Online video notes from a small island
This Videominder and U.K. native just got back from a quick jaunt to London, so it seemed like a good time for a quick roundup of what is happening in online video across the pond.
The BBC has led the way in online video in the U.K. The success of the iPlayer, its live and video-on-demand service, was recently highlighted by the record-breaking viewing figures it achieved during the Olympics. The opening ceremony alone racked up 1.7 million views
and 2 million people downloaded the BBC’s Olympics mobile app
Furthermore, unlike NBC’s offering, the iPlayer does not require authentication of a pay-TV subscription or carry advertising, instead funded by an annual TV license fee, a mandatory payment for all households in the UK who own a TV, which also supports the BBC’s traditional TV programs.
It’s also worth noting that the BBC’s digital success conferred such a golden glow that its outgoing director general has been appointed the new CEO of the New York Times
. The question on everyone’s minds now is whether he can reproduce such success at a newspaper rather than a broadcaster. Only time will tell.
YouView, Freeview, WhoView?
Growing up in the U.K., my household received four or five channels; cable and satellite were still in their infancy then. This changed with the digital switchover
, when analogue services ceased broadcasting and a service known as Freeview launched in 2002. Freeview offers about 50 channels
with no subscription fee. But using the service required consumers to purchase a special set-top box or TV set with integrated functionality.
Now a new service known as YouView has launched to capitalize on the growing popularity of online video services. Although much delayed and criticized for its high retail price
(£300, or about US$400), it offers significantly improved functionality compared with Freeview and includes access to the online video catch-up services of the major U.K. free-to-air broadcasters, including iPlayer. The question is: Can it beat competition from the likes of Apple and Roku?
Battle of the aggregators
For a while, the streaming battle in the U.K. centered around the Amazon-owned LoveFilm and Netflix. But now the giant of U.K. pay-TV broadcasting has entered the fray. BSkyB has all but saturated the pay-TV market in the U.K. with its satellite TV offering. But fearing that this saturation will make growth challenging, it has launched Now TV, an a la carte, subscription-free alternative
to Netflix and LoveFilm. We see this trend across all geos: as Broadcast and Broadband continue to merge, traditional TV operators are moving into the digital space.
Legislating for the online video future
Arguably one of the biggest differences between the U.S. and U.K. media landscapes is the influence of public non-commercial bodies, both in the form of the BBC and also in terms of direct government intervention and regulation from Ofcom
, an independent communication industry regulator.
Legislators are feeling bullish right now about investing in Britain’s digital future. The House of Lords, Britain’s upper house (sort of like the U.S. Senate) released a white paper early August recommending that IPTV be the primary method of TV distribution in the U.K.
The idea behind this is to encourage broadband adoption, driving Internet access equality while freeing up spectrum for other uses. The question remains as to whether the government will want to invest the necessary funding to make this happen as it continues to try to weather the current economic storm.
The U.K’s Culture Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, also just announced that he plans for Britain to have the fastest broadband in Europe by 2015
. The aim is to bring speeds of 80 to 100 Mbps to major cities, making the U.K. "Europe's technology hub" offering "the best of Hollywood and Silicon Valley.” Now that might make me feel even more patriotic that Britain’s recent Olympics medal haul.