Channel 4 has signed a non-exclusive deal with YouTube to make its original programming available on the video sharing web site in full and free-of-charge, within the United Kingdom. It is the first time that any broadcaster has made a comprehensive catch-up schedule available on YouTube, which now delivers over a billion video streams a day worldwide.

The commercially funded public service broadcaster will make its 4oD catch-up service of new programmes available on YouTube shortly after transmission, as well as around 3,000 hours of programming from the archive.

The broadcaster will have a branded presence on YouTube. Programmes will become available on YouTube in the coming months, with the full service available in early 2010. All programmes will be available only in the United Kingdom and will be free-of-charge, supported by advertising.

Financial terms are not being disclosed, but the partnership will initially run for at least three years. Channel 4 will be able to sell advertising around its own programming and some other material, exploiting the combination of its own sales experience and relationships and the targeting tools available on the Google-owned site, with advertising revenues shared according to an agreed formula.

Channel 4 was the first broadcaster to sell pre-roll advertisements on YouTube clips and to incorporate an offline sponsor into an online YouTube package. Although other channels have made programmes available on YouTube, Channel 4 is the first to put most of its commissioned programming on the platform.

The new deal is non-exclusive, allowing Channel 4 to continue distributing its 4oD service on the web site and other third-party sites and services.
Channel 4 originally launched its 4oD service online at the end of 2006, ahead of the launch of the much lauded BBC iPlayer.

“Channel 4 was the first broadcaster anywhere in the world to make all its commissioned content available online and we’ve consistently pioneered in this field,” said Andy Duncan, the departing chief executive of Channel 4. “Making our programmes directly accessible to YouTube’s 20 million UK users will financially benefit both Channel 4 and our independent production partners and help bolster our investment in quality British content. It demonstrates our ability to strike dynamic commercial partnerships to help underpin our future as a commercially funded, not-for-profit multi-platform public service network.”

For Patrick Walker, responsible for YouTube partnerships in Europe, this is a significant move towards providing professional programming on the platform and could be a sign of more to come.

“We know that the YouTube community is enthusiastic about full-length programming on the site, and we’ve been working hard to create the right environment for more broadcasters to make their content available with the right branding, the right advertising formats and the right level of control over advertising sales,” he said. “This partnership demonstrates our commitment to bringing an even greater range of content to YouTube and we look forward to other similar agreements to come.”

The presence on YouTube will provide Channel 4 with a platform to extend its reach. The broadcaster is currently delivering around 10 million video views a month on its own web site. You Tube is by far the leading online video service by volume.

Although the distribution on YouTube will be a non-exclusive basis, it pre-empts the entry of new players, including a planned service from Arqiva, dubbed SeeSaw, based on the former Kangaroo platform, a joint venture in which Channel 4 was involved which was killed by the Competition Commission.

The YouTube deal does not preclude a deal with Arqiva, or with the planned international expansion of the Hulu joint venture from America. For broadcasters, the most successful strategy appears to be syndicated distribution through multiple aggregators, rather than attempting to maintain a destination in their own right.

Channel 4 has so far avoided the proposed Canvas joint venture between the BBC, ITV, Five and BT. With many different devices and displays already able to access YouTube directly, Channel 4 can gain immediate distribution to more mobile, computer and television screens, without having to wait for the emergence of new standards.

ITV, whose outgoing executive chairman once called Google a “parasite,” said the commercial broadcaster is likely to do a deal with an American aggregator such as Google or Hulu.

Michael Grade blamed the Competition Commission for blocking the Kangaroo joint venture. “I guarantee an American company will take the lion’s share of our content in the UK very soon,” he told a Communications Committee hearing of the House of Lords. “UK creative money will go to the Americans and not get reinvested in the UK.”

However, he denied that the ITV business was in crisis. “I feel as though I am inhabiting a parallel universe,” he said. “The ITV business is going extremely well.”