The three significant British terrestrial TV networks – the BBC, ITV and Channel 4 – have today announced an initiative to develop a combined service for accessing their on-demand and catch-up services. The new service is currently known under the working title “Kangaroo”. At the moment each network offers their own service, each with their own failings and benefits. Most recently the BBC launched their controversial iPlayer, which hit headlines after it was announced that it would only be available (in the first instance) for Windows XP machines, alienating Windows Vista machines and users of other operating systems.
By having a unified method of browsing, downloading and viewing programs from each of the three providers, viewers will have more control over the content stored on their machine. I argued a while back that a unified application just makes more sense. The end-user only has to learn one method to view their favourite programs, and not three. Imagine this as being similar to an electronic program guide (EPG) – one view for all channels (or at this time, for those channels covered by those networks). If, for example, Sky’s EPG was fragmented like the current online catch-up services, you would have one style menu for BBC, another for Sky channels, another for Channel 4, and so on.
Also, this only means one application that needs installing on a machine, one service running in the background, one set of icons, etc. This can only be a good thing. No more duplicate services battling for bandwidth and memory. The BBC recently announced that they will be using technology from Adobe to build a multi-platform (Windows, Mac and Linux) version of iPlayer, where programs will be streamed rather than having to download them before they can be viewed. I’m hoping this “tri-force” of providers will go down the same route – one of the aims of the group is to reduce development costs by sharing technology.
It will be interesting to see if any other networks will eventually join this scheme. I find it hard to believe that Sky will be interested, certainly in the short-term. They have their own agenda with their on-demand system. Five has a ropey on-demand service with little content, but they may benefit if they can buy-in to the technology somewhere down the line. Similarly, the VMtv group of channels (Bravo, Living, Challenge and Trouble) have a healthy back-catalogue that currently features on Virgin’s On Demand service, and would be a worthy addition to the new BBC/ITV/Channel 4 venture.