BBC Worldwide, ITV and Channel 4 have announced a joint venture to launch a combined video-on-demand service. Codenamed Kangaroo, it will offer over ten thousand hours of archive and catch-up programming. Initially an online service, it will also be available for distribution on other platforms.

Plans for the Kangaroo project were first reported by informitv in June, but the possibility of co-operation between the British broadcasters has been a long-standing prospect.

By joining forces, they say they will combine their knowledge of programming, understanding of viewer behaviour and marketing capabilities. The new service will share the cost of technology, building on the experience of the respective streaming and download services of the BBC, ITV and Channel 4.

“This is a historic partnership between the UK’s largest broadcasters,” said John Smith, chief executive of BBC Worldwide, the commercial arm of the BBC. “For some time we have wanted to form an alliance with other rights holders in the UK and give viewers an on-demand service with real added value.” He continued: “By combining our joint resources we’re really taking control of our destiny in a market that’s moving at a fast pace.”

“This key strategic move is complementary to our investment in and further strengthens ITV’s customer proposition online,” said Michael Grade, the executive chairman of ITV plc, and former chairman of the BBC.

“We want to continue to build and innovate in this area, giving viewers ultimate control over what they watch and when they watch it, and believe that partnering and sharing expertise is the best way of doing this,” added Andy Duncan, the chief executive of Channel 4, and former marketing director at the BBC. He said it would lead to “a major step change in the on-demand services offered by UK broadcasters”.

The combined proposition is apparently complementary to the BBC iPlayer. BBC programmes from the previous week will be listed within the new service. ITV will continue to feature is own 30 day catch-up programming on its own web site. Channel 4 will host catch-up programming on its web site, while it says its 4oD proposition “will evolve into the new service”.

Programming will be both streamed and downloadable, on a combination of free to view, rental and retail models.

It is understood that each of the founding parties will stand to benefit commercially from the platform, although it is unclear how they will rationalise the respective value of their contributed programming.

“The deal is structured so that we each benefit from content being viewed, ensuring that there is significant revenue potential in the growth of the venture for all involved,” explained Michael Grade of ITV.

Lesley MacKenzie, former director of channels and operations at BSkyB, has been appointed as launch chief executive of the new joint venture. A name and brand for the new service will be announced before the launch, which is expected in 2008.

The plans are subject to approval from the BBC Trust and the boards of each broadcaster.

The public service broadcasters appear to be entering into a new spirit of co-operation in the face of increasing competition from elsewhere. Last week they announced plans to co-operate to provide high-definition channels on Freeview terrestrial television. The BBC and ITV are also partners in joint Freesat satellite venture.

Meanwhile, the BBC is pressing ahead with plans to finally launch its own iPlayer project, which is still officially in a beta trial. It is believed that a marketing push is planned for Christmas Day.