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Presence and strategies of European public service medias on digital services.
July 2008.
Executive summary
European public service media and digital services:
Present activity and development strategies
A survey managed by the Direction du Développement des Médias
July 2008
1. Public service media: leaders in the implementation of digital television and
non-linear audiovisual services
a. Linear TV channels
In all of the countries of the European Union, public service media broadcast all or part of
their TV channels on practically all of the available digital networks : digital terrestrial, cable,
satellite and ADSL.
Public service media have been particularly active in the launching of Digital Terrestrial
Television (DTT), for example by setting up new general interest or specialised channels.
They have increased the amount of free DTT channels made available to the public,
enhanced DTT’s attractiveness and thus have given the consumers an incentive to purchase
the appropriate set top box.
Concerning personal mobile TV in broadcast mode, public TV channels will participate in
most countries which already provide such services or plan to do so: Italy, Switzerland,
Austria, Netherlands, France, Germany, and Ireland. It is to be expected that public TV
should end up offering at least one mobile TV service in each European country.
Non-linear services
Nearly all public service media analyzed in the survey have developed non-linear audiovisual
services. Indeed, among the 25 TV companies studied, 21 offer free catch-up TV, 18 offer
podcast TV services and 4 offer functioning on-demand video (VoD) platforms.
Presence and strategies of European public service medias on digital services.
July 2008.
Executive summary
The predominant business model is free access, pay-VoD services being quite rare. It is to
be noted that advertising tends to appear on some free catch-up TV services. Catch-up TV
services including contents and/or distribution offered against payment are very rare.
2. Public service media make full use of the internet
As the Internet’s significance as an information and entertainment source grows, and as it
attracts a growing number of web-users, public service media have begun to measure up to
this phenomenon and are trying to take up the new challenges it entails.
They see the necessity to develop their own sites and to provide new interactive services.
This is now a vital component of their media strategy, despite varying levels of development
from one company to another, in correlation to the development of the Internet in the country
(high-speed internet most importantly).
Non linear services are at the heart of this strategy. Whether dealing with catch-up TV
platforms or video services integrated in their web sites, public service media are trying to
adapt to changes in the way audiovisual products are used.
Public service audiovisual groups are building up their multimedia footprint on the Web,
notably through the implementation of a portal hosting a number of « programme brands »,
intended to promote their digital brand in a highly competitive environment. This is a
necessity if these companies are to be able to accomplish their public service mission and
link with people connecting to the web via computer or mobile device.
3. Catch-up TV services: extending on-the-air services
In order to improve their visibility and audience on the web, public service media began by
capitalizing on their TV and radio programmes, extending their lifetime beyond a single
airing. Catch-up TV services have thus developed, beginning with the broadcasters’ in-house
productions (in particular, news programmes) and bringing other productions in later, such as
TV series or documentaries.
However, due to the costs of acquiring rights from rights holders, the content proposed on
catch-up TV varies greatly from one public audiovisual company to the other. As the use of
online services develops, the incidence of rights held on programmes included in the public
media’s catch-up TV services becomes more and more important.. Public audiovisual
Presence and strategies of European public service medias on digital services.
July 2008.
Executive summary
companies consider that these services are an extension of their linear services, and nearly
all of them have chosen a free-access model. The funding of their non linear services mainly
relies on public funds, advertising being insignificant, nonexistent, or even prohibited.
As more and more content is viewed by streaming or after downloading, a new question
arises: how to fund the purchase of additional bandwidth capacity from telecommunication
4. Online buzz strategy
As the number of fixed or mobile reception devices grows, some public service media have
chosen to distribute their catch-up TV services on multiple platforms, thus favouring visibility
and good exposure of their programmes over capturing the audience on their own site. This
viral strategy (or online buzz strategy) is in line with the “web 2.0” approach, according to
which the more “programmes brands” are available and used, the more the company’s and
channels’ global brand attractiveness improves. In other words, audiences captured on other
distribution networks may become on-air TV viewers and/or regular visitors on the web
portal. Broadcasting agreements between some public service media and video-sharing
platforms such as YouTube contribute to this strategy.
5. Implementing new in-house organizations
This cross-media strategy can be implemented by putting in place new organizational
structures by the public service media. These new structures are built around content and
are no longer based on the broadcasting media. In this way, some of these public media
have reorganized into “global media”.
6. VoD platforms and public service mission
VoD services such as catch-up TV are provided upon individual request. These services are
available on different devices: television sets, computers, mobile reception devices such as
mobile phones. Whereas catch-up TV services allow viewing of on-demand programmes
already broadcast in linear mode, VoD platforms mainly provide contents from the repertoire
or from events such as sports or music. VoD is very seldom taken into account in the public
service media’s digital strategies, which favour free services. Public audiovisual groups
mainly consider that, at this stage, delinearization of their programmes is primarily an
Presence and strategies of European public service medias on digital services.
July 2008.
Executive summary
extension of their on-the-air policy, and that making pay VoD investment a priority is not their
primary purpose.
7. Audiovisual archives, a strategic issue
The development of on-demand services for audiovisual archives is in progress within most
public audiovisual companies. Providing this service raises the question of funding for
digitalization and indexation of archives, but it seems to be one of the priorities for most of
the companies analyzed in this survey. Some companies have made significant progress in
this field.
The way public service media handle audiovisual archives in the digital environment sets
certain companies apart from others. A sustainable business model, consistent with public
service objectives, is still to be achieved.
8. Radio stations: Online and mobile contents, an abundant supply
Launched more than four years ago, radio podcasts from public service media have spread
to their web sites. Less bandwidth-consuming than video, and less dependent on rights’
acquisition, these services have expanded with the development of the first generation of
MP3 players, in particular the iPod. For the same reasons, most radio stations simulcast their
programmes on the internet and integrate associated data, for example by describing the
titles they broadcast.
9. The mobile: tomorrow’s web terminal
Alongside the development of mobile high-speed internet, public service media are
developing specific contents for mobile devices, from SMS alerts to the production of specific
audiovisual contents, or reformatting existing contents.
These services – still emerging due to the high cost of mobile high-speed internet access,
should develop rapidly as “unlimited internet access” packages spread.
There are significant differences between the various public service media, in terms of
mobile services’ level of development. This is due mainly to the penetration rate of 3G and
3G+ mobile phones and to the cost of access to mobile audiovisual services.
Presence and strategies of European public service medias on digital services.
July 2008.
Executive summary
European public service media development on new digital media: striking the
right balance
Public-service media are defining their digital development’s strategies in a constantly
changing environment; this is true for the internet and will soon be the case for mobile
The web user base keeps growing as networks develop and as the costs of access to
these services diminish (in particular owing to
triple play
High-speed internet is spreading, its penetration rate in European households
constantly growing, which favours individual use of video;
The global supply of video and sound available on the internet and on mobile devices
keeps expanding, buoyed by the appearance of new sources of production such as
print press players, internet “pure players” or user-generated contents;
In this profuse supply, one mostly looks for professional and quality contents; this could
be a useful lever for public service media;
The broadcasting modes and formats are less and less compartmentalized and are
losing their specificity: HD broadcasting by different networks, 3D television,
partnerships with user-generated contents (UGC) video-sharing platforms (user-
generated videos), catch-up TV services provided both on TV sets and computers, etc.
Video search engines are improving, meaning that the “programme brand” notoriety will
become a decisive competitive asset;
To make up for lower ratings, historical general interest TV channels should emphasise
live broadcasts, dramatic and event-oriented programmes, as well as set up a
production and content-acquisition strategy for “cross-media” contents.
In this environment, the public service media are convinced that it is necessary to invest in
digital media. To this end, they have a strong asset in hand: their brand’s notoriety and
popularity. However, they have to make critical choices. They will need to choose between
preserving rights or widening distribution, between free access for all or increase of funding
needs – with, in the background, the issue of commercial profits –, and between service to
the widest audience or a niche strategy.
Beyond this uncertain context, public service media guarantee, at a fundamental level, the
richness and the diversity of audiovisual production, the handling of themes such as culture
or education, and media pluralism. It is vital that they be present on the new digital media.
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