Channel 4's pioneering deal with YouTube shows it can still innovate

It’s sometimes difficult to recall, with recent press coverage focusing on boardroom strife and funding shortages, how pioneering the UK’s Channel 4 has been since launching in 1982. So today’s news that it is the first broadcaster globally to offer full-length TV programmes via YouTube is welcome confirmation that innovation remains part of its corporate DNA.

Under the terms of the three-year deal Channel 4 will make recent shows - and 3,000 hours of archive content – available free of charge  to UK consumers, and will share the ad revenues with YouTube. Though the details of the revenue split have yet to be revealed, it might be assumed that YouTube are more pragmatic now than they were even a year ago, when their hard-nosed dealmaking was rebuffed by other broadcasters.

By offering its content on YouTube as well as on its own website, Channel 4 has extended the notion of blended distribution. Indeed, the nature of the non-exclusive deal, combined with the fact that Channel 4 does no own the rights to its hit shows, means that in future UK internet users will be able to access the same legal long-form TV shows via a number of sites, including MSN, Blinkbox, and Arqiva’s SeeSaw, not to mention the two shadows looming over this space - Hulu (whose link-up with ITV has been widely rumoured) and Project Canvas, backed by BBC, ITV, BT and Lovefilm.

If that transpires – and our latest forecast predicts that 67% of European internet users will be regularly watching online video by 2014-  then UK viewers, spoilt for choice, will use other criteria to determine where they consume that content. Which offers the best catalogue, the best user interface, the best options to interact with the content, and which is the platform where everyone else goes? Nobody wants to go to the wrong party and Channel 4’s move shows its determination to integrate itself into a rapidly evolving online video market.

We’ll be following this in our research through the next year, especially as others come to the market with different monetization models. Watch this space, it’s getting interesting.