Video catch-up service Hulu
Video catch-up service Hulu

Online media owners are gearing up to become viewers’ top destinations as TV online grows.

In an attempt to keep ahead of the competition, both AOL and The Guardian have announced the rollout of electronic programme guides (EPGs), both developed by TV Genius, which direct visitors to the catch-up services of the BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and Sky.

The moves followed YouTube’s deal with Channel 4 to host the broadcaster’s content ( 15 October 2009) as portals and publishers make early forays to position themselves as consumers’ favourite online destinations to access TV content.

Research firm Screen Digest predicted online TV viewing figures will reach 410m hours this year, with over 750m hours of TV content viewed online by 2013.

Media owners are looking to replicate the success enjoyed by flagship video catch-up service Hulu in the US and are keen to steal a march on rivals including Arqiva, and the UK broadcasters’ own online efforts.

Rohit Agarwal, head of programming at AOL Europe, said the portal was widening its reach following the launch of its one-stop shop for online TV content.

“We believe we’re well positioned to aggregate video on the web. We expect to become a very important player,” said Agarwal. “Portals want to play a key role and we’re excited about our ability to understand consumers and what they need. TV is a competitive space but we’re excited to be a part of it.”

MSN also expects to extend its ongoing trial, in which the portal has hosted BBC Worldwide and All3Media shows such as Mock The Week and Shameless since August.

Peter Bale, executive producer for MSN, said portals had an important role to play in complementing broadcasters’ online distribution.

“We can create another window to serve content which supplements their own offerings,” he said. “We have some advantages, including a strong salesforce and almost 50% online audience share. So there’s an opportunity to create a commercially viable audience around video.”

Bale added the trial had covered its licensing costs via ad sales and reached more than 350,000 unique users and 1.7m streams in September, according to ComScore.

MSN now intends to increase the 350 hours of content and improve the viewing experience by introducing Silverlight video technology.

The push from portals came as publishers also explore the area.

The Guardian has soft-launched an enhanced EPG which lets visitors link to broadcasters’ sites to catch up with shows. Mail Online is preparing to launch a similar service this year.

The publishers join a number of niche players that are also looking to break into the space.

Popular TV listings service has a partnership with TVCatchup that allows visitors to watch live TV streams from the main broadcasters without leaving the site.

Andrew Hawken, online editorial director for BSkyB, said there were distinct advantages to being both a broadcaster and a portal.

“We want to be the complete destination for TV in the UK,” he said. “We have a brand that stands for entertainment and great content and we’ll try to capitalise on that.”

Matt West, head of content and strategic partners at Yahoo Europe, agreed an opportunity exists for portals to act as TV distributors but warned quality must be maintained.

“The comprehensiveness of the catalogue offered by a third party would need to be taken into account, as well as how to integrate it into our existing TV media channel,” he said.

Broadcasters welcomed the extra traffic from third-party sites.

Errol Baran, head of digital media advertising for Channel 4, said it was vital to offer content wherever viewers demand it. “It’s important to reach out to audiences wherever they consume content,” he said. “Portals have huge audiences and good propositions so there’s a chance for us to reach them with Channel 4’s quality programmes.”

Richard Parboo, head of online sales at ITV, said wider distribution would help online TV to be adopted by new audiences that broadcasters might fail to reach.

“It pushes our content out further across the web and means more impressions for us,” he said. “It’s also good for portals because it cements their position as one-stop shops.”

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