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On-line programming slower to catch on in Europe

Attendees of this year's MIPCOM can listen to industry pundits' cutting-edge views on TV and Internet convergence during a three-day conference to address high-tech changes in the broadcast industry. Keynote speakers from various European and non-European networks-including the BBC, Disney Europe...
October 1, 1999

Attendees of this year’s MIPCOM can listen to industry pundits’ cutting-edge views on TV and Internet convergence during a three-day conference to address high-tech changes in the broadcast industry. Keynote speakers from various European and non-European networks-including the BBC, Disney Europe and Yahoo-will host panel discussions on branding, distribution and the impact of the Internet on television. The goal is to arm worldwide broadcasters with a strategy for developing on-line content.

However, the reality is that different countries are attacking the challenges that convergence presents at different speeds. Although the U.S. strategy might be to go hard and fast to get as much streamed programming for kids on-line as possible, most European broadcasters are taking a slower tack.

The BBC claims there are several reasons for this lack of momentum. One is that although the U.K. caster has access to a huge archive of screened material, when deals were negotiated for the stuff years ago, they covered only one medium-usually TV or radio. Obtaining copyrights for on-line expansion then becomes a tricky and laborious process.

The second problem blocking convergence-readying initiatives in the U.K. is inadequate Internet access. BBC Online publicist Simon Rahamim says many people in Britain use poor-quality phone lines, making it difficult to broadcast high-quality Internet programs. As well, most U.K. Net users are charged for local calls (and thus their Internet access) by the minute, so they are reluctant to stay on-line long enough to load, say, a 56K streaming video. However, the situation seems to be on the brink of change because BBC Worldwide (the commercial arm of the BBC), along with Scottish Telecom, recently launched a free Internet access service called freeb.net, now available to everyone in the U.K.

Rahamim is confident once technology in the U.K. catches up, true convergence won’t be far behind. ‘It’s very difficult to say [what form] because we don’t operate the technology or the gateways that can make it happen-we’re essentially the content provider. I think [convergence] is inevitable, and we’re looking at how we can use the Internet to develop content further.’

BBC Online relaunched its kids Web site this month, but at the moment there is very little planned in terms of streamed offerings. Included on that site is an Internet version of popular kids magazine show Newsround. Promotions for the digital relaunch will go the traditional route-with radio, TV and print ads.

The company has experimented with limited amounts of interactive children’s programming on the Net, including a kids game show called Sub Zero, which utilized analog broadcasting technology to patch clues from kids logged onto the BBC Online site through to TV contestants.

France’s Canal + is not involved in any streaming programming at the moment, says Jean Louis Erneux of the press department, but a year-old tube channel called Game One is currently airing in France and some Nordic countries. Co-owned by Canal + and video game publisher Infogrames, the 24-hour channel and its supporting Web site target males ages 11 to 25 with content centering on the vid game industry. Viewers of the channel can also play an on-screen arcade-ish game against the TV using the remote control as a joystick.

Head of development Anne Cohen-Scali says the company hopes to launch digital extras such as streaming video by year’s end. Cohen-Scali also hopes to eventually add streamed programming for kids, although it will largely consist of anime.

Kids channel Canal J also carries a remote-controlled game called Pikto Riza for its 1.4 million kid viewers. This game goes a step beyond its Canal + predecessor, enabling kids to compete against one another via their television set-top boxes and allowing players to e-mail each other.

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