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    This is the personal blog of Simon Kendrick and covers my interests in media, technology and popular culture. All opinions expressed are my own and may not be representative of past or present employers
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Keeping up with catch-up

I don’t own a DTR (it is a heritage from working with Digital UK in the past that I persist with that name, even though most people I speak to use PVR) or DVD Recorder, and my VCR only works when the TV is turned on (it is a combo). I also happen to spend more evenings out than I do at home.

In the past, this made watching TV series difficult. Particularly with the trend towards series narratives rather than standalone episodes (am I correct in thinking that X Files was a major influence on this move?). There would be little point even attempting to watch a series.

I would end up waiting for the DVD. With a show such as Spooks, that was risky. The DVD would come out a fortnight before the new series started on TV. I would be in a race to finish the DVD before the new promo shows were published. “Who’s that person”? “Where has that character gone?”. Very frustrating.

However, that was in the past. I now have online video to catch up.

This means that, for the first time ever, I was able to keep up to date with Spooks. Indeed, I was even home last Monday night and so got to watch the final episode on TV.

And I can also look forward to watching Demons next year without worrying about whether I am home when it is broadcast.

Demons is a new drama series, and this highlights two other benefit of catch-up. Series stacking and wait-and-see.

My prior reliance on DVDs has influenced my viewing behaviour. Particularly with cliffhanger shows such as 24 or Lost, I have to watch several episodes at once.

SIDENOTE: This may be the reason why I didn’t think Series 2 and 3 of Lost were as bad as other people say. Watching 4 or 5 episodes at once dulls the effects of the odd terrible episode.

And given that I am out quite a lot, I have limited time to watch TV shows and am wary in investing in a show that turns out to be terrible.

Catch up gives me time to measure up a show through listening to reactions of critics and views. The iPlayer has enabled full series stacking for some shows (including Spooks) and the 30 day window on ITV.com and 4oD means that I can wait until 4 episodes in to decide if a show is worth watching.

I lose the “watercooler” chat the following day (for the interim period), and some spoilers may be revealed, but this is a trade-off I’m happy to make for some types of programme. Liveblogging and office banter may make Event TV shows like X Factor even more interesting, and to some extent these shows are “VOD proof”. But other shows benefit from their exposure to catch up.

For me, using VOD to catch up on a drama or comedy either that week or that series has actually led to me watching more TV. I may not be the most representative viewer out there, but this isn’t something that should be overlooked.

sk

Image credit: Me (I rent – the curtains aren’t my choice)

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James Murdoch is wrong about the iPlayer

bbc iplayer
Photo by http://www.flickr.com/photos/dantaylor/

At the Marketing Society annual lecture, James Murdoch accused the BBC iPlayer of squashing competition.

I completely disagree with this. The iPlayer is dominant, but it is taking a large slice of an inflated pie. Without the iPlayer, the market would be a lot smaller. No-one was complaining of the other video services using 3-5% of the UK’s Internet traffic beforehand.

The BBC is able to devote greater resources to promoting the iPlayer (£131m over 5 years) than its commercial rivals. Since online video is a game-changing technology, I believe that the BBC is justified in doing this. They have used their money to:

  • Fail. All the coverage of the flash iPlayer overlooks the fact that the p2p service floundered throughout 2007
  • Promote. Barely a trail or continuity goes by without the iPlayer being mentioned – commercial broadcasters have a multitude of commitments battling for space and could not give their online video the same level of coverage
  • Populate. As well as in-house productions, the BBC has been paying for ad-hoc deals to bring in third party content (such as Damages)
  • Reassure. Despite everything that has gone one in the past few years (from Hutton to RDF to Socks), people will still look to the BBC rather than a commercial rival

As for James Murdoch’s assertion that it is crowding out competition, I have had a look at Comscore data and that tells a different picture.

Admittedly, the iPlayer only appeared for the first time in March data, and so currently there is only one month of data to compare to. But over the year so far

  • ITV.com total visits and unique users have held constant
  • 4OD total visits and unique users have risen
  • Sky Anytime unique users has fallen but total visits have risen
  • In March, the iPlayer had the most total visits, though fewer unique users than ITV.com (which is admittedly, the whole website and not just the catch-up area)

Now Comscore stats will never be completely accurate, but it paints an interesting picture and one that is at odds with James Murdoch.

And of course, Project Kangaroo will launch later this year. That will completely alter the shape of the competition. In theory, the iPlayer could back down into a secondary role and allow Kangaroo to dominate the market. But how Kangaroo will sit alongside the BBC, ITV and Channel 4 is unclear, and the lure of the ad-free iPlayer may be too great. Personally, I see Kangaroo – attempting to be the iTunes of online video – becoming the first port of call but Interesting times are certainly ahead.

sk

Online video: Today and tomorrow


Photo by http://www.flickr.com/photos/blake/

MediaGuardian reports that the BBC iPlayer is seeing significant growth while ITV.com has been left “trailing”. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing for ITV, nor the other commercial broadcasters. In this situation, a smaller piece of a bigger pie is better than a large piece of a small pie. With new and emerging technology, the major battle is for it to gain traction and acceptance among the mainstream. Fortunately for ITV et al, not only does the BBC have the muscle (and the inclination) to do this, but its unique status means that there will only be limited opportunity for advertising revenues. Once the technology embeds, this leaves it the smaller, commercial rivals to battle it out with the Joosts, babelgums and so on for the cash.

Furthermore, there is a rather large Kangaroo looming on the horizon, and it has yet to be finalised how this is to fit in with these different offerings. At the launch it was announced:

BBC iPlayer content will be listed within the new service, while Channel 4’s website will host a catch-up service which will see 4oD “evolve into the new [Kangaroo] service”.

Channel 4 are suitably vague, while there is no mention of how ITV.com, Five Download (notably absent from the launch) and any other eager player will fit in alongside this service.

Interesting, a quote from the article read:

“Right now, however, the big winner is YouTube, which accounts for over a third of online video viewing, according to comScore,” “This suggests that short-form entertainment may be more appealing to internet audiences.”

Can the iPlayer and the Kangaroo buck this trend, or will it be the clips that drive online video usage. For me, that will be decided by future broadband speeds. My online viewing is rarely planned, and so I prefer to stream low quality clips than plan a high-quality download. If only I lived in Japan.

sk