The BBC and ITV are reported to have held talks about launching an online video service. Neither broadcaster has commented on any plans, which are also reported to involve NBC Universal, a shareholder in Hulu, the American online video venture.
The BBC offers programming online through BBC iPlayer for up to 30 days after transmission. Its commercial arm has also launched a BBC Store to sell programmes online, although it is not clear how successful this has been.
A previous attempt to offer a global BBC iPlayer subscription service was pulled. It failed to achieve much traction and did not launch in the United States. Apparently pay-television providers threatened to drop the BBC America channel if the services were to be launched there.
ITV also offers programming online through its new ITV Hub, previously known as ITV Player, but this has so far proved less popular than the BBC iPlayer.
The Guardian reported the plan to collaborate, which multiple sources described as at a very early “explore and evaluate” stage. The BBC and ITV both declined to comment on “speculation”.
In 2007, the BBC, ITV and Channel 4 launched a joint venture online video service, known as Project Kangaroo. Competition regulators blocked this, on the grounds that it was likely to result in a reduction in competition in the wholesale and retail video on demand market.
The potential involvement of NBC Universal, now owned by Comcast, could offer a way into the potentially lucrative American market.
Its not entirely clear why the BBC would envisage entering into yet another joint venture with commercial broadcasters, rather than simply licensing programming for distribution through other platforms.
The concern may be that the likes of Netflix and Amazon will otherwise dominate the online subscription video market.
The Hulu model, a commercial joint venture between rival broadcasters, offers an alternative, based on a combination of advertising and subscription revenue.
Whether it could deliver significant value to the bottom line of the BBC and ITV accounts is another matter. The key question is whether broadcasters can make more money selling programmes to other broadcasters and platforms, rather than going direct to viewers.