Kate Bulkley, Media Analyst.

Right time for iPlayer relaunch

By Kate Bulkley

Broadcast News

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For Broadcast September 10, 2015

The world has changed since Project Kangaroo, says Kate Bulkley

BBC boss Tony Hall once ran the Royal Opera House, so after watching plenty of Puccini, Wagner and the rest, he is obviously well used to high drama and spectacular reversals of fortune.

It is perfectly in character, then, for Lord Hall’s latest announcement on the future of the BBC to return to an old idea and dress it up in a new costume as something spectacular.

His plans to relaunch iPlayer so that it works more closely with PSB rivals and others sounds pretty much like Project Kangaroo, the flawed plan from 2009 that also aimed to bring together the VoD services of the Beeb, ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5.

This recasting of Project Kangaroo is not just about opening up iPlayer (which is a fine idea), it is also Tony’s attempt to gather together the best of British culture on one platform. A greatest hits of UK music, science, theatre, comedy and just about anything else, if you will.

Several other cultural organisations could share top billing on this new platform, including the Science Museum, the Royal Shakespeare Company, art galleries and, of course, the Royal Opera House.

“Excellence without arrogance” is what Tony wants to achieve with this latest plan to turn the BBC charter review into a no-brainer in terms of persuading everyone – from the licence fee payer to George Osborne – that Auntie Beeb is kind, caring, central to our lives and aware of how the internet is changing things.

It would be easy to re-read Lord Hall’s speech and imagine Hugh Bonneville’s character from the comedy series W1A (pictured) delivering it during one of his big-sky sessions (hopefully to a room full of eager BBC yes men and women while sitting on a multi-coloured bean bag).

But that would be unnecessarily cynical because most good ideas are about timing and a new Project Kangaroo might just be coming at the perfect moment, particularly alongside what Lord Hall calls “an ideas service” platform to aggregate lots of other eclectic content.

At least one senior commercial TV executive I spoke to recently was excited by what Lord Hall had to say.

Six years ago, the Competition Commission turned down the Kangaroo plan because it said the platform was anti-competitive and would skew the development of the fledgling VoD market.

But back in 2009, the threats from the likes of Netflix and Amazon Prime were less powerful, the BBC iPlayer was still in its formative years and the term ‘binge viewing’ had yet to reach the mainstream television viewer.

Yes, the politics between all the UK’s PSB channels might get in the way of a new version, but the world has changed and there is more incentive for the PSBs to iron out the creases.

While I imagine Sky would be opposed to any recast Project Kangaroo, on-demand is how the millennials are watching their TV and you need only look at figures and viewing from iPlayer to All 4 to see that Lord Hall has been doing his homework.

So, congratulations to him for attempting to reinvent the TV wheel just weeks after Jeremy Clarkson and buddies signed up with Amazon. I just want to know if someone is going to write an opera about all this.

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