IBC2007 session offers insight on real-world Internet TV deployment

Unlocking the potential of documentaries gathering dust on the shelves of distributors is the mission of startup FirstScience.tv, Gideon Summerfield, managing director of Pioneer Online, told his audience Sept. 6 during his “Broadcasting by Broadband” session at IBC2007.

Since the launch of its May trial, the site has offered consumers a selection of about 80 science-related titles that can be downloaded for $2 to $3 and watched on Windows Media Player for 30 days. Customers can choose to buy the content for an additional dollar. When the full service launches, it will have a library of 400 titles, Summerfield said.

The site, a spin-off of FirstScience.com, is owned by Pioneer Productions in the UK. About two years ago, it appeared as if technology and the market were moving in a way that it would be possible to make money from distributing “the type of long-form television programs Pioneer had always made for traditional broadcast,” he said. Summerfield and his colleagues embarked on securing rights from producers of long-form science content to be distributed via the Internet.

FirstScience.tv is built on an electronic sell-through business model that’s “an evolution of the VHS and DVD rental and resale” model, explained Summerfield. As opposed to the free-to-air, ad-supported model, FirstScience.tv’s approach can offer owners of the scientific documentaries it specializes in a better financial prospect.

Regardless of the high quality of content, a small fraction of these documentaries ever makes it onto DVD for sale, which limits a show’s life to two to threes years, he said. FreeScience.tv hopes to extend that life to a decade. Summerfield illustrated the attractiveness of the site to content owners by comparing its potential to generate revenue with that of a small cable channel. “What we might expect to get with one of our shows over a period of a year is what a minor cable channel might get in one night. So, we are talking thousands and tens of thousands rather than millions (of viewers),” he said.

The content owners FirstScience.tv works with could expect to be paid $250 from a minor cable channel for an audience of 5000. “Our model could potentially deliver 20 times that,” he said.

Digital rights management (DRM) was an important part of the decision to distribute content in Windows Media format, because DRM is built into the product. Its presence on 95 percent of PCs in the field also was important, added Summerfield. FirstScience.tv outsources its DRM back-office services.

To listen to the session in its entirety, visit http://qedsessions.metacanvas.com/ibc2007/session/thursday_6_september/