Broadcasters: if you want to challenge Netflix, then the answer is staring you in the face
I seem to have more and more reasons not to appreciate the BBC. Its over-reliance on well-tried entertainment formats, and not having the courage to end them before they are run into the ground. Its supine news coverage, with journalists around the world broadcasting nothing of any depth or with any gravitas. A complete disorganised mess of a brand strategy. The most self-congratulatory, self-referential bullshit corporate culture from any organization, ever. And, its normalization of far-right politics.
But, sometimes a nugget comes shining out of this mess.
In the early 2000s, the BBC's website was fast becoming the UK's best. Covering a huge range of topics – sometimes programme-based, sometimes not – it was backed by some really sound design principles and smart thinking. It seemed that, at the time, the BBC was solely staffed by white, middle-class young men named Ben, Tom, Dan, or Matt.
These men and their colleagues understood that improved Internet connectivity at home and at work would change how we watched the Corporation's television programming. Whether it was to watch something again, for the first time, or to move between screens, the BBC's iPlayer product allowed it to publish content, old and new, out to the Internet for all to consume.
Such was iPlayer's success that it became a recognised term without the BBC prefix. One would hear the phrase "I'll watch it on iPlayer". Eventually, the BBC grew the service along with its audience's scale and demands, and created online-only shows, as well as haphazardly trying to create a TV-channel-like environment around them called BBC Three (which really needs to die as a concept, frankly).
This dominance of mindshare regarding video on demand has only recently been broken by Netflix, which has become dominant in terms of VOD programming around the world. Its original programming is largely sourced from the US as is its main subscription VOD competitor, Amazon Prime, which claims more customers but the figures are not broken down into how many use Prime mainly for improved e-commerce rather than video.
And here's my point. Can you remember the brand names used by other broadcasters for their video service? Possibly, but many of them have been less certain of their products as the BBC. There's All4, My5, the ITV Hub, and Sky Go. All were launched with other names (even now, Channel 4's original VOD product name of 4OD seems to stick much more effectively).
You may not recall or even know the name of the S4C service (Cyw), but that's because under a cross-fertilisation deal, S4C programmes appear on the BBC's iPlayer service.
To build on their audiences in the age of heavyweight global VOD brands, other broadcasters need to do the same. People talk about Netflix. They don't talk about the ITV Hub (for example) in the same way, even if the quality of the programming is equivalent.
It seems that British broadcasters have been talking about a combined service for some time. They were last talking about it a decade ago as Project Kangaroo, but that was killed by the Competition Commission. This time around, the Commission should not kill it, because the threat to British – and, for that matter, European – broadcasting is significantly more intense.
There is simply no point in building a brand new service, which will cost money and time to develop and then to market. It's too late for that.
iPlayer's brand and recognition within the viewing public mean that it's the only game in town.
The BBC should create a separate unit, part of its commercial arm BBC Studios, and put iPlayer into it. ITV, Channels 4 and 5, the local channels, UKTV, and Sky, then need to get around the table with the BBC and sort out how they get onto iPlayer. The simplest mechanism would be for the broadcasters to pay a fee which then goes into iPlayer management and development. There might already be such a mechanism with S4C which can be adapted.
iPlayer would then move to a separate domain and be neutrally branded.
Crazy? Not really. This is already in place with other broadcasters. Radio Player has been a brilliant development for the BBC and commercial radio stations, all of whom share one single service. One UI. One app. One place for all radio content. It can work for TV.
After all, think of the alternatives. Having to shut down BBC iPlayer to watch something else on All4, or My5. This is clearly a first world problem, but the friction exists. The simple fact is that if you're not the BBC or a multinational broadcaster, then no-one gives a shit about your VOD brand.
Move on. Get talking to the BBC, develop a world-class single place for British television content, and sacrifice old rivalries for a meaningful, integrated experience for the viewer.
Paul Squires is the Publisher of Imperica.