What's the best way for indies to make money in the VoD environment?
Now that the matter of rights windows is largely settled, it's time for independent production companies to consider how best to make money out of their programming in the VoD environment.

No wonder the negotiations between producers and Channel 4 over programming rights on new platforms were so tortuous. Although the deal with producers' alliance Pact was finalised less than a month ago, last week Broadcastrevealed that RDF Media is already bullishly planning its own video-on-demand service. The challenge to C4's role as distributor of C4-commissioned programmes to viewers is clear.

At least C4 has a 30-day window in which to exclusively offer programming that's been on its channels to viewers on demand. After that, it's open season. Producers can either continue their arrangements with C4 or begin negotiations with other VoD platforms. Although pay-per-view and subscription rights are subject to a five-month holdback on other platforms, RDF could launch a download-to-own VoD service which is not subject to restrictions. The question is, what's the best strategy for producers such as RDF to make money out of on-demand?

One option is to go it alone and launch your own stand-alone service. The alternatives are going with a broadcaster's VoD platform or a third party service such as the soon-to-launch BT Vision.

RDF has yet to decide - or at least is yet to confirm - which route it plans to go down, although Endemol, the biggest entertainment producer in the UK, seems in little doubt.

Its director of interactive media, Peter Cowley, is sceptical about the number of producers who will want to get into customer-facing relationships with viewers. 'Most independents see themselves as business to business operators,' he says.

Despite the power of Endemol programme brands such as Big Brother, Cowley insists: 'We're not a business-to-consumer player. It's very hard for a producer to have the marketing skills to do that.' And it's notable that the massive marketing support for Big Brotheris largely done through C4.

Endemol UK has already announced its partnership with BT Vision, which intends to launch a VoD offering this year. Cowley suspects RDF's VoD ambitions will come down to selling on-demand rights to its programming to other distributors besides C4, after the 30-day exclusive period has elapsed.

Despite the emergence of new entrants such as BT Vision and Google, and potential launches from traditional TV distributors who have diversified into digital distribution. C4 new business director Rod Henwood has no doubts about the strength of C4's position. 'We want to aggregate as much content as possible under our banner because we think it gives [programming] the best chance of finding its natural audience and gets full commercial value,' he insists.