Channel 4 will simultaneously broadcast its UK shows on the internet, but has not yet agreed rights with international and film producers to show their programmes. It is the first UK broadcaster to simultaneously webcast close to its whole output.
The station already owned the rights to simulcast shows online, and from next Tuesday will stream commissioned programmes live to PCs across the UK. Shows that it broadcasts under licence rather than commissions – such as US imports and films – are not yet included, since Channel 4 does not have the rights.
"Channel 4 does not make any programmes, we are a publisher of programming," said channel spokeswoman Vicky Powell. "We own the rights to simulcast programmes that we commissioned, but for other shows there needs to be a special arrangement, such as with Disney for Lost."
The station has been offering post-screening downloads of US shows Lost and Desperate Housewives this year, where the station charges a fee in a deal cut with the original US programme makers.
"It is our stated aim to make Channel 4's public service programming available across all meaningful platforms and to be the first UK broadcaster to begin simulcasting our content on broadband is a significant step towards delivering on this objective," said Channel 4 chief executive Andy Duncan.
The channel will extend its online broadcasting soon when it offers a video on demand service of all its commissioned programmes, said Powell. She could not confirm a timeline for the service but industry sources believe autumn to be a likely launch date.
After a protracted and bitter dispute over television new media rights, broadcasters and PACT, a body representing independent producers in the UK agreed a deal earlier this month for new media rights over commissioned programmes with BBC, ITV and Channel 4.
It is this deal which allows Channel 4 to launch the video on demand service. It also prevents the production company from making the material available online elsewhere for a further five months.
The rights wrangle stems from a change in the legal structure of television production 18 months ago when rights in programmes were reallocated to production companies and not broadcasters. It has taken since then for PACT and television stations to cut a new media rights deal.