VOD services steals march on Hulu

Blighty’s latest video-on-demand service, SeeSaw, bowed Wednesday — stealing a march on U.S. VOD operator Hulu, which has long contemplated a U.K. launch.

The ad-funded VOD entity boasts more than 3,000 hours of content from local webs, the BBC, Channel 4 and Five, as well as fare from domestic shingles. Titles include such high-profile shows as re-runs of “Doctor Who,” the British version of “The Apprentice,” seasoned soaps “Neighbours” and “Home and Away,” plus youth-skewed drama “Skins.”

SeeSaw has emerged from the debris of Project Kangaroo, a joint venture between ITV, BBC Worldwide and Channel 4 blocked by regulators on the grounds that it was anti-competitive. The technology and idea were bought last summer by U.K. telecoms and broadcasting services company Arqiva.

SeeSaw aims to add 2,000 hours of material this summer. The plan is to then introduce micro-payments for some shows, especially U.S. acquisitions. Deals with studios have yet to be signed but expect to see repeats of the likes of “Desperate Housewives” and “Lost.”

“What you see today is the tip of the iceberg,” SeeSaw’s platform controller John Keeling said. “Our thirst for great content will further enhance the appeal of SeeSaw to British audiences in the months ahead, ensuring viewers will come back again and again.”

Rivals, who potentially include Hulu which has been in talks with ITV about launching a U.K. version, will be watching to see how auds take to Seesaw. The BBC’s iPlayer is Blighty’s most successful VOD platform but ITV’s catch-up service has gained ground. Significantly, ITV has declined to license its own shows to SeeSaw because it fears the number of users accessing the ITV Player might be affected.

Analysts, however, predict that the tipping point in take up of VOD in the U.K. is likely to occur when the much-hyped Project Canvas, backed by the BBC, ITV, Channel 4, Five, BT and TalkTalk, finally bows later this year or early 2011. Canvas’ hardware will allow auds to access the web from their TV sets via a set-top box.

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