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

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Your cable box may be watching you

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).

  • dc crowley

    I really hope this is *not* a UK only viewing room… and that the rest of the world (or even the single European market, whatever that is) can enjoy this stuff as well. Great move though and great to see these guys working together.

    Let you entertain me.

  • Dillon

    Sounds very interesting.
    It would be really nice to be able to aggregate all the business documentaries/series (Dragon’s Den etc) and watch together.

  • Ben Werdmuller

    Excellent news! They can’t get this out quickly enough – hopefully this means the end of the dodgy software behind iPlayer and 4oD. I’m looking forward to it.

  • JohnofScribbleSheet

    Well, this just confirms the iplayer was a failure. Somewhat predictable.

  • Mike Butcher

    Congrats to MediaGuardian for getting the early story. At least I got the official announcement, heh. Still, interesting move, now it’s a done deal. Makes a lot of sense too.

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  • I Am Not Posting To Spam My Blog

    @Dillon: Dragon’s Den is a business programme? News to me. :-)

    Kangaroo, is it? I guess Platypus was taken and Wombat sounded just a bit *too* silly.

  • Stefano Buliani

    About time! wrote a long article complaining about iPlayer just a few days ago. They better get it right this time.

    One thing I don’t understand is why don’t they just strike a deal with Joost, zattoo or really any other content provider available out there? Seems stupid to reinvent the wheel.

  • Rick Curran

    Mmmm, will they use something other than Windows Media DRM format for the downloadable files? I doubt it. Looks like being limited to streaming video again for us non-Microsoft users :(

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  • Tom

    “It aims to “build on the experience” of the broadcasters’ existing media players,, 4oD and the BBC iPlayer.”

    So Windows DRM again! sort it out for Mac please. I’d be happy with something like Joost because it’s provides a decent user experience.

  • Tim-TechFruit

    @ Stefano – you can already get BBC channels amongst others on Zattoo, but it is just a streaming service to watch TV over the internet and not an on demand service, so isn’t quite the same thing.

    This is a great move by the UK broadcasters as far as the public are concerned, as even having 4OD and BBC iPlayer running at the same time is annoying at best. Hopefully, we will finally be able to actually watch what we want when we want from all the main channels.

    However, I do see a few problems:

    1) DRM – the single most annoying thing about corporate steps ‘forward’ in technology and distribution. We should be abel to watch it when and where we like – not limited to 7 days after broadcast or whatever limits they plan on setting. I really, really hope they don’t use Windows Media rights management and instead opt for H.264 encoded AVIs or MKVs, but it isn’t likely. With BBC content – being as we pay a license fee for it, the only restriction should really be for UK only users anyway.

    2) Compatibility – an issue that comes with DRM – this will have to work on Windows XP/Vista and Mac OSX to get started, and should really support Linux too. Maybe if they made the client open source and just created it specifically for Windows and OSX then some Linux users would port it themselves.

    3) Limiting the emergence of new stations and channels. If this platform is wholly owned by BBC/ITV/Channel4 then I imagine they can/will monopolise it and prevent smaller independent channels from using the service. However, if they built an open architecture and then leave the possibility for others to join the service it would become very interesting. The architecture could allow anyone to start a station, but they would need their own servers and hardware to support the channel’s demand. This would allow the smaller UK channels like Channel5/FX/Dave to also use the service and appeal to the audience.

  • Shakir Razak


    I think people are getting way too excited and ahead of themselves here.

    Most importantly, this is mainly for the commercial post-catch-up period allowed under contract-right-renewal/pact rights already

    secondly, the main platform will simply be either a convergence and building atop the existing foundations of Kontiki, or using Flash with Air.

    So essentially, while it’s good for the UK broadcasters to lead the world in universality and ubiquity, don’t get too excited yet!

    Yours kindly,

    Shakir Razak

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  • rc

    it’s good and it’s about time


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  • ron

    Hi everyone im a ex-brit of course from uk. i now live in Philippines and miss the old BBC even though at times whilst in uk i complained.
    so i was grateful that it was avalible online yes…
    and found to my hearts content the full line up of bbc stuff to watch

    ok i agree not intended to be viewed outside uk and by using ip changing software i am able to watch and download to my hearts content

    Thanks BBC and soon ITV.


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