Micropayments, tiny fees for current and library content, are the flavour of the moment. Julian Clover studies the options.
Suddenly the industry is getting excited about micropayments, the idea that given that the public are now hooked on VOD, they will now be prepared to small individual payments to watch their favourite shows.
The idea was openly supported at last week’s Royal Television Society event in Cambridge by Tony Cohen, chief executive of production company Freemantle, who has already found success for the concept in the German market. This week former BBC One controller Lorraine Heggessey, now the chief executive of Freemantle subsidiary Talkback Thames, suggested that the BBC charge micropayments for the use of its iPlayer.
Micropayments are nothing new. Channel 4 tried charging 99p a view when it launched its 4oD catch-up TV service in 2006 and the Digital Britain report proposed that a clearing house be set up to act as a trusted brand to act for the individual companies. But Digital Britain is in trouble, and in Cambridge Culture Minister Ben Bradshaw suggested that it may not make it into the Queen’s Speech, where the British Monarch sets out her Government’s agenda for the next session of parliament. Britain is also due a general election at some time in the next 12 months.
Channel 4 also failed to attract more than 1,000 views a day for its 99p service and subsequently moved to an advertising supported model. Had Kangaroo been given the go-ahead by the Competition Commission then 4oD would have been folded into the joint venture.
It’s possible to come up with all kinds of reasons as to why 4oD’s use of micropayments didn’t work. Some will suggest the presence of the iPlayer, and the BBC was quick to point out it has no intention of charging, why pay even 99p if you can find content just as good for nothing.
But it won’t just be the BBC that will be ‘distorting’ the market in this way. Hulu is heading across the Atlantic and Arqiva is reviving the Kangaroo concept; both will be advertising funded services, assuming that in the present economic climate it will be possible to find advertisers willing to take a punt on the new medium.
Arguably there is already a place to make micropayments, that scourge of the music industry known as The Apple Store, where the BBC and others deposit their programmes as soon as they have passed their catch-up TV sell by date. Amid content from Nickelodeon, Discovery Channel, Disney, ITV and Channel 4, I found an episode of State of Play for £1.89, Merlin for just 99p a throw and the Suite Life of Zack and Cody for £1.49.
Something tells me that we should act quickly; just don’t tell the Competition Commission.