Commercial iPlayer faces anti-trust shakedown
BBC, ITV, C4 joint venture delayed
Project Kangaroo, the commercial on-demand web TV service being developed by BBC Worldwide, ITV and Channel 4, will be investigated by the Competition Commission amid concern that it could stifle rival online efforts.
The probe will run for up to 24 weeks, and could mean the joint venture is forced to supply competing services with content at capped prices. ITV said today the launch of the "one stop shop" for UK online TV would be delayed by the Competition Commission's evidence gathering.
The Office of Fair Trading (OFT) today referred Project Kangaroo to anti-trust scrutineers following submissions from Sky and Virgin Media. They argued that the three main terrestrial broadcasters could use their public service programme making subsidies to unfairly dominate the TV audience and advertisers on the web.
The OFT agreed that Project Kangaroo's exclusive access to publicly funded TV warrants further investigation. The Competition Commission will look at whether "the concentration of these important and competing libraries of UK TV programming may give market power to the joint venture".
In its statement, the OFT speculated that Project Kangaroo might be able abuse that power to inflate prices and restrict how consumers are able to access shows online.
ITV chairman Michael Grade criticised the OFT's decision. "While I understand that the Office of Fair Trading is carrying out its statutory obligations," he said in a statement, "there is a serious problem with a regulatory framework that seems unable to take the most important interest into account - that of British viewers".
"This venture has been delayed by a reference to the Competition Commission, at the very same time that non-UK companies like Google and Apple are free to build market-dominating positions online in the UK without so much as a regulatory murmur."
He charged that ITV, the BBC and Channel 4's broadcasting rivals were trying to piggyback on their investment in web TV while contributing virtually nothing to the UK's creative economy.
When Project Kangaroo does eventually emerge it'll be run by the BBC's departing new media chief Ashley Highfield, reportedly under the monicker "SeeSaw". Don't expect it to surface until 2009. ®
The inevitable comment...
Will it work on a Mac, unlike the current versions...
Michael Grade cares about the interest of the British TV viewer?
Sorry. I don't believe it. He's no Lew, and he never will be.
Before he starts bitching about stuff like this, perhaps he might consider why people are switching ITV off in such big numbers.
Returning to the point in question ...
... we have a serious problem where any sort of "public service" is seen as anti-competitive because someone else wants to sell you the same thing.
*Will the record companies try to shut down Creative Commons because it is unfair competition?
*We've already seen a failed attempt to claim that GNU/Linux is anti-competitive because it queers the pitch for new entrants who want to charge money for the same thing.
*Will safety equipment makers claim that public safety films are anti-competitive?
*We've already seen educational publishers complain that BBC revision guides are anti-competitive, and the BBC took them down.
Truth is: we live in an abundant economy, a culture of plenty, where people, organisations and nations can afford to give stuff away. Dumping goods into developing economies can do real harm to emerging producers: sharing information and knowledge, however, is still sharing even if someone else wants to charge you for it.