The only reason SeeSaw existed was because of a miscued regulatory intervention
So because of Twitter we’re talking about regulating new media again, even though I can’t think of a single time a regulator has got a big call on emerging media right. And I speak from authority – I worked in the cable TV industry.
The UK media authorities, when setting up the cable industry, created 50 tiny, uneconomic businesses in a market that wasn’t even sure it wanted pay-TV. NTL started to try to stitch them together into a sensible company, but it has taken 15 years to solve the problem the regulators created.
Two seemingly unconnected stories brought this back to mind: the news that Arqiva is shutting SeeSaw, the online video player (nma.co.uk 27 May 2011), and the announcement that Xbox is considering establishing an open video player to aggregate catch-up content from the free-to-air (FTA) broadcasters (nma 5 May 2011).
The only reason SeeSaw existed in the first place was because of another miscued regulatory intervention. It was born out of Project Kangaroo, a joint venture between the major FTAs to create a single online player for their catch-up content. The industry gasped with amazement when the Competition Commission decided that it shouldn’t be built. It was the most short-sighted regulatory decision since cable TV. The remnants of the Kangaroo project were bought by Arqiva. Then the FTAs launched YouView to, erm, aggregate their online players, but this time via a set-top box, not a PC. Which is clearly different, isn’t it?
The problem is that any TV platform worth its salt is building an online player. Merging SeeSaw into the YouView proposition would have been screamingly obvious (Arqiva is partners in both and most of SeeSaw’s content came from YouView partners). But YouView isn’t allowed an online player because of the regulatory decision made about Kangaroo. So SeeSaw goes down while YouView looks uncompetitive.
A crazy situation, but a new problem is emerging back on Xbox. It wants to create a TV player because technical problems have made it difficult to launch an FTA player on the platform. The trouble is, Sky Player already aggregates catch-up content on Xbox, from UKTV, MTV and all the other channels on Sky. However, the FTAs won’t give their content to the platforms’ own players. The broadcaster players should compete with the platform-owned players. This argument would be easier to make if Virgin would hurry up and get VPlayer onto Xbox, followed by a Freesat player. Xbox customers could then choose the aggregator for the TV platform they use. Unless, of course, they’re YouView customers — the regulator says they’re not allowed one.
So if Xbox creates its player for the FTAs, is it not just recreating SeeSaw? Or is it YouView? Or Kangaroo? Between competing egos, brands and regulatory hurdles, the market for converged TV in the UK is a bloody shambles and I’m bored of it.