This Duck Still Won’t Quack…

Back in 2009 – when BBC catch up content first arrived on Virgin cable we wrote the following:

‘There is a rule in life that if something walks like a duck and talks like a duck it must be a duck.  It is a good rule, but we have been struggling this week with a slight variation to it.  How about if someone really big and important repeatedly tells you something is a duck, and has gone to the trouble of painting the thing to look like a duck, but every time you look at it,  it still doesn’t walk or talk like a duck?

The duck in question is the TV version of iPlayer that is available on Virgin cable.  The BBC and Virgin have made a great fuss over the fact that ‘iPlayer is now available on Virgin’.  But however much we have tried, we can’t make it quack or waddle.‘   (See the blog: ‘iPlayer Looks Like a Duck’).

The issue we were describing above still exists in the original (ie non-Tivo) Virgin homes. The BBC and Virgin were telling us that iPlayer was in the STB and it clearly wasn’t.  Today, the same issue arrived on Sky.

You may have seen that the iBurbia team tweeted this morning that  catch-up content from most of the free-to-airs (but not 4OD) has finally arrived in the Sky OnDemand areas of their Sky TV set top boxes. The content is presented under the ‘player’ brands (eg iPlayer, ITV Player) sitting in a page of the Sky EPG,  but the content is quite clearly not delivered by them.  In fact, the programmes are actually saved in Sky code, on Sky servers and delivered through the Sky VPN to the Sky set top box software. The duck problem has returned.

A BBC source told us in 2009 that ‘the BBC iPlayer brand transcends technical definitions and is intended to represent all BBC on-demand content’.  We thought that this was cobblers at the time, and we still do. Here are the four reasons why:

  • The word ‘player’ has a specific technical meaning to consumers. They see ‘player’ and assume ‘web player’ and expect this content to be delivered to them by the BBC or ITV.  It isn’t.
  • For iPlayer in particular, this is an over-promise.  The iPlayer  brand increasingly implies a functionality which is not present in Sky (or the original Virgin system). As the functionality of iPlayer has increased, the brand ‘promise’ has expanded to include things like ‘favourites’ and, most importantly, ‘downloads’.  These are ‘player’ functions available on the web but not through the Sky system.
  • The graphical presentation of the ITV Player and iPlayer  logos was deliberately different from the core brand structure in use by each of those companies.  They are brands created by teams of people who were not attempting to support and enhance the broadcast function. They were set up by people (who have now left both companies) who were trying to set up rival operations – the ‘cuckoos in the nest’. The world has now changed.
  • The brand positioning will increasingly not support the new functionality that is arriving in set top boxes.  The backwards EPG (Tivo, YouView and Freetime) is a case in point.  If I can go backwards on the BBC3 line of an EPG and select a programme, to suddenly stick an iPlayer logo in front of me is weird.  Once ‘start-over’ arrives (where I can seamlessly jump to the beginning of a show from half-way through) this problem will be huge. The player logo will actually be an intrusion.

The problem is not nearly as acute for the ‘4OD’ and ‘Demand5’ brands, as they were originally designed to be part of their channel’s umbrella ‘brand family’  and the functionality they have delivered has always been limited.  For Five – which only really has one channel of note – their player has always been seen as direct adjunct to the core brand.

However, all the broadcasters have to realise that the growing presence of the player brands has diminished the clarity and distinctiveness of their channel brands. We have suggested for a while that there would  come a point where they have to choose whether to favour their channel brands over their player brands. We might be at that point now.

The problem is most acute for the BBC because of their aspirations for iPlayer. Neither ITV Player, 4OD or Demand5 has really attempted to create a rival ‘platform’ to Sky and Virgin, but you feel that is where the BBC FM&T team would like to take iPlayer.   (There is a bigger, more fundamental question about whether broadcasters should build their own players anyway – but we will leave that for another day).  It is not clear that the BBC broadcast teams want to follow the FM&T team there.

The commercial FTA broadcasters definitely cannot follow the BBC down that road, because the BBC has guaranteed revenue and they don’t.  The commercial FTAs absolutely need catch-up to be integrated with the channel proposition, and they absolutely need to drive audiences back to linear, broadcast TV because of the ad revenues. Its fine to put the ITV Player onto an iPad, but catch-up HAS to be about the channel brand on any device where the consumer normally watches linear broadcast telly.

Expect changes.

Nigel Walley – @nwalley

If you would like quick updates of any interesting changes to the TV landscape, then follow the iBurbia Tech Team on Twitter via @iBurbia

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