What if CBS, NBC and ABC launched a joint web-based broadcast portal? Highly unlikely you say? Well, in the UK pundits might also have dismissed out of hand the notion that the BBC, ITV and Channel 4 could ever agree on anything let alone jointly developing a web portal for distribution of their content. Today these three companies announced they would launch such a web site in the early part of 2008. All three have existing web content portals and both BBC and ITV intend to keep theirs going in the short term. Earlier in 2007, the BBC launched their i-player client which has not been as successful as the hype that presaged its launch would have suggested. Residents outside the UK are unable to use the i-player and it is assumed the tri-company web site will be off-limits to non-UK users.
The web activities of BBC and ITV place them significantly ahead of the network broadcasters in the US. One aspect of their business model which has made their experimentation with web distribution possible is that the UK companies generally own the content they broadcast. This is not the case in the US although in recent years the networks have built production capability.
The collaboration in the UK will be watched closely and while it may be spun as a consumer bonus - having one location to access the content from the nations' primary broadcasters - the reality could be more prosaic. The costs of building and maintaining a portal for this content could be extreme and each would ultimately be in a race to augment their content with content from other providers. Why not join forces, pool resources and reduce the market for third (fourth) party content? It makes a lot of sense especially in a market that isn't that large to begin with.
In the early 1990's Sky beat the traditional broadcasters into new distribution territory and the broadcasters had no solution. As a result, they lost out on a vast expansion of the consumer broadcast market (satellite). In developing this new collective content portal they could be setting themselves up to be meaningful players in a potentially much larger market place for distributed content.
When Newscorp launched Sky these players were warming the bench but this announcement may enable them to have a role in the future of television.