"There is no limit to internet TV for delivery of high quality television," said Simon Brydon, chief executive of Cycling TV, as he showcased the potential of his niche broadband channel at Broadcast Live! this year. Since launching in 2003 with a handful of viewers, the channel has gone from strength to strength, attracting high profile sponsors and securing high quality content. "A niche channel is clearly intended to serve a niche audience," says Brydon. "The reason Cycling TV was created was to distribute cycling content that was not shown in vast areas of the world. The point of using the internet to distribute it was so we could serve that audience." It surprised Brydon at the time that the traditional broadcasters weren't interested in the online rights that Cycling TV acquired. But he predicts that some point in the future its global online rights will be worth more than all the TV cycling rights put together. Its current audience spans 103 countries, with its biggest market being the US. In the last year, the channel has offered about 130 days of live international cycling, with the Tour de France being the only race the channel was not able to broadcast live.
Brydon is keen to point out that internet TV is just as much about quality content as any other platform. "This is not a medium where you can start to deliver poor content. It is quite the reverse. This is not the demise of broadcast schedule TV, it is the demise of mediocre TV," he says. "When you have choice, you'll go and get the best." He is also keen to highlight that it shouldn't be considered a 'technology-driven' business. "I could go and tell any one of you how to have a branded niche internet channel within an hour," Brydon said at Broadcast Live! "Clearly you want to look for good technology, and use good technology, but it's a content business," he added.
In terms of a commercial model, Cycling TV offers two types of live TV service. The paying subscriber has a choice of levels of streaming quality, with the highest being 1200kbs, while low-quality live streaming is offered for free. And Cycling TV has not become a success by chance. It's been "hard graft and a lots of leg work," Brydon says. The channel is fortunate that its cycling-mad audience is so dedicated, enabling it to entice new viewers in on the free service and upgrade them over time to subscriber-level.
Brydon calls internet TV "a revolution in broadcasting that won't come along again for at least another 20 years." But while he did not want to dissuade others from entering the market, he said that he's under no illusion that the major broadcasters and telecoms companies are likely to dominate the market because of their economic capability. "Opportunities for really strong global propositions like Cycling TV will probably be very limited," he added.
Ten Alps Digital is one company that has been busy snapping up those internet TV opportunities over the past few years. It has launched Teachers TV online, public information video site Public TV, the site for BBC Worldwide's first online series Visionaries, and next year, Vets TV. The Ten Alps Digital team certainly know a bit about what works online. This September will see the launch of Kent TV, a £1.4 million two-year project funded by Kent County Council (KCC), which the company says will be the first such service in Britain. Nigel Dacre, former editor of ITV news and now managing director of Ten Alps Digital, says that the reason he thinks the company was awarded the tender to produce Kent TV is because it has such a clear idea of how to produce internet television.
So why has KCC decided to launch such a service? "They're a very innovative council; they're the largest county council in the country. They do a lot of interesting things and for some time they've wanted to launch their own digital channel," Dacre says. KCC had already looked at the possibility of acquiring space on the Sky satellite platform, but as Dacre adds: "As many people are finding, it just doesn't make economic sense. It's too expensive, and it's only getting to one group of people. Plus the fact you'd be buried in the EPG (electronic programme guide) numbers. If we launched this [on Sky], I dread to think what number we'd be given. So KCC did a whole lot of research and came up with the idea of doing it on broadband," he says.
Being such a big county, Kent is not without its local publishing giants, the Kent Messenger and Kent on Sunday. Is there enough room in the Kent media space for another news platform? "We believe that Kent TV is going to be complementary to what already exists. But there is a whole load of things that the others don't do that we will be doing." Dacre also points out that the method by which people want engage with media is different, depending on the time of day. "They may read a hard copy newspaper on the train, but at lunchtime they want to look at something on the internet, and I think that's the whole story of where we're at in 2007. An organisation like KCC needs to be providing its information cross-platform."
In terms of content, a percentage of Kent TV content is going to be provided in-house, with a team currently being set up at the Maidstone Studios. The rest will come from independent producers. Citizen journalism is also going to form part of the service, with users able to upload their own video comments and news stories. "I can foresee something like a local dramatic society or a local school uploading videos. I think citizen journalism is going to be a major driver of the site," Dacre says.
Online video is clearly the new 'must have' for any organisation on the web. Dacre points out that in the same way it was imperative to have a website a few years ago, soon the same will be true of online video. "The more people do it the better," he adds. It seems that the providers of Cycling TV and Kent TV they are offering consumers something they want: quality and varied content on subjects which interest them in particular. The problem with many internet TV services is the temptation to overload the platform with content of varying quality and little relevance, with the result being that no one watches it. No advertiser is going to support that kind of business model. "Content is more than king," says Cycling TV's Simon Brydon. "It's king, queen and emperor."