Channel 4 in the United Kingdom is to make most of its programming available online for 30 days after transmission. Users will be able to download all programmes commissioned by the channel for 99 pence an episode. Selected archive programmes and films will also be available.

The proposition, to be known as 4oD, is a video online download service rather than video on demand. Programmes will be delivered over broadband, initially to personal computers.

It has been made possible by a new media rights deal with trade association Pact and individual agreements with nearly 100 independent production companies. Certain American acquired programming will be unavailable.

The commercial public service channel also hopes to offer selected archive programmes from the last 24 years, as well as feature films it has produced.

Programmes will be priced at 99 pence an episode to ‘rent’, allowing them to be viewed for up to two days, or £1.99 to ‘keep’. Films will be £1.99 for a single viewing.

A subscription service will be subsequently launched at a flat fee of £3.99 a month for programmes, £4.99 for films, or both for £5.99. The channel is also experimenting with an advertising supported model.

Programmes will be provided in Microsoft Windows Media format using digital rights management and will only be available for the Windows platform.

A similar offering will also be available through the BT Vision broadband service, limited to programmes up to eight days after transmission. The channel has previously launched ‘catch-up’ services with cable operator NTL Telewest to offer programmes through video-on-demand where this is available.

“The launch of 4oD positions Channel 4 at the global cutting edge of the convergence of television and the web–this is the first time a major broadcaster has made all its commissioned content available on demand,” said Channel 4 chief executive Andy Duncan.

He predicted that in five years up to half of all viewing would be time-shifted. “This demonstrates our absolute conviction about the need to make our distinctive, high-quality content available to our audience wherever, whenever and on whatever device they want to watch it.”

The BBC first announced ambitious plans to make programming available online and has done much to drive both the technical development and the opening up of rights, but the launch of its service requires approval from its Governors, soon to become the BBC Trust.

This will also involve a market impact analysis from Ofcom which has already raised objections from some quarters. The launch of a commercial service from another public service broadcaster is therefore significant.

The main concern for consumers may be how to manage multiple services from different broadcasters and distributors.