It’s official: Criterion buys SeeSaw

An investor consortium led by Criterion Capital Partners has bought, a site that aspired to become Hulu of the U.K. Terms of the deal were not disclosed, but former owner Arqiva is retaining a 25-percent stake in the video platform. SeeSaw’s new chairman will be Michael Jackson, who previously served as controller at BBC One and Two as well as CEO at the U.K.’s Channel 4.

SeeSaw has a bit of a turbulent past: The site is the heir of Project Kangaroo, a failed attempt by the BBC and other U.K. broadcasters to launch a Hulu-like joint-venture for catchup TV viewing. Kangaroo was found to be anti-competitive by U.K. regulators before it could even get off the ground, and the project’s assets were bought by Arqiva for £8 million ($12.9 million USD) two years ago. Arqiva used the technology to launch its own video platform under the name SeeSaw in early 2010 and has since grown the service to close to one million unique visitors per month.

However, it became clear earlier this year that Arqiva wasn’t willing or able to grow the service on its own. The company actively looked for additional investors, but was apparently haunted by the ghosts of SeeSaw’s past: Getting one of the big broadcasters on board would have been the best bet to turn SeeSaw into a success story, but it was also close to impossible due to the anti-competition ruling against Project Kangaroo.

Another problem was that the U.K.’s online video world is dominated by the BBC’s iPlayer, and getting a big enough mind share next to such a successful project can be challenging. Our European correspondent Bobbie Johnson, who’s based in the U.K. himself, wrote last month that SeeSaw never really seemed to make headway in this respect:

“SeeSaw did nothing to help itself. Despite the huge amount of time and energy and money sunk into the project, it was barely known outside its core user base. It had to compete with the on-demand services that its founders worked on, and hardly registered in the public mind -— advertising for the service was so thin on the ground, I can’t remember seeing any promotion for SeeSaw in the last six months.”

So why would Criterion buy SeeSaw? One reason is the technology that powers the project, which was built by the BBC and its partners with a major TV content platform in mind. But Criterion is also committed to keeping SeeSaw up and running, and has acquired rights to some 3,000 hours of TV content as part of the deal. The company also seems to bet that there will eventually be demand for a major aggregator of commercial TV and movie content in the U.K. market. And so far, neither Netflix (s NFLX) nor Hulu have stepped up to fill that void.