YouView launch “way overdue but also too early”

A set-top box intended to transform how viewers consume TV has been launched in the UK, two years later than planned. YouView offers subscription-free digital TV and catch-up and will be available in major retailers by the end of July.

The service offers more than 100 digital TV and radio channels, seven day catch-up and on demand programmes from the content libraries of the BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5, delivered to the viewer’s TV.

YouView’s electronic programme guide allows users to scroll back seven days to catch-up on programmes they’ve missed. They can watch in HD and record, pause and rewind live TV. The service will be available in two ways; from retailers, with no further TV subscription, or from an ISP as part of a phone and broadband package.

The venture’s chairman, Lord Sugar, described “a great moment in British television” and CEO Richard Halton added “YouView is easy to use and seamlessly combines the worlds of catch up and live TV, on the living room TV.”

However, Nick Thomas, principal analyst at Informa Telecoms & Media said that the launch of the service is “way overdue but also too early”.

He explained that industry commentators have been talking about YouView for four years as the future of TV, but this cannot be considered a full “launch” as the service has only just gone to beta testing and the set-top boxes are not yet in the shops. The service will not be a mainstream proposition for UK consumers until the end of 2012, he said.

YouView was born out of Project Canvas, a UK-based internet TV coalition created to drive supply and demand of online, interactive TV services, founded by BBC, ITV, BT, Channel 4, TalkTalk, Arqiva and Five.

“Had it launched in 2010 or 2011, it would have been able to shape the market, but now, it is another smart TV platform competing with offers from Freeview Plus, Sky, Virgin Media and TV manufacturers. The defining features of YouView– such as the backwards EPG – are no longer so revolutionary. And we still need to know if it the platform actually works,” said Thomas.

However, Informa believes that a cross-device platform not tied to one manufacturer has a great chance of succeeding, if the content offering and consumer experience are right.

“Different partners foresee a different role for YouView within their overall offerings – it is not entirely clear how YouView will sit alongside BT Vision, for example – but in due course the scale and scope of the YouView offering may yet challenge premium offerings from its partner providers such as BT and Sky,” Thomas explained.

He added that BT’s TV strategy is still based on acquiring exclusive and expensive content rights – such as the English Premier League – to tempt an audience but TalkTalk’s decision to offer LoveFilm may be just as attractive for consumers, but much cheaper for the operator.

“As the market has moved on, it is not yet entirely clear where YouView will sit in the UK TV landscape. Freeview has been hugely successful in building an audience at one end, and has continued to evolve its offer. At the other end, pay-TV providers, notably Sky, have been at the cutting edge of investing in their content and also making it available across different devices. Where will YouView sit on this spectrum?  This is a major dilemma: If it’s not good enough, it won’t gain traction with audiences who now have other choices. If it’s too good, it could threaten the business of other service providers, including some YouView partners.”

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