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Video-on-demand to deliver BBC soap

Dec 17, 2001  •  Post A Comment

BBC America plans to offer an interesting proposition to its viewers next year-the chance to see next week’s “EastEnders” episode this week.
The network’s first attempt at a video-on-demand offering will initially focus on the channel’s popular “EastEnders” soap opera and allow audiences to see the next episode in advance.
At the end of an episode, viewers will see a message asking if they wish to watch next week’s episode. The U.S. channel runs the series two weeks behind the United Kingdom. While “EastEnders” is not BBC America’s most popular show, it was best suited for such an on-demand offering because of its cliffhanger appeal, said Paul Lee, chief operating officer for BBC America.
“Without a doubt, it has the most passionate and loyal audience,” he said. Those who are addicted to it would love to see next week’s episode.” The show has 16 million to 18 million viewers on average per episode in the United Kingdom. It is not rated in the United States.
BBC America’s VOD offering is part of a growing trend in the VOD business to broaden the category beyond movies. The network hopes to grow the product to include other shows and specials in a similar vein to HBO’s VOD offering.
“This is an example of how VOD is moving from the adult industry to successful movies to mainstream cable brands,” Mr. Lee said.
The network is currently developing deals with multichannel providers in the United States and expects to roll out the service commercially in the first quarter of 2002, though next year will be considered a “year of learning,” Mr. Lee said. He expects to fine-tune the pricing models and content offerings throughout next year. By the second or third quarter, the network expects to have added content beyond “EastEnders.” Eventually the lineup will include dramas, comedies such as “Absolutely Fabulous,” original movies, kids shows and educational pieces.
The technology models will vary from system to system, but most likely cable operators will allocate a digital channel for the service or piggyback onto bandwidth used for a VOD suite of content.
Satellite providers can offer the service by using prescheduled pay-per-view events and personal video recorder loading to simulate the VOD experience.
Mr. Lee believes this kind of viewer choice will drive revenue in the future. “The [subscription] VOD offering is potentially over [the next] 10 to 15 years as [valuable], if not more valuable, a business as the linear cable channel. The BBC has a whole load of established, successful content that U.S. audiences have a relationship with. We believe they will want to have more control over that over the next five years,” he said.
According to a study conducted by Syosset, N.Y.-based Beta Research this year, BBC America ranked third of 39 emerging networks in average perceived value by customers.
In order to be accessible to as many systems as possible, BBC America is working with four middleware providers, Open TV, Canal Plus, Liberate and WorldGate.
While the look and feel of the channel is dictated by the BBC, the technology partners ensure the content can be delivered to and understood by the set-top box and integrated with the servers, said Arthur Orduna, VP, marketing for Canal Plus Technologies in Cupertino, Calif. “Our job as a partner is to make sure BBC America can be ported and can sit on top of any one of the VOD servers,” he said.
The service is like a mini-channel, since it will only need about 21/2 hours of storage each week at the onset to offer “EastEnders,” said Michael Collette, senior VP of marketing and business development at Open TV, in Mountain View, Calif.
“It’s something we anticipated, but BBC America is the first one to deliver this sort of microchannel,” he said.
BBC America’s strategy is part of a sensible trend to broaden VOD, said Murray Arenson, VOD analyst with Morgan Keegan in Dallas. “I think what they’re doing is in line with what we’re seeing-people are discovering VOD is about a lot more than movies,” he said.