Digital pebbles

Clarke Mulder Purdie on PR, media and other random topics

Warner Brothers and the death of the TV channel

Posted by Graham Hayday on November 20, 2007

Are we seeing the slow demise of the TV channel as we know it? It’s not a new thought, but it has returned to the front of my somewhat addled mind today on the back of this story from The Guardian:

“US studio Warner Brothers has teamed up with cable group Virgin Media and BT Vision to launch Warner TV, the first branded entertainment channel in the UK devoted to TV series programming from a single studio.

Under the deal… more than 500 episodes of Warner programmes such as The West Wing, The OC and Nip/Tuck will feature on Virgin Media and BT Vision’s on-demand services.”

It’s a fascinating announcement. Sky+ users will be familiar with this, but it’s new to me – as a relatively new Virgin Media customer, I’m finding that more and more of my viewing is becoming time-shifted. At least a couple of times a week I’ll flick through the on-demand menu in my (all too limited) spare time looking for a programme that tickles my fancy (it was the most recent episode of QI that did the tickling last night, in case you’re interested).

I stress the word programme here. I don’t care that Stephen Fry and chums were first on BBC2 last Friday night. And there may come a time when I don’t even know which channel originally broadcast my favourite show. I’ll be looking for a genre of programme, or a perhaps programme brand, but certainly not a channel brand.

And that’s something that Warner Bros would seem to be aware of. Rather than deal with someone like ITV or Channel 4, why shouldn’t a content owner go direct to its audience? They don’t need those guys any more. That’s been true online for a while, thanks for YouTube, MySpace etc. Now it has become cost-effective to launch a digital TV channel for the bigger players like Warners.

True, it has had to deal with Virgin Media and BT so this isn’t true disintermediation at work, but they have replaced one link in the distribution chain with another which is completely ‘neutral’, for want of a better word. Virgin and BT simply supply the distribution technology. Warner Bros keeps control over the presentation of its own assets. More importantly it can make money from the consumer, either in subscription revenues or ad revenues (or both), rather than taking a one-off payment for repeat rights from a broadcaster.

Channel 4 will still buy the exclusive rights to broadcast programmes such as The West Wing first of course, but Warners is using on-demand technology to take advantage of the Long Tail effect and ends up being paid over and over again for the same content.

That IPC has launched Nuts TV and now NME TV is not unrelated to this trend. I think we’ll see more and more of this sort of thing in the future as the EPG becomes ubiquitous and TV viewing becomes increasingly time-shifted.

Maybe, as a result, we’ll see the death of the channel brand.

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