IT wasn’t that long ago when on-demand programming meant a hike down to the high street and a rifle through the grubby shelves of the local video library.
Now, however, the what used to be called Blockbuster Video – more accurately these days Blockbuster’s DVD and game hire shop – is somewhat of a rarity in the digital age as the chain and its rivals have been forced into administration, closing dozens of shops.
For the consumer’s version of on-demand has become more demanding. The revolution of high speed internet and cheaper, highly-advanced technology may have spelled the end for much of the high street video rental sector, but the digital revolution has also encouraged a surprising rebirth of the one-off-fee viewing model.
The advent of the likes of LoveFilm streaming and its more recent US-based compet-itor, Netflix, has kicked sluggish UK television providers into action. Already popular across the Atlantic, pay-per-view (PPV) television is worming its way into the consciousness of British consumers – and is a world away from the odd boxing match and hotel room pornography which previously comprised the genre.
The newest kid on the PPV block is one which cash-strapped sports fans could previously never have dreamed of: Now TV is Sky’s latest baby – a £9.99 “day pass” to access the provider’s otherwise pricy sports channels for 24 hours only as well as charging single fees (at an equivalent rate to the old school video library) for one-off films.
The provider’s move signals that 2013 could finally be the year which sees the concept catch on in the UK, where the option to pay for programmes on an individual basis could be an attractive one for the cash-strapped consumer.
“Many of us are keeping a careful eye on our finances and cutting out services we don’t use, so only paying for what we want to watch is a real selling point for PPV TV,” says Marie-Louise Abretti, telecoms expert at uSwitch.com. “The flexibility of being able to sign up ad-hoc to movies, TV shows or even sports for a day is also a huge plus.”
PPV has been widely used across the Atlantic since the 1950s, with popular cable channel HBO generating $177 million (£116m) in gross sales from 3.7 million pay-per-view purchases in 2006 alone.
Meanwhile, the licence fee, coupled with subscriptions to satellite providers including Sky, has meant the UK is a fairly modest market for PPV TV, which made up only 13 per cent of the revenue of online TV viewing during 2011.
While many other incarnations of PPV TV come as an addition to a broadband package such as BT Vision and Talk Talk, Sky’s NOW TV is a standalone service.
The streaming service allows users to choose between Sky Sports and Sky Movies across a wide range of internet-connected devices. Unlike the broadcaster’s satellite services, NOW TV does not require a contract and is without set-up or installation costs.
During 2010, PPV transactions made up only 4.6 per cent of the revenue generated by online TV viewing, compared to 71 per cent of free to view content, according to Ofcom. This grew by a modest 13 per cent during 2011, but Ofcom said it expected to see significant growth in the sector following the launch of Netflix and Lovefilm’s instant streaming services in the UK. In the US, the idea has gone even further, with the announcement that 14 pilot shows – including Alpha House and Zombieland – are to be put to the public vote on Lovefilm and Amazon.com.
But flexibility can come with a high price tag, warns Ms Abretti. “If you get a taste for the TV available on pay-per-view, and you want to watch it more regularly, you could be better off signing up to a contract,” she says.“Plus, many TV providers allow you to add and remove packages, such as movies or sports, meaning you get some flexibility for a lower price.”
A key element of the future of PPV is that TV will be played out on much smaller screens than the one currently occupying our living room. The inevitable rise of tablets and smartphones means we could see the ordinary TV set replaced in most homes as the primary viewing device within five years, claims Dominic Baliszewski, telecoms expert from broadbandchoices.co.uk.
“With so many different ways for people to view films and programmes over a broadband connection, modern devices such as tablets allow viewers far more flexibility to choose where and when they watch their favourite shows,” he says.
Experts believe that the traditional model of families sitting around the television together in the evenings no longer applies – the ever-busier lives of consumers and an ever-increasing wealth of viewing content means family members have become more selective and independent in how they spend their free screen time.
Dominic Sunnebo, global consumer insight director at Kantar Worldpanel ComTech, acknowledges that the shared future of PPV TV and these new platforms is at a “pretty pivotal stage” – but warns that there needs to be a sea change in the technology and mobile plans on offer – chiefly in the provision of 4G, without which high quality TV or film cannot be streamed on a hand-held device out of home.
He says: “It makes a huge difference. 4G has been around in the US for a number of years, and you can’t realistically stream high quality TV or film from a mobile or a tablet out of home without 4G.”
THE advent of high speed internet and cheap, highly-advanced technology in the United Kingdom has brought about a revolution in TV viewing. Here are some of the top providers of pay-per-view options.
1 BT vision
Requiring a £5 per month subscripton to BT’s Essential digital TV services, BT Vision is an on-demand service that offers several pay-per-view options. Viewers can choose from BT’s own sport, music, kids and films channels from 50p per programme, or films from Vision Box Office for £3.50.
Tesco’s Blinkbox service allows viewers to select rent or buy over 10,000 films and TV programmes. Content can either be rented, purchased or both, but it’s worth remembering that rentals are available to watch for 30 days but expire 48 hours after you begin to watch them. Recently released films cost £3.49 to rent or £10.99 to buy, while older film rentals range from 99p to £2.49. Also offers a decent selection of films for free.
3 NOW TV
Sky’s new internet video service offering non-Sky households pay-as-you-go access to Sky Movies and all six Sky Sports channels. Costs £9.99 for 24-hour access to the sports channels, whilst access to the film channel is priced at £8.99 for a month. 30-day free trial available.
Currently available as a website and an iPad app, Vdio is a digital service for buying and renting films recently transplanted from the US. The only hitch is it currently requires a subscription to its radio streaming sister Rdio, costing £9.99 per month. Unlimited subscribers will receive £20 credit to choose from recent films and programmes including The Hobbit, Breaking Bad and Skyfall.
Youview offers viewers access to a library of digital channels and catch-up services, including BBC iPlayer, 4OD and STV Player via a broadband connection. The service requires a set-top box which is free with a BT or TalkTalk broadband and TV package, but otherwise costs £299. The cost of renting films and programmes differs according to the provider.