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What to watch? Why too many platforms are spoling the TV broth.

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On 11 December 2008, Project Canvas was announced. A joint venture between the BBC, BT and ITV, it replaced the failed Project Kangaroo, a proposed video-on-demand service which was refused a licence on competition grounds and ended up as the SeeSaw site. Project Canvas was designed to be different from Kangaroo, in as much as it was a device that would connect to the internet rather than delivering a video-on-demand outlet, acting as a single content portal, much like the music video equivalent VEVO. Then there was Roku and NOWTV. Oh, and Freesat and ...

Hang on, hang on. It doesn't take a genius to spot a problem here.

When I was a nipper we had three TV channels BBC1, BBC2 and ITV. As a teenager, Channel 4 arrived. A decade later the Astra satellite began beaming the Sky networks and finally - rather unnecessarily - Channel 5 booted up. This was hardly a TV landscape to rival the hundreds of stations on US telly, but for a while it felt like a reasonably adequate selection.

I think we all knew there'd more.  In our consumer-tastic world, there's always more, but we also suspected more channels would never, ever mean better channels. Those who had Sky reported, almost with pride, how hopeless many of the stations were proving to be (Wine TV or 24 Hour Psychic Readings, anyone?). And yet we all quite fancied that spread of shows we knew the Americans had. After all, that's the British way. To tut and frown at the USA and then gobble up everything it offers, from wars to media.

Where do I go now? Amazon Premium? YouView? And what's the difference?

And now we have it. More. All those stations, pouring through the ether, the internet or fibre-optic cables, through the skirting board and into our eyes. So, what's wrong with getting what we wished for? Well, nothing, except it's all arrived in a dreadfully haphazard way. It feels as though dozens of broadcasting companies all had vague, but different ideas as to the best way to pump more content at us. But instead of forming any sort of cohesive market, they all rushed forward at once, all touting an alternative device or platform, all claiming to be delivering the best.

Take Netflix. Now, I've been hearing about Netflix for quite some time. But, largely thanks to the massively confusing plethora of outlets, I've paused at regular old Freeview (I can't abide most sports, so Sky holds little attraction for me). However, over the weekend, I decided I'd initiate the free Netflix 30-day trial. Hooking a laptop up to my telly with an HDMI cable, I prepared to plunge into a galaxy of new, premium content. I figured if I liked it, I'd be happy to part with £6.00 to keep the service going. Then I entered the library.

I admit there were some juicy 'box-sets' available - principally 'Breaking Bad' and 'House Of Cards'. Beyond them? Almost nothing. Scrolling through the movie titles was like looking through the racks of one of those video rental bits in the back of a village shop. Just acres of straight-to-DVD eyewash. Using the Netflix 'search' feature, I picked three or four titles I fancied. Not a sausage. None of them was on Netflix.
Needless to say, I won't be signing up for the extended deal.

And herein lies the flaw. Where do I go now? Amazon Premium? YouView? And what's the difference? There are simply far too many systems, boxes and carriers to make a considered choice - so I'm just as likely to stick with my Freeview than I am to explore further.

Competition is healthy in any sector, but if a market becomes overly diluted, the consumer is left perplexed. And in broadcast media, where viewing figures and advertisers are everything, that's no good at all.   


Magnus Shaw is a copywriter, blogger and consultant. 

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