Could The BBC Really Gift iPlayer To ITV, C4? Maybe Not

Ofcom is due to publish its recommendations on the future of public service broadcasting after hearing stakeholders’ views, with the BBC likely forcing itself to make suggestions that would prop up ailing Channel 4 and ITV (LSE: ITV) – without having to sacrifice a portion of license fee income through top-slicing. One such idea is to offer its iPlayer, which this Friday celebrates its upcoming first birthday, as a technology platform to the rivals, sources whisper to iPlayer has become almost a byword for UK VOD, such is its popularity over the others, and has faced calls to “open up” – but here are four reasons why this hook-up may not come to pass and may be just noises to ward off the top-slicing advocates…

Too anti-competitive: An iPlayer comprising the three broadcasters would provide their catch-up viewers an excellent on-ramp to their Kangaroo archive shows – but for that same reason, a public service catch-up partnership between the trio may attract just the same kinds of antitrust concerns. If, however, Ofcom approves a three-headed iPlayer after the competition commission blocked Kangaroo, we’ll all bathe in irony this Christmas.

Investments already under way: Synergies between the trio’s catch-up offerings and Kangaroo are already mapped out – whilst the JV would be for commercial, archive shows, the broadcasters’ existing sites individually would remain for catch-up. ITV has already spent £20 million redesigning for that purpose and made a second upgrade to what it’s now calling ITV Player; C4 will kill off 4OD and use a redesigned, currently being developed for a Q109 launch. Despite Kangaroo’s hold-up by the competition commission, there’s nothing much about the ruling that would suggest a unification of public-service efforts could take place at this stage without significant back-peddling and re-integration with each other’s disparate efforts.

It’s not just about iPlayer: iPlayer is just the neat frontend to what has been a herculean TV digitisation and database effort at the BBC. Can ITV and C4 supply their shows over iPlayer with metadata and file formats that much up just as neatly?

No user benefit without excluding others: Uniting the trio through iPlayer may help ITV and C4 save money, and it may enhance programme discovery to a degree for users. But the product would be nothing like a fully-fledged TV guide, nor an on-ramp to the rest of VOD material put out by a growing number of operators. Where are Five, S4C, BSkyB (NYSE: BSY) in this picture, and why shouldn’t they demand inclusion, too? As far as users are concerned, such all-encompassing guides already exist in forms like 123webtv.