U.K. b'casters team on VOD

BBC, Ch. 4, ITV form Kangaroo

In a bid to take on the might of such content aggregators as iTunes and YouTube, BBC Worldwide, Channel 4 and ITV said Tuesday that they will launch a joint venture broadband VOD service early next year.

The service will be backed by more than 10,000 hours of British TV programming.

Dubbed Kangaroo, the venture will offer a mix of free and paid content, giving consumers the ability to download or stream content that they can watch for free, buy or rent. Initially available via online downloads or video streams, the aim is to bundle the service with digitally enabled TV sets.

The joint venture has appointed Lesley MacKenzie CEO. She was responsible for launching Indian DTH satellite platform Tata Sky in 2004 and was director of channels and operations at British Sky Broadcasting.

By joining forces, the U.K.'s three biggest broadcasters hope to have the scale to become the major gateway for on-demand television content in the U.K. and are expected to license content from third parties including independent producers.

The three-way partnership will share the cost of the latest technology and enable rapid technological enhancements while building on the experience of Channel 4's existing VOD portal, 4OD; ITV's ITV.com on-demand content hub; and the BBC's iPlayer, all of which will continue to exist in complementary form to the new platform.

BBC Worldwide CEO John Smith described the alliance as "historic" and said it will give British broadcasters a commanding position in the online video market here.

"For some time, we have wanted to form an alliance with other rights-holders in the U.K. and give viewers an on-demand service with real added value," he said. "The new service will contain some of the very best British content for consumers to view in one place. … By combining our joint resources, we're really taking control of our destiny in a market that's moving at a rapid pace."

ITV executive chairman Michael Grade said the service is a "key strategic move" and will be "an important shop window" for U.K. broadcast content, while Channel 4 chief executive Andy Duncan said Kangaroo will give viewers "ultimate control of what they watch and when they watch it" in a way that can be monetized by rights-holders.