Monday, 28 February 2011

Seesaw - the value's in the technology...

So Arqiva has decided to sell off its popular but clearly unprofitable Seesaw venture. Seesaw, it seems, has struggled in a market in which much of the catch up content that users value most is offered for free on top-drawer technology platforms like the BBC's iPlayer. The latter must rank as one of the BBC's biggest successes - astronomical cost aside, it has created an incredibly rich online TV ecosystem for UK consumers. Comparing it to Hulu, the darling of US TV consumers is like comparing a Ford Model T to a Porsche 911 - Hulu is quaint and functional but hardly a cutting edge product from an experience perspective (and yes, I know, the 911 has evolved since the 60's, which is partly the point ;) ).

Where does this leave Seesaw then? It shouldn't be forgotten in all this that Seesaw rose from the considerable ashes of the ill-fated Kangaroo joint venture. It is, therefore, based on the iPlayer technology stack. Considering the technological superiority of the iPlayer/ Seesaw platform its value as a white label product for broadcasters in non-UK market is likely to far exceed its value as a standalone VOD platform in the UK.

The BBC tried a similar thing two years ago, with the equally ill-fated Project Marquee (aka Open iPlayer). By way of full disclosure, I spent an enjoyable few months working on Marquee, so perhaps I'm biased. In my view, commerically it made a huge amount of sense - the underpinning technology stack offers broadcasters a ready made SaaS VOD player that is vastly superior to the competition, particularly in UI and hence could command a good price in project fees and in ongoing support. Leveraging economies of scale to continuously develop the platform was also a massive benefit.

Unfortunately the BBC Trust disagreed and the idea faded away. For a Seesaw purchaser, the challenge will be the lack of an anchor tenant of the BBC's scale, however Seesaw is (as I understand it) closer to being capable of white label deployment than iPlayer was, so the investment required to get it over the line may be less.

To close, I was asked by a colleague to name the buyer. If I were a betting man, I'd say "Tata", because they'd then have an end-to-end offer from digital production, through workflow, distribution and playout or perhaps "Ioko", who as Arqiva's SI partner know the platform well and could use it to shift from pure SI to digital utility. Any other thoughts?

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