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Babelgum - another new, new TV thing

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So P2P TV services really do conform to the proverbial bus cliche: you wait ages for one, then loads of cliches come along at once.

If you know Joost, then you'll know Babelgum, which unveiled its service in London today. Both are PC-based upstarts to the industry's own IPTV standard. Both are in closed beta, both offer TV over broadband, both RE free to end-users, as they're both ad-supported propositions, and both have an element of P2P.

Both, too, offer content providers DRM - and both are eyeing the same middleground of independent producers and small production houses, who even in a multi-channel world find high quality content hard to sell. Users with experience of both beta programs say they're remarkably similar.

You have to look quite closely to see the differences.

Financial support is one. While Joost is a VC operation, Babelgum is privately backed by its chairman Silvio Scaglia. Scaglia is the largest shareholder in Italy's number two telco Fastweb, and before that ran Omnitel, which became Vodafone Italy.

Babelgum also appears to offer content providers much more flexibility. And it's comparatively buzzword-light.

Refreshingly, not once in the Babelgum presentation did we hear the dreaded phrase "Long Tail" - while the Joost CEO couldn't stop referring to his server farm as "Long Tail Servers".

In fact, there's no user-generated content at all on Babelgum.

The question mark that hangs over both services is whether the advertising model supports it. Will it simply find independent programme makers a niche audience? Or will it pay them a revenue share that's meaningful?

According to Babelgum's press release, Babelgum delivers a new and sustainable internet video model [their emphasis].

Sustainable? Scaglia was a lot more frank in the Q&A at the press conference:

"Frankly the business plan is subjective," he told journalists. "You can put any numbers here. Right now, it's a leap of faith."

One other intriguing tidbit emerged. Asked about "censorship", Scaglia said that "any offensive content be removed immediately". All someone had to do was complain.

Which is peculiar. As the internet has reminded us, you can guarantee that someone, somewhere will complain about something - such as the homosexual subtext of Barney The Dinosaur. When programming is essentially on-demand, it makes little sense for the infrastructure provider to be a Nanny - it surely needs to do no more than label the channels and expect us to act like grown-ups.

We'll report back when we've spent some time with the beta. ®

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