (source: company press release, 1 March 2005). Raised a further $16 million the same year, attracting investment from AOL, IAC/InterActiveCorp, The Hearst Corporation, and Allen & Company LLC (source: company press release, 22 November 2005). A further $59.5 million was sunk by a syndicate led by AllianceBernstein L.P., Brookside Capital LLC, Maverick Capital, Ltd.; the funding round also included investments from The New York Times Company, Transcosmos Investments & Business Development, Inc., as well as all of the company’s existing strategic and financial investors: Accel Partners, Allen & Company LLC, AOL, General Catalyst Partners, The Hearst Corporation, and IAC/InterActiveCorp. (Source: company press release, 17 January 2007).

Bud.tv: backed by parent company Anheuser-Busch to the tune of US $30 to 40 million.

Dave.tv: Provider of video distribution and social networking platforms to content providers, founded in 2003. The company is currently backed by angel investors, including Applied Semantics co-founder Rex Wong, who is believed to have sunk at least half of the company’s initial $7 million funding (source: MarketWatch, 1 Aug 2006). Potential investors take note: the company’s site says “We are in the midst of seeking strategic or venture capital to facilitate our growth.”

ITV Broadband: £20 million (source: Digital Spy, 8 June 2007).

Hulu.com: NBC Universal / NewsCorp.’s JV, originally dubbed ‘Newco’: US $131 million (source: LA Times, 29 June 2007).

Joost: seed capital of US $45 million (source: Wikipedia, 29 June 2007). Backers include Sequioa Capital, Index Ventures – an early investor in Skype – CBS, the US media group, and Li Ka-Shing, the Hong Kong tycoon. Viacom, the US media giant, also has a minority stake.

Vmix: seed capital of US $5 million in 2005 (source: Marketwatch, 1 Aug 2006), plus further funding of $16.5 million in October 2007 (source: Vmix press release, 31 Oct 2007). Founded by former execs from Universal Music Group, Fox Studios, Apple and mp3.com. JK&B Capital and ATA Ventures joined existing investors Mission Ventures and Enterprise Partners in the latest funding round.

Vudu: founded 2004, launching summer 2007. Backed by US $21 million from Benchmark Capital and Greylock Partners.

Vuze: backed by US $13.5 million raised from Redpoint Ventures, BV Capital, Greycroft Partners.

Update 17 Dec 07

Recommended reading: Media and entertainment freelance writer Daisy Whitney has produced this excellent summary of going rates for online video advertising rates on some of the best-known sites.