British broadcasters are reportedly planning to join forces to develop a single free online video offer to aggregate live broadcasts and catch-up programming. The discussions are being hosted by Freeview, the free-to-air television platform. The aim is to ensure that broadcasters can compete effectively with services from Netflix, Amazon, Apple, Disney and others.
The public service broadcasters, the BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5, currently promote their own separate online video services on the Freeview Play platform. That requires users to have separate logins to each broadcaster.
The proposals include providing a single sign in and to pool audience data to improve programme recommendations.
It is an obvious move and one that informitv has been recommending for over a decade. Broadcasters have been hesitant to pool their services, believing that it was critical to retain ownership of their proprietary online offerings and user data. Now it seems the threat of global online giants is galvanising them to a collective response.
Sarah Milton was last year appointed chief operating officer at Digital UK, which is responsible for the strategy of Freeview. She was previously head of product for All 4, the online video offering of Channel 4, having had responsibility for online video there since 2004. When the appointment was announced a year ago, Digital UK said: “She will play a key role in the future of Freeview as it continues its evolution of recent years to match viewing habits that have moved increasingly online.”
In December, Digital UK announced that broadcast services operator Arqiva, a long-standing shareholder in Digital UK and Freeview, would be pulling out of the relationship. At the time, Digital UK said: “For the remaining shareholders — the BBC, ITV and C4 — this is an opportunity for greater collaboration in how viewers find and enjoy the best of public service programming in the connected world”.
The communications regulator Ofcom said in a recent review that “audiences could benefit significantly” if broadcasters offered programmes through a combined service. Its research showed that 43% of viewers currently using online video services can imaging watching no broadcast television within five years.
The blessing of Ofcom is important. When British broadcasters previously tried to create a single online platform, known as Project Kangaroo, the consortium looked like a cartel and was blocked by the Competition Commission.
Allowing a single sign in to their respective services seems like a sensible step that will benefit both users and broadcasters.