Anyone who has walked down Great Portland Street in London in the past week will have probably noticed the huge ad covering the Virgin Media offices for the new TV digital channel “Dave”.

But can the self-proclaimed ‘Home of witty banter’ really compete against the Goliath that is online video streaming for the share of viewers’ attention?

The channel showcases past episodes of Top Gear, Never Mind the Buzzcocks, Have I Got New For You and Q.I.

With this line up, it is likely Dave is targeting the 16-24 male audience, a tough audience to crack with distractions from a broad range of channels and online content.

Would the makers of this new channel been better investing their time and effort launching an online offering to reach this audience?

Stats show that the average British internet user now spends 164 minutes online each day for personal use, compared to 148 minutes spent watching TV.*

Men are still the highest internet users with an average of 172 minutes per day, compared to 156 minutes for women, with the biggest growth in the past 12 months seen among 16-24 year olds.*

A quick search on YouTube shows that just one single 9 minute clip of Top Gear has had over 1.9m views in under a year - an audience figure that Dave could only dream of achieving.

Already this year we have seen Channel 4 launch its 4OD online offering with a reported 1m viewers, and the BBC has now eventually gone live with its (somewhat slightly frustrating) iPlayer.

Once lagging behind in the online space, ITV has also done a great job in catching up with its competitors by integrating video into its website, allowing users to watch the majority of their content streamed in near-TV quality.

Personally, I have been very impressed with ITV’s development, watching a number of its programmes over recent weeks in full screen on my laptop.

And online streaming doesn’t mean loss of revenue, as a series of video advertising methods are currently being tested to make the channel more commercially viable.

ITV is currently using 30-second pre-roll TV style advertising, probably so it can sell it bundled with traditional TV packages, and YouTube is currently testing 15-second overlay animations allowing the video to begin instantly.

In addition to just video streaming, Dave could tap into UGC – building up a loyal and engaged audience who are likely to revisit the channel on a regular basis, rather than just hoping to catch the channel hopper on digital TV. 

Current TV, launched in the US in 2005 and the UK earlier this year, is also breaking new ground by allowing the viewer to influence the content and share viewpoints, as well as even creating their own content that can be broadcast on TV.

While I am sure Dave will have some success, I wonder whether this will be somewhat limited compared to what could be achieved online.

Matthew Finch

*[National Office of Statistics Time Use Survey/TNS Onlinebus Research Feb 2006]