BBC, ITV, Channel 4 to launch joint on-demand web TV

BREAKING NEWS: In an unprecedented joint venture, UK TV giants BBC Worldwide, ITV and Channel 4 are to launch a jointly-owned on-demand Web service creating a single destination for over ten thousand hours of TV entertainment content. Code-named “Kangaroo” the plans are yet to be formally approved by the BBC Trust and each broadcaster’s board, but the project has the full assent of the head of each organisation.

Kangaroo will have wide implications for the BBC’s iPlayer and Channel 4’s 4oD service, with the latter being replaced by the new joint service. The smallest UK TV player, Channel 5 (owned by RTL of Germany), is conspicuous by its absence from the venture.

In a joint statement, the three channels said the service will launch first as a web service and will later be available for distribution on other platforms. Content will be available to both stream and download and viewers will be able to watch for free, rent or buy. A name and brand for the new service will be unveiled before launch.

The joint venture will be owned equally and will work independently as an aggregator of both joint venture partners and third party content. There is no indication at this stage whether that will include content from user-generated outlets like YouTube for instance.

The new service is described as a “complement” to the BBC iPlayer, the free catch-up TV service which has had a mixed reception since its launch. For its part will continue to feature a 30 day catch up facility alongside simulcasts of its four digital channels. Channel 4’s web site will host a catch-up service, but the new venture means the end of the 4oD service as this will be replaced by Kangaroo.

The joint venture will be owned equally and will work independently as an aggregator of both joint venture partners and “third party content”.

Broadcasters clearly hope that by aggregating the bulk of their content into one easy to use service they will fend off competition from the early on-demand services provided by Internet upstarts like Joost and download services like Apple iTunes.

It’s not clear at this stage whether the shows will be viewable outside the UK, although, knowing how draconian TV copyright and licensing deals are, it seems highly unlikely that they would.
Clearly the broadcasters stand to gain a lot from this deal. They can now share the considerable costs of such a service.

It is also not clear how ‘open’ this platform will be and how other video content owner will be able to interface with it. Will it have DRM up the eyeballs (very likely)? Will it allow for user-generated semi-professional content? We’ll have to wait and see…

UPDATE: Media Guardian has the additional news that the new venture has appointed BSkyB veteran Lesley MacKenzie as chief executive. (So don’t expect any partnerships with internet companies any time soon).