YouView has replaced its high-profile chief technology officer with an Accenture consultant, as its launch window looms with only the high-level requirements so far released. YouView said in a statement that Anthony Rose would “continue to inform product development” as the venture “strengthens operations and technology teams”. YouView was hoping to launch by the middle of 2011, but that now seems increasingly unlikely. The BBC Trust has said the service can only launch eight months after the completed specification has been published.
YouView, previously codenamed Project Canvas, was originally presented as an initiative to develop open standards for network-connected television devices and displays. It has since become a bold joint venture between the BBC, ITV, Channel Four, Five, BT, TalkTalk and Arqiva to develop a platform to provide an alternative to pay-television operators Sky and Virgin Media. The standards have yet to emerge.
The management restructure is presented as the next phase in preparations for launch, but is an indication that all is not going well. A concern must be the lack of management experience on board in launching a consumer electronics platform, which the company is aiming to address with two new appointments, although a new chief technology officer has yet to be appointed.
Sef Tuma, a partner in the media and entertainment practice at Accenture, has been seconded as head of technical delivery. He has been with Accenture for fourteen years, since graduating from Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
YouView has also brought in Andrew Burdess, previously operations director at BT Vision, as director of operations. He will take responsibility for developing all consumer facing aspects of the platform and ensuring technical resilience of back-end services.
“These changes are about strengthening our technology and operations teams to ensure we deliver YouView in good time and in great shape,” said Richard Halton, the chief executive of YouView. While paying tribute to the “brilliant work Anthony Rose has done to shape the consumer proposition” he said: “We now have a highly experienced technical delivery team committed to developing an exciting new service.”
A senior executive close to YouView is quoted in The Telegraph saying that Anthony Rose was brought on for his technology vision but “when it came to managing a large team, the YouView executive thought his skills were lacking and the role of chief technology officer would be suited to someone else”.
Anthony Rose joined the Project Canvas team just six months previously from the BBC, where he had played a lead role in the successful relaunch of the BBC iPlayer. He was appointed to the BBC as head of digital media technology in October 2007, having been chief technology officer at Altnet, which was associated with the file sharing network Kazaa.
When Project Canvas was first proposed in October 2008, Erik Huggers, the director of future media and technology at the BBC suggested that it was “a year to a year and a half away if everything is approved.” That seemed optimistic at the time, given the tendency for complex technical projects to slip their schedules.
There have been complaints that sufficient technical specifications have yet to be released to enable interested parties to implement products and services.
The BBC Trust approved the participation of the corporation in the joint venture in June 2010 on condition that the completed elements of the core technical specification must be published within 20 working days and the elements of the final core technical specification “must be published by the BBC on its web site as they are completed and no later than eight months before the launch of the first set-top boxes”.
The first publication deadline passed but a set of draft documents was published in September, although these did not amount to a specification. The draft device specification, at only 3,500 words, was little more than a list of requirements and was released after the closing date for expressions of interest from manufacturers to develop products.
The platform was expected to launch in the first half of 2011, but Kip Meek, the chairman of YouView, recently admitted that it may slip further.
Sky and Virgin Media, which have been critical of the YouView initiative, have meanwhile launched their own competing propositions, while display manufacturers are bringing their own network connected televisions to market and companies like Google are entering the field.
The Digital TV Group is proceeding with its Connected TV specification as part of D-Book 7, which is due to be published shortly. This is now expected to form the foundation on which YouView could be based but will be an open standard on which manufacturers will be able to differentiate their devices and displays.
There was no indication that Anthony Rose would be leaving his role when he addressed an international industry conference in London the day before the announcement. A confident presenter, without notes or slides, he has been prominent on the conference circuit promoting the benefits of YouView. He revealed that the user interface would be built on Adobe AIR for TV. Nowhere is this mentioned in the cursory documentation that YouView has published. Perhaps the only sign that schedules were slipping was that when asked when YouView would launch he would only say “sometime next year”.
Eddie Abrams, the chief executive of IP Vision, which promotes a platform with which YouView would compete, pressed him: “When can I get the standards that I’m supposed to have in case my company wants to use the same technology to provide a competitive proposition?”
Anthony Rose said: “There are 14 papers on our web site, hundreds of pages that describe the YouView stack. Those are freely available.”
The chief executive of IP Vision responded by saying “You’ve given me more information in that ten-minute speech” and the information on the web site “was not sufficient for a device manufacturer.” He called on YouView to release the relevant specifications at least eight months before the service is launched, “otherwise you are going to foreclose any other manufacturer that wants to launch a service on that technology”.