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ITV gets serious about online content

By Matt Whipp

Posted on 4 Jan 2007 at 11:53

ITV is putting a fire under its online strategy, announcing it is to launch a major overhaul of its online presence this year along with a recruitment drive to staff up the division.

The new ITV online will feature a media player through which viewers gain access to simulcasts, previews and catch-ups of broadcast content within a 30-day window. Aside from major sporting events and other premium content, this programming will be free.

The portal will also make available some 1,000 hours of exclusive archive content, which will grow 'as we invest in our digitisation process', we were told.

The portal will also introduce interactive services and community elements.

Steve Weller, Head of Communications Services at independent price comparison and switching service uSwitch.com described the announcement as 'fantastic news for consumers, enabling them to download programmes from all four ITV channels completely free of charge, unlike Channel 4's new online TV service.'

ITV has hired Annelies van den Belt as Managing Director of its broadband team, erstwhile Director of New Media at Telegraph Media Group, and prior to that responsible for launching Times Online.

Jeff Henry, Director of ITV Consumer, said: 'Plans for our broadband portal are ambitious and well advanced. Bringing on board an industry leader like Annelies is a hugely significant step.'

Annelies van den Belt said: 'ITV's strength as a brand and as a content owner is unparalleled in the commercial space. I and the team have an incredibly exciting opportunity to create a world-class broadband presence that will grow ITV's popularity with a new generation.'

Even so, ITV is hardly trailblazing the new media field. The BBC has already put its iPlayer through extensive trials over the past few years, while Channel 4 has already launched its video-on-demand services.

Sky's online ambitions are not trivial either, having launched as a broadband ISP itself, while BT's BT Vision is its first step to offering program content. Tiscali too announced plans yesterday to grab half a million viewers over the next two years for its IPTV services, which seem likely to include premium sports events via a deal with Ireland's pay-TV firm Setanta.

Weller said he expected consumers to stick to TVs for some time before any real convergence emerges and warned that video streaming will place a strain on networks.

'The impact of these new services is going to place a strain on broadband companies as they try to deliver the speed and capacity to give customers access to all of these programmes. The current speeds and download limits will need to be significantly increased to enable these new services to be enjoyed by the mass market, currently satisfied with a 2Mb broadband service and a 2Gb download limit.'

Being the access provider may prove the key to success with broadcast services over the Internet. ISPs will be in the unique position to implement quality of service controls to ensure that the content they provide has an adequate bandwidth reserved for it, while third-party content will have to make use of whatever remains.

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