Arqiva 'sees opportunity for VOD venture'

September 28 2009,

Arqiva chief executive Tom Bennie has claimed that it would be a "missed opportunity" if the company's forthcoming video on demand venture fails to make an impact in the market.

The transmission firm recently completed its legal acquisition of the technology developed for the ill-fated IPTV joint venture Project Kangaroo, which was blocked by the Competition Commission.

The firm indicated that its new VOD service, which is expected to be called SeeSaw, would launch in the UK this year to host a variety of free-to-air and pay TV content from broadcasters and independent providers.

Speaking to The Guardian, Bennie said that it would be a "missed opportunity" if SeeSaw does not work, but this failure would not break the company due to its healthy infrastructure sales of £800m a year.

While accepting that he may have been a "little naive", Bennie also expressed his surprise at the amount of media interest that the purchase has attracted to the company.

Consumer usage of on-demand services such as BBC iPlayer and Channel 4's 4OD is increasing rapidly, with research suggesting that VOD could account for 20% of all TV viewing by 2020.

Channel 4 and BBC Worldwide are thought to have already agreed content deals with Arqiva for its new VOD platform, with more deals to be announced imminently.

However, Arqiva faces stiff competition in the market from existing services such as BlinkBox and MSN Video Player, as well as the BBC-led joint venture Project Canvas.

Alternatively, NBC Universal, News Corporation and Disney joint venture Hulu is also thought to be preparing for an imminent UK launch as the embryonic online TV aggregator market gathers apace.

Bennie said that he can see the clear challenge from a strong Hulu offering, but is keen to pitch Arqiva's proposition as a "UK-centric" offering.

"We certainly think that having a UK-centric proposition is an important piece in the market, and actually enhances competition rather than reduces it because we want to be inclusive not exclusive. We clearly want to get US and other content on to the platform as well as UK content," he said.

"We certainly don't think we'll be the only proposition launching. I don't think half a dozen will survive in the long term, but I think there's room for two or three."

To lead the new VOD operation, the company has hired Pierre-Jean Sebert in the role of chief executive. Sebert acted as UK managing director of Eurosport from 2001 to 2005 after being instrumental in engineering the 1999 joint venture with ntl to enable the launch of British Eurosport.

Sebert is currently building a team of around 50 people to work at a base off Regent Street, London. However, Bennie said that he is well aware that Arqiva is beyond its "traditional skill-set" in orientating services directly to the consumer.