Media Perspective: The latest catch-up services have some catching up to do

Like the football season kicking off in August, there's something not quite right about a new series of The X Factor starting before September.

You can see why it has, though. A 9.9 million audience on a Saturday alleviates the dog days of summer a little for ITV, which has reportedly missed audience targets in recent months.

And the overnight audience figures take no account of the incremental "catch-up" audience via the ITV Player on ITV.com. Something that is of increasing interest to both the broadcaster and its advertisers following news last week from the analyst Screen Digest that ITV.com stands to treble its 2009 ad revenue to £34 million. A paltry amount, maybe, given the savage recent decline in overall TV revenue, but the success of the BBC's iPlayer shows there is an audience for catch-up TV and ITV is making some progress with ITV.com.

Put together with news from MSN last week that its video player (showing archived programming including Peep Show, This Life and Sahara With Michael Palin) attracted 170,000 views in its first 11 days and there is growing evidence that online players supported by advertising revenue should have a future.

However, there are problems in all this. First of all, budgets at broadcasters such as ITV are tight and they seemingly can't afford to shell out for the licences (or bandwidth) to put all their programmes on the ITV Player. I found this to my cost recently when trying to watch the latest episode of Midsomer Murders, only to find it wasn't on there. Fans of the show complaining to ITV have been told that this is due to ITV failing to renew an agreement with the production company behind the show, in this case Bentley Productions, to put the content on the ITV Player.

Confusing for viewers and hardly attractive to advertisers such as Stannah Stairlifts, which might want to buy into a full online experience around the "mature" audience attracted by Midsomer. But a potentially larger issue for advertisers is the sense of confusion that is emerging in the market.

Every man and his dog seems to be launching a commercial version of the BBC's success story, yet the overall effect is one of bafflement for viewers not sure what is available where. And this is set to become more confusing following reports that ITV is close to signing a content deal with the US-based web service Hulu ahead of its UK launch. How much simpler and more effective things would have been for advertisers had Project Kangaroo received the green light.

At the moment, there seems little chance of any commercial broadcaster emulating the BBC's success with the iPlayer. Project Canvas may change things but, at the moment, this is terrible news for advertisers.

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