Media Perspective: TV broadcasters finally making the right moves online

Historically, television broadcasters have not been the most proactive in embracing new-media developments.

In fact, their stance in the past towards online channels could be said to have resembled that between Italian football fans and the police. At the turn of the millennium, many were so frightened of it that they metaphorically tried to beat it out of existence.

Now, obviously, the game has moved on, and the TV industry is quite happy to talk about online and its own offering working hand in hand. Recent events have shown how impressive some of the so-called "traditional" media owners' intentions are in growing their new-media interests and revenues. OK, ITV's investment in buying Friends Reunited isn't looking like the smartest right now, but its relaunch of ITV.com and offering of streamed programming online is a move in the right direction.

ITV just has to build revenues around this - no small feat. In its recent strategy update, the executive chairman, Michael Grade, announced that it hopes to generate £150 million in online revenues by 2010.

Meanwhile, Channel 4 is making great strides in offering content across new platforms. Whatever the broadcaster's future might hold, it has been working hard to deliver its content via new media channels by establishing 4oD (which offers a free 30-day archive of programming alongside paid-for content such as films). This week, it strengthened its resources in new media with the appointment of Jon Gisby, a former Yahoo! managing director and strategy director of Freeview, as its director of new media and technology.

Gisby is a big hitter who built a strong reputation during his time with the BBC and then gained hands-on online experience at AOL. A key part of his new role (which reports directly to the chief executive, Andy Duncan) is to identify from where revenues might flow (Channel 4 will have to be a bit more imaginative than charging £1.99 for a film download when there is so much strong competition from rival video-on-demand and DVD rental services). And his hiring seems part of a pattern of good new-media operators leaving to join broadcasters. Andy Jonesco, the former UK managing director at AOL, arriving at Sky is another prominent example.

The attraction for these senior people in joining the major UK broadcasters probably lies in them holding most of the aces in terms of well produced, in demand original content. I for one like mucking around on the likes of joost.com, but there's not, as yet, much to keep you there. Appointments such as Gisby and Jonesco, especially as they are at such a senior level and sit so closely to the chief executive, are vital as the broadcasters look to capitalise on this.

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