Like that other Australian icon, the boomerang, Kangaroo has returned again. Julian Clover looks at the potential implications of the Arqiva technology purchase.
Just as you think the marsupial has breathed its last the story that won’t lie down shoot up and puts on its boxing gloves once more.
This time it is not Kangaroo itself, the BBC Worldwide-ITV-Channel 4 joint venture has long since been nixed by the Competition Commission, but the technology that lay behind it. Arqiva, which since its purchase of the National Grid Wireless business has been the principal UK transmission provider, is believed to have paid in the region of £9 million. The other interested party, France Telecom’s Orange, had already pulled out of the negotiations. Those involved in the development of the BBC iPlayer will tell you that the initial investment was not so much in the technology, but in the processes that surrounded the rights clearance.
Arqiva might even get the proposed service’s brand, not Kangaroo but See-Saw, briefly adopted by the BBC for children’s television long before the days of CBBC and CBeebies.
It is a logical move for Arqiva, why shouldn’t a transmission company get into the latest means to distribute content to the masses. At the same time it provides a new twist to the Internet Service Providers that believe the likes of the BBC should contribute towards the bandwidth they are drawing on rather than letting the consumer enjoy the service they have paid for. After all, Arqiva will no doubt meet any electricity bill it is presented with for its extensive transmitter network.
The most interesting element of the Arqiva purchase is not the technology at all, but what they decide to do with it. The establishment of a UK-based online VOD platform cannot be Kangaroo, the former partners have pledged to the Competition Commission that they will not participate in such a venture, but their content will be there and in competition with the US Hulu that is expected to launch on these shores before the end of the year.
It may sound jingoistic to suggest the Competition Commission has effectively knocked out the only British contender in favour of two organisations from overseas, Arqiva is Canadian-owned, and that after all is the way of the world. But we have got the competition that the regulatory body was seeking.
The Digital Britain report suggested that a clearing house be established for the purchase of online content through micropayments. The micropayment model has already failed for Channel 4, though inexplicably ITV has suggested that it might be interested, so Arqiva’s Sea Saw could potentially be that clearing house or be so successful as a provider of content that the idea heads into the long grass. Its resting place next to the body of a Kangaroo.