Is SeeSaw the future of online TV? Doubt it

Rising from the ashes of the much-hyped Project Kangaroo, SeeSaw went live to the public this week, with 17 brands backing it as the next big online TV promise. But will this latest innovation in video-on-demand signal a new era where online trumps traditional media?

On SeeSaw’s launch, its chief executive Pierre-Jean Sebert, declared it “a landmark moment for TV fans…reflecting the phenomenal growth of VOD and the changing patterns of consumer behaviour.”

It aims to be a household name for long-term videos, and is set to plug the service with a £5m marketing campaign from 26 February, including TV ads across the Channel 4 network.

Yet, its complicated structure of Pay TV and ad-funded archive programming does not strike me as helping online TV becoming the dominant force.

In particular, the fees for BBC Worldwide content to UK only consumers doesn’t strike me as a particularly appealing prospect. While sites like YouTube don’t offer long-tail content. it does host a number of recaps of the best moments from its shows – enough to catch your favourite bits anyhow.

The 3,000 hours plus of material uploaded seems to have snapped up some of the best-archived programmes out there. But, it doesn’t differ that much from MSN Video Player, a full length Video-On-Demand (VOD) Beta service, launched in the UK and even worse, it fails to compete with the established VOD players in use by the broadcasters themselves in terms of catching up with current TV.

And SeeSaw is not offering the same multiplatform download features that dominant players like iTunes have grown on the years. So, essentially the sales pitch for the site – for now anyway – is pay a cost (SeeSaw refused to give numbers), watch an episode and enjoy your favourites from the comfort of your armchair on your laptop. It’s not a great pitch.

Adding to the misery is the lack of ITV, and therefore the lack of the most sought after talent shows The X Factor and Britain’s Got Talent – which again have recaps on YouTube and other VOD sites. The door is open, the company says, but with new chief executive under pressure to invest more in new media, will he want to invest or create his own monetary opportunities.

Media agencies tell me there is some appeal to the unskippable ads that will fund the free shows, but only if a return is noticeable. This relies on the viewer wanting to pause the show so they can click into the ad and find out more. While advertising in context with the show is great, brands will want to see ROI to stick with it – and that is too difficult to predict and experiment with.

Still, Ikea, Diageo, Kraft , Cadbury, Nivea, Sainsbury’s.and Swiftcover are taking that opportunity and it will be interesting to see what they come back with. VOD will have to compete with other online ad formats as the marketplace increases.

Indeed PriceWaterhouseCoopers cheers on the ad-funded VOD models. It claims that consumers’ growing appetite for VOD could lead to broadcasters losing a further £280m from annual advertising revenues if they continue to focus their efforts on cost-cutting and fail to cash in on the boom, and urges broadcasters to act fast. The split funding between advertisers and SeeSaw could be a worthwhile opportunity for them – but as one rival site CEO pointed out to me “without exclusivity of content, they aren’t unique.”

Suranga Chandratillake of Blinkx, adds: “The beauty of online video advertising is that it harnesses both the power of storytelling, traditionally associated with TV advertising, to create a visual, emotive experience and the targeting and measurability of traditional online advertising.”

Today, Facebook have unveiled new “Sampling Engagement Ads” enabling brands to offer free samples of a product to Facebook Users. In responding to an ad, users can enter their address to request a sample and give valuable feedback. Fiat is the first to try it out.

The future of SeeSaw could be bright as it investigates links with television sets and set-top boxes. It will need innovation like this to compete with the pending launch of Project Canvas and the use of intelligent set-top box systems such as Freeview Plus, Sky Plus and Virgin Media’s soon to be unveiled links with TiVo.

While the service runs on the tagline “If you love TV”, I fear many people will end the sentiment with “don’t use SeeSaw”. At least for now. I’ll be watching with interest to see if other brands feel the same, or if its ad concept helps to make it as successful as music service Spotify.


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