In telly – especially online and on-demand – there have been many coalitions recently. Some have been between broadcasters and other broadcasters, some between broadcasters and platforms. SeeSaw has successfully brought together the BBC, Channel 4 and Five; Youtube now has dedicated Channel 4 and Five channels; Wii has the iPlayer; Xbox 360 has Sky Player…the list goes on and on. On top of that, and in positions of some dominance, sit the broadcasters’ own on-demand TV websites. And there’s more in the pipeline; Project Canvas will, if allowed, bring together BBC, Channel 4, ITV, Five, Arqiva, BT and TalkTalk to bring open source on-demand TV to TV sets.
So the TV landscape in the UK is ever more complex, inter-connected and competitive, with new developments – driven by technology and human needs – happening every other day it seems.
In this context it is perhaps not surprising that Hulu, the US web TV service owned by TV companies like NBC, Disney and Fox, having ostensibly begun its journey across the Atlantic, has recently decided not to drop anchor here after all and has turned back. Just six months ago this would have been unthinkable. What has changed?
A few years ago, there were criticisms of UK broadcasters for not having yet ‘got’ online, and predictions that our TV companies would follow the music industry down the pan. But then, starting with 4OD, every major UK broadcaster launched a web service, with the BBC iPlayer making a very big splash at the start of 2008.
Across the sea, Hulu was showing them how broadcaster collaboration could create a dominant web TV destination, but early UK equivalents, like Project Kangaroo, were stymied by regulators and there was worry that non-UK web TV aggregators like Hulu would be able to get established here first.
While there might have been a grain of truth in that, the fact is that UK broadcasters have now all turned up to the party. Not only that but they’ve changed the music, poured everyone fresh drinks and started a conga. Looking on from its position of dominance in the US, Hulu must have thought it not worth trying to grab the dancing hips at the back of the line in the UK.
Added to this is the fact that some guests who got to the party in good time have either run out of booze or things to say and have slipped quietly out of the back door. Much was made of the likes of Joost and Zattoo and Bebo, but they burned brightly and briefly. There will be more like this no doubt as the market and viewers settle down.
So, while we watch our politicians getting it together, it is gratifying that our broadcasters already have, and unsurprising that Hulu doesn’t fancy the immense effort it would take to make a big impression in the UK on-demand TV market.