As rumoured over the past month or so, Channel 9 have been gearing up to launch an online video on demand service.

Inspired by the very successful Hulu website in the US, FixPlay.com.au will offer a selection of Channel 9 content as well as content from overseas. While they may be saddled with that awful brandname (“FixPlay”, really?), this NineMSN venture will launch its service today with a website that appears to actually cater towards audience needs.

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Channels 7 and 9 have both sought to launch TV catch-up services in the past, however what has prevented them from gaining any real traction with the sites is that they’ve been hidden under several levels of website architecture. Instead of launching with a simple URL that establishes a recognised brand. Channel 7’s recent effort, “Plus 7” appears to be very similar to FixPlay, however the only way to access it is to go through the Yahoo7 portal, or by remembering its direct URL: http://au.tv.yahoo.com/plus7/ – rolls right off the tongue, doesn’t it? Channel 10 are similarly afflicted by http://ten.com.au/watch-tv-episodes-online.htm, but also lack the strong US content offering.

FixPlay will launch today with content from Channel 9, as well as content from BBC Worldwide, Digital Rights Group, and Warner Bros programming (available for 28 days after being broadcast on Channel 9). This will provide access to popular Channel 9/Go! Warner Bros series like:  Two and a Half Men, The Mentalist, V, Big Bang Theory, Gossip Girl and Vampire Diaries. UK content will include Doctor Who, Little Britain, Spooks, Hotel Babylon, Torchwood and the Mighty Boosh (from the BBC), along with Shameless, Balls of Steel and Father Ted from the UK-based Digital Rights Group.

Local content will include Underbelly: The Golden Mile, RPA and Getaway, as well as back-catalogure shows like McLeod’s Daughter and Sea Patrol. Within weeks, The Block and The Footy Show will be added. It will be interesting to see whether the Hey Hey revamp will also be made available.

If there are any significant criticisms to be made (beyond that terrible, terrible FixPlay name) is that the real strength of Channel 9 is the wealth of Australian-produced series they have broadcast over the years. It’s a shame that more of this archived back-catalogue material isn’t being made available. Countless shows that may no longer be able to gain strong TV ratings or may be risky DVD ventures have a great deal of value once more. One of the strengths of Hulu has been its obscure back-catalogue material.

So far there has not been word as to whether FixPlay will be available under any of the ISP’s data exclusion offers. Something that has enabled the ABC’s excellent iView service the opportunity to prosper is through the deals it has signed with iiNet that enables its viewers to watch iView content without it counting towards their monthly download allowance. NineMSN would be crazy not to pursue similar partnerships.

There has also been no mention thus far as to whether an iPad-friendly version of the website will be available. The site will not use Adobe’s Flash, instead opting for Microsofts Silverlight standard. Problematically, this does require additional software to be downloaded, making it more difficult for people to use the website. Despite being available for several years, Silverlight is still yet to really be embraced by web users.

As one would expect, FixPlay will be advertiser supported with five advertisers including Gillette, Foster’s, Suzuki, Head and Shoulders and Bio Oil already booking advertising the site. FixPlay offers pre-roll, mid-roll and post-roll spots in lengths of 15, 30 and 60 seconds.

Sources: The Australian and Delimiter

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