Fremantle objects to BBC, Channel 4 deal
Firm favors micro-payments for on-demand, web contentLONDON -- FremantleMedia CEO Tony Cohen hit out at government plans to allow Channel 4 and BBC Worldwide to work together to become a major rights distribution body Thursday, arguing that BBC Worldwide should give up its first-look agreement to distribute BBC programming if it became part of a combined rights-owning operation.
Speaking at a media policy conference in London, Cohen also said that Fremantle -- which produces and distributes such franchises as "Idols" -- was in favor of micro-payments for on-demand and online programming.
Cohen said that plans for a link-up between Channel 4 and BBC Worldwide -- backed by the government's Digital Britain white paper published last month -- would fundamentally change Channel 4's remit and represent "a serious threat to the basis for one of Britain's great export successes -- the U.K. production sector."
As to enhancing the BBC's ability to operate in the commercial world, Cohen told executives at the Westminster Media Forum that "program rights are already efficiently exploited by a ferociously competitive private distribution sector."
Cohen reiterated FremantleMedia's position of support for micro-payments and welcomed the government's support for exploring a low-cost pay-per-view model for on-demand videos online as a means of creating a sustainable business model.
"Micro-payments have often been attacked as an online business model because of the familiarity of Internet users with free content," said Cohen, adding that FremantleMedia's own research suggested viewers had " willingness to pay" small amounts from between five pence (eight cents) per show to as much as £2 ($3.3).
But he stressed that the system had to be "pain-free" and easy to use.
Overall Cohen said the Digital Britain report was confusing and unlikely to translate into policy in the near-term.
"Unfortunately, the [Digital Britain] report proposes such a blizzard of conditions, hurdles, trigger points and timetable uncertainties before 'intermediate sanctions' can be used, that it is unlikely to be an effective policy for several years, if ever," he argued.