All UK broadcasters and most content owners are now pretty much convinced that the internet offers a technically viable means to distribute content to consumers. For some, but not all, it will be commercially viable too. But will it be limited to just the internet? The answer is definitely “no”.
Project Kangaroo, the joint venture between BBC Worldwide, ITV and Channel 4, wanted to offer its online platform for archive rights to the likes of the Freesat digital-satellite service. The Competition Commission reviewed the Kangaroo proposition after a flurry of complaints and announced it was a no-go. The technology was then sold and has been relaunched earlier this year as Seesaw. A small player at the moment but nothing a big advertising push couldn't solve.
Project Canvas is particularly interesting as it would see the UK public-service broadcasters create an open platform to offer video-on-demand over IP using the “open” internet to the television set. For the first time, it will give the PSBs a digital platform they can truly own, but it also raises some competition concerns, which must first be overcome to avoid Canvas drawing a blank. Virgin Media aren't too happy about Canvas as they would have no control over the branding - so they have lodged a complaint to Ofcom. Sky are yet to respond. Watch this space.
Finally we have Project Darwin which is BSkyB’s initiative to connect its high-end set-top boxes to the internet. It wants to use the open internet to do this next year rather than investing heavily in a managed IPTV network. It’s a smart move, as Sky needs a comprehensive on-demand service to compete in the connected world. It’s likely to use “progressive downloading”, where the content starts downloading to the hard disk of its digital-video recorders before playing on screen to ensure that quality of service can be (virtually) guaranteed.
There is a lot at stake so don’t be fooled by the silly project names. Online TV distribution is starting to define the next phase of the broadcasting industry.