The British Internet Broadcasting Company (BiBC, not to be confused with the BBC) wanted to make a point and the exclusive Century Club on Shaftsbury Avenue was a good place to make it. A flying visit from stand up comic Scott Capurro warmed the crowd, champagne settled us further and when BiBC big cheese Paul Hague stepped up to the mic the result of two years of development was revealed.
The project was box office 365, and it fires the first shots in what is sure to be a hotly fought battle in the emerging direct download video market. Unlike the schemes from broadcast channels the BBC, Channel 4 and Sky which I wrote about last month, box office 365 is not tied to the content from a single station. In essence, it is closer to a virtual video rental store.
All content, which ranges from live concerts to movies and sets from stand up comics, comes from licensing agreements with the likes of ITN, V2 and Universal and the site controls the distribution of its media via Windows DRM.
Consequently, the media format is WMV and while a 90 minute video is currently compressed to around 150MB (VHS quality), plans are afoot to offer larger sizes. Prices for content start from £6.99 and streaming previews are available – Amazon-style – across the board. Interestingly, registration isn’t required to begin downloads giving the site a pay-as-you-go feel.
I spoke with Paul Hague, who told me he was relishing the competition that would inevitably come the company’s way. “Everyone knows that all the major companies are going to jump on this, from Apple with iTunes and down. But we are here first, certainly in the UK, and I think that will help. Customers will know we are a player and while our content starts small, it will get bigger and the download options larger. I don’t think this hurts us though, since everyone agreed it was important to begin with a service that is as simple and streamlined as possible.”