Marsupial murder 

4 February 2009 tbs.pm/1017

Project Kangaroo: 50 jobs to go as broadcasters rule out appeal

Project Kangaroo blocked by Competition Commission

So it seems that the ‘olive branch’ created by Project Kangaroo, namely a removal of the joint rights selling operation from the project, wasn’t good enough to satisfy the Competition Commission as to the merits of having a ‘one-stop’ shop for the vast majority of UK-originated television content.

It superficially appeared (to me, anyway) that Competition Commission chairman Peter Freeman was fundamentally against the whole project from day one, with the token removal of the selling operation not being anywhere near enough to address any of their basic objection(s) to the service proposal, and no trial period being granted for the project.

Therefore from my perspective it wasn’t a surprise that Kangaroo ended up on the chopping block, and it now looks extremely unlikely that the project will be resurrected in any form unless someone somewhere makes a major concession. Plus the decision also makes supporting Channel 4 via BBC Worldwide a bit more difficult as well.

The main issue seems to hinge around the availability and distribution of UK-originated programming via the internet, and there’s also a clash between independent producers and the broadcasters that also threatened to derail the proceedings, with the former being fearful of so much power still being wielded by the established broadcasters.

This alone may have been a powerful persuader for the Competition Commission, but any independent producers’ cause for celebration will be short-lived if opportunities for programme distribution outside of the established broadcasting networks remain negligible.

Plus there’s still the threat of a revised terms of trade to deal with for the indies, meaning that independent producers may end up having to concede some ground in order to preserve public service broadcasting on a new “enlarged Channel 4”. This future possibility might also have been a consideration in keeping Kangaroo at bay.

It will be a very long time before anything emerges to take the place of Project Kangaroo from any other source, since not only will they need lots of money to set the service up but they also need to obtain the content to do this; in the meantime it looks like our American friends will be in a position to dominate this area of programme delivery.

So much for the promise of “Digital Britain” then, but this is what you get when one set of ministers’ interests clash with the objectives of others; namely, not a lot ends up happening as a byproduct.

And of course if the “Digital Britain” objective of clamping down on the redistribution of video files takes place, there may not be a free legal alternative available for UK television programmes when this happens – the situation with programming is different again from what it was with file sharing and music sales.

In the meantime, the broadcasters will themselves have nothing substantial to wean people off TV programme file-sharing, which will make it much harder eventually to encourage people to use a legal free alternative; as with the sharing of music, the window of opportunity will be narrow although some might argue that this has already closed.

The iPlayer brand will no doubt flourish unchecked and will continue to be most associated with the BBC despite offers to share the brand and technology with other broadcasters (which they may now be more receptive to adopting given the failure of Kangaroo).

Plus the others, as they say, will have to play catch-up.