Does Box TV's streaming initiative make sense?

The C4 and Bauer Media joint venture is making its TV channels available to a much wider audience. By Alasdair Reid.

The decision of Box TV, the television operation run as a 50/50 joint venture between Channel 4 and Bauer Media, to launch a digital streaming service for its seven channels is more contentious than it first appears.

It means the channels – 4Music, Heat, Kiss, Kerrang!, Box, Smash Hits and Magic –are now available to PCs and mobile devices via a video music player embedded on each of the group’s channel-branded websites, and the player can also be accessed on internet-enabled Freeview boxes via the red button.

Perhaps the most surprising thing about the move is that many would have assumed that Box TV had introduced all this sort of stuff years ago. Why has it taken so long to get here?

The answer, perhaps, is that Box TV used to believe that its best interests were served by committing to the premium end of the pay-TV market – and its commercial director, Julie Wright, reminded us all of this fact when she talked last week of Box TV’s content as "editorialised music videos and music programming".

She was actually pointing out that its formats remain popular – but succeeded in reminding everyone that some of Box TV’s competitors (especially digital gorillas such as Spotify, Apple and Google/YouTube) are betting that the future of digital music is going to be non-programmatic and non-editorialised.

And, of course, Box TV is not alone in feeling the heat. Commercial radio stations are also facing up to the notion that the target audience is curating its own content these days. Box TV is motivated by fears that its core 15- to 34-year-old audience will be the first to abandon old-style television. Thus, Box TV is cutting loose from its premium subscription TV ghetto and going for the widest possible audience in the short term by shifting on to Freesat and the standard BSkyB tier. The longer game, though, is clearly online.

The gamble is that it can attract increased advertising revenues on the back of audience growth. On the other hand, though, Box TV is now veering towards a sector of the market that the likes of Google ultimately believe they will "own". Does the strategy add up?


YES Amy Kean, head of consumer innovation, Havas Media

"This is a sensible move. People want to find good content on their own terms. Box TV can also now gain feedback and interaction to make the overall service far more social and meaningful, rather than just pushing music to the masses."

NO Nick Bailey, managing partner, M2M

"Box TV should take inspiration from Vevo, which is enjoying success by focusing on distribution and producing original content backed up with great social functionality. Box TV’s plans appear to be solely focused on increasing distribution."

YES Adrian English, head of media investment, Carat

"The viewing audience for Box channels – 12- to 24-year-olds – has a voracious appetite for new viewing platforms, so I think its new mobile and tablet services will be particularly popular. This sort of service is perfect for music."

MAYBE Mark Jarvis, founding partner, the7stars

"Although this might be good for audiences, the shift from being a premium Sky channel might impact on carriage revenues in the short term and TV streaming has yet to deliver any significant revenue growth."