The other day I was watching a recording from Channel Five and spotted an advert for ‘OK TV’ which is, apparently, coming soon. Not that I expect readers of a quality blog like this to be interested in such things as celebrity chit-chat, but it did set off a chain of thought about minority programme content.
At the moment, channel space on Freeview costs an awful lot, largely because there’s limited capacity, and it’s been much more successful than many people imagined back in 2002.
If you want to buy space to broadcast, there’s something of a quandary – the only time it’s really cheap is when there aren’t many people watching, so how are you going to make a decent amount of money? One solution is the sort of late night programming we’re all familiar with when we forget to switch over from some of the tackier channels – the ‘slappers on a sofa’ type of chat, or the competitions that were popular a few years back. You don’t need to encourage too many people to call expensive phone lines to make money, if you’re broadcasting when the airwaves are cheap.
There is another way of doing things, however, one that TopUpTV seized upon a few years back. They have several hours of broadcast time in the middle of the night, and operate what’s known in the business as a ‘Push VOD’ subscription service. VOD stands for Video On Demand, and it’s more normally associated with requesting content when you want it, like BBC iPlayer for example. In Push VOD you send the content anyway, and it’s recorded on the user’s hard drive, ready for when they want to watch it. Usually, there will be a special recorder – like the ones that TopUpTV uses – which decides which of the programmes to record.
So, for example, with a TopUp box you can select which channels you want from them, and the box automatically records the content from those channels; you then access it through the library on your box.
A third way
So, what’s all this got to do with an advert for ‘OK TV’ ? The answer lies in a relatively new feature on Freeview, mostly seen so far in Freeview HD PVRs, called Trailer Booking. It’s also available on Sky, too. Essentially, during a trailer for an upcoming programme on some channels – BBC and Channel 4 at the moment you may see a green dot on screen with the message ‘Book me.’
Press the green button on the remote control and you’ll be invited to set a timer for the programme, usually after seeing a bit more info about it. It can work across channels, so the BBC can show a trailer on BBC2 for a show that’s coming up on BBC1 and you’ll be able to set a recording very easily.
And, it struck me, couldn’t this be a way for some minority content to achieve delivery to people via a sort of Push-VOD system? Instead of just that advert for ‘OK TV’ you could have an advert that says “Want even more chav-tastic celebrity gossip from CheapoChat magazine? Press the green button for our exclusive celeb videos, delivered to your TV every Thursday morning!”
CheapoChat magazine could broadcast in the middle of the night, every Wednesday, and people who’ve responded to the advert by pressing the green button would have the programme sitting on their recorder Thursday morning, ready to watch whenever they want.
And – unlike TopUpTV – there’s no need for special recorders; it would work with any box that supports trailer booking.
Of course, right now, there aren’t that many boxes out there that support trailer booking, though that will change in future. But that’s not the only awkward problem to solve.
The other one is the signalling; the code to trigger the ‘Book me’ pop-up has to be broadcast alongside the promo for the programme, and that may be a little fiddlier to arrange. It’s easy enough to book an advert for one channel on another – look at the ads for Sky on other channels, for example – but getting the appropriate signalling alongside it might prove difficult.
And that’s where Richard Desmond comes in. The former pornographer and owner of unregulated tabloid newspapers – as well as OK! magazine – also owns Channel Five. With Channel Five also comes some other broadcasting space on Freeview. So if there’s anyone who would be in a position to make use of technology like this, it’s probably Desmond’s Northern & Shell group.
Will they do it? I honestly have no idea – and I don’t think the installed base of recorders with trailer booking is big enough yet. But it would certainly work, and it would be an interesting way of delivering short programmes, or ‘video magazines’ to people.