Today ITV announced that they are building a broadband portal to replace ITV.com. As far as I know, they are the only European broadcaster doing so. Why?

ITV are following on the lead of American broadcasters all of whom, for the start of the Fall TV season, have launched broadband portals offering viewers rich video experiences. ABC was the first to launch with a pilot in March and for the Fall has succeeded in selling over $2.5m per quarter worth of ads on for its broadband portal this season. NBC, Fox and CBS have their own services.

It is a necessary move for broadcasters. Their “sofa audience”, the people that watch traditional TV, is dwindling. To make matters worse, it is the most sought after segments – the teens, young adults and affluent middle-aged – that are swapping the sofa for the computer.

So, to regain these valuable eyeballs broadcasters need to develop compelling broadband sites. Key features include full screen viewing, simulcast (watch it on the PC if a family member has hijacked the TV); catch-up (if you missed this week’s episode on TV you can still catch it online); show extras (eg, scenes cut-out, interviews with key cast members) and archive both for shows and advertisements. It is not a trivial exercise. The video should be surrounded by related content (eg, other video, articles); invitation for the viewer to participate (eg, join a forum) and recommendations (eg, “you should also watch this”). More advanced broadcasters might want to offer personalization options such as letting users create (and share) their own playlist.

Building such portals requires 3 to 9 months of planning and development depending on the broadcasters technical infrastructure (I know, I am working on one such project at this time)..

There is a business case though, admittedly, it still has to be proven. Broadcasters can generate incremental revenues.

1. Selling advertisement during the playback of simulcast, catch-up, extras and archived content.

2. Selling more intricate advertisement packages (eg, take-overs) and sponsor dedicated sub-sites.

3. Extending their show’s franchises (and advertisement opportunities) by offering spin-off webisodes. NBC, for example has created The Accountants as a spin-off of the highly successful US version of The Office.

4. Inviting users to participate, to contribute their own content and, in the process, generating more traffic to the portal.

There is also the potential to sell subscriptions for specific services (eg, archives). However, the general wisdom at this time is that it’s better to maximize the number of viewers with advertisement-paid content than to impose a subscription fee and risk low take-up.

When I did a quick check of the online offering of the major broadcasters in France, Germany, Norway, Spain, Sweden and the UK all I found were traditional, text rich websites that inelegantly played video extracts on a pop-up window.

I don’t know why European broadcasters haven’t begun to develop their broadband offerings. After all, the downward TV viewing trends are common across Europe and broadband subscriptions are becoming widespread and the business case is there (to be tested).

Prediction: In the next 18 months three to four leading European broadcasters will launch broadband portals.

tags: TV broadband television

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