There is a joint SVoD opportunity but it will require a fresh approach

Collaboration has been one the industry’s themes of 2018 – or it has been talked about a lot, in any case.

As we hurtle towards the Brexit vote in Parliament, the confusion around a proposed TV debate suggests the brave new world of broadcaster partnership is not here quite yet.

Corralling May and Corbyn and their respective inner cordons must be a nightmare job, but the BBC and ITV hardly seem aligned in any sort of collaboration as the debate rages on (or doesn’t, as the case may be). In the meantime, Channel 4 is shouting from the sidelines that it would quite like to play too.

The fact that old habits die hard is partly why I’m reserving judgement on the future of the PSBs’ much-discussed, little understood, joint on-demand service.

“ITV has been the most dynamic and transparent of the PSBs about its ambitions in this area”

Representatives from the BBC, ITV and C4 were positive about its prospects at Freeview’s Outside the Box conference last week, but the clock is ticking.

ITV, the PSB that has been most dynamic and transparent about its ambitions in this area, has indicated that it will unveil its strategy in February. That feels scarily soon, and building some sort of strategic consensus across its peer group in just a couple of months seems like a big ask.

At least external factors seem firmly in their favour: Ofcom chief executive Sharon White all but gave the broadcasters the green light in a speech at Outside the Box, and (in the guarded language of a regulator) chided the BBC for not leading the way and delivering a bit more progress.

What is increasingly clear is that none of the parties involved really conceives the project as a ‘Netflix killer’, as it has been referred to in some quarters.

Any meaningful collaboration may end up being around catch-up rather than a subscription service and any ambitions in the SVoD space will not be anywhere near the scale of Netflix.

The latter’s content budget is more than eight times that of ITV’s traditional broadcast channels, so to expect it, or any PSB, to fund original, exclusive content for a VoD service to anything approaching the same scale would be madness.

That’s not to say there isn’t an opportunity in a paid-for service, and that ITV (or any or its peers and rivals) could not deliver or collaborate on an ad-free service with super-rich archive, some extra premium content, and a significantly enhanced catch-up window.

That feels like a decent service that could be attractively priced and promoted hard. Whether that will be as part of a major broadcaster partnership or on an individual company basis remains to be seen.

Chris Curtis

Chris Curtis is the editor-in-chief of Broadcast