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Kangaroo Project: BBC and Rivals Unite to Build Internet Video Site

project kangarooLike much of the media industry, the U.K.’s  BBC is struggling to adapt the changing ways consumers are quenching their information thirsts.  At times, it seems like they’re trying everything, like anything goes; especially over the past few months.

In July, BBC released a second Beta test for peer to peer media player software dubbed iPlayer.  In October, the Financial Times and other publications reported  that as much as 12% of BBC staff would be layed off.  Now, November, add joint venture to the mix.

Tuesday, several UK top broadcasters including the BBC (BBC Worldwide),  ITV and Channel 4, announced they will jointly launch an on-demand Internet video joint venture in 2008. The partnership, which is codenamed “Project Kangaroo,” sounds a lot like NBC Universal and News Corps recently launched (beta) Hulu platform.

Like Hulu, the Kangaroo project is hoping to become a premier destination for “time-shifted” professional video content online.  Also like Hulu, the Kangaroo Project is courting outside content to create a portal rich with programming.  According to the announcements, Kangaroo will have at least 10k hours of new and archival video for people to watch.

The partners will share development costs equally.  They will also contribute technology expertise from independent prior efforts at Internet on-demand programming. Unlike Hulu, Kangaroo content will be tethered explicitly to the site at launch.  Portability, from embedding in blogs, or even potential downloads, is a planned feature but likely won’t arrive until later.

Information on Kangaroo’s business model is still scarce. Initial reports are that it will be a mix and match assemblage of on-demand pay-per-view content and free ad supported footage.  That one size fits all approach hints at indecision but it is partially predicated  on complex broadcasting agreements already in place.

The BBC operates as both a public service and a commercial entity through a complex corporate structure.   The public service side is paid for by annual licenses  Across the UK, each British households with a color TV pays  an annual fee of about £135 ($278).  That tax, or fee, pays for 8 national TV stations, 10 radio, web sites and other services. 

Under a pact signed in June, some broadcasters gained the right to replay programming online for seven days following a show’s original broadcast.  The catch was, these online replay rights expire and programs must be removed within 30 days.  Sometimes called the 7/30 window, these time constraints were meant to balance the public interest against the longer term rights of content owners.  In essence, viewers get an extended window to see programming they paid to have access to (Via the license fee) but owners of the programming still have unlimited longer term freedom to resell their content without issue.

Because of the 7/30 Window some of the older archival content included in Kangaroo will have to be sold on-demand (e.g. it can’t be shown for free after 30days).

Like Hulu, the ambition of the Kangaroo project is large.  Past broadcast rivals are joining hands to collectively defend against encroachment from online resellers (Amazon, iTunes) and, potentially, IPTV startups like Joost, Veoh or Babelgum

BBC CEO John Smith said, “By combining our joint resources we’re really taking control of our destiny in a market that’s moving at a fast pace.”

Project Kangaroo will be led by Leslie MacKenzie who was formerly director of channels and operations at satellite broadcaster BSkyB.


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