Online TV still playing catch-up

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Broadcasters’ online TV services have taken a long time to mature, and only now are they beginning to realise the marketing potential that has been obvious since the very beginning.

Channel 4 has announced that its on-demand TV portal, 4oD, will include ads targeted according to demographic data when it relaunches this week (31 August). The initiative is part of a wider “engagement strategy” aimed at building up a database of users’ viewing habits that will be available to advertisers.

Users themselves will also be encouraged to sign up for accounts enabling them to set their own personalised preferences – a feature that will be known as My 4oD. Individuals can create playlists of episodes, and can receive reminder messages when a new episode is available to watch as well as recommendations from other users.

The new approach to gathering customer data ought to increase the appeal of 4oD for both advertisers and viewers. So it is all the more surprising it took five years for Channel 4 to come up with the overhaul.

The broadcaster launched 4oD in 2006, well before its BBC and ITV counterparts iPlayer and ITV Player were rolled out to the public. Since that time, online services such as these and digital set-top boxes with recording technology have revolutionised the way TV is consumed. Consumers no longer need an ’appointment to view’ TV programmes, and can make more personalised choices about what they view, and when, how and where they do it.

Given that broadcasters have themselves been the drivers of these fundamental changes, they have been incredibly slow to take advantage of the new world order they have created – particularly the ability to collect more detailed data, which their viewers are willing to share.

It is perhaps a symptom of the overall lethargy that has dogged all development of internet TV in the UK. Intellectual property rights and competition issues have disastrously hamstrung efforts to bring YouView, the online collaboration between the UK’s terrestrial broadcasters, to market.

Broadcasters’ strategic thinking has been chronically muddied as a result. When they could have been concentrating on seeing the commercial gains that could be realised from their own platforms, they have been distracted by complex projects and technology that has yet to prove its worth.

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