Mark Thompson, the director general of the BBC, has described the proposed YouView platform as “a big revolution in broadcasting”. He expects the first YouView boxes will come on the market in the middle of 2011 and cost somewhere between one and two hundred pounds. Taking the opportunity to plug the box in an interview on BBC One, the director general presented YouView as an extension of Freeview, but the network television revolution is taking place irrespective of any plans by broadcasters.
Andrew Marr typically asks politicians the tough questions on his Sunday morning show, but when probing his ultimate boss about YouView, the joint venture between the BBC and commercial broadcasters and network operators, he avoided controversy by asking whether it was “a sort of box of some kind?”
The director general responded by saying “You have to imagine that you can turn on your television and in addition to BBC, ITV and Channel Four and lots of other channels you can get services like iPlayer, 4oD, itv.com and many other services which use the internet to bring you archive, catchup services and to bring you frankly lots of applications and forms of content we have yet to dream up.” He said: “It’s bringing the internet to your television but in a way you can use with your television handset massively increasing choice.”
“If you think of the Olympic Games, for example, somebody with a YouView box, let’s imagine it’s a Freeview box, a digital terrestrial television box which has also got YouView, you’ll be able to watch the Olympics on the BBC in real time on all of our channels but also you’ll be able to see much of our archive, you’ll be able to get data and facts, all of which will be available on your television screen.” The director general of the BBC said: “I believe that this is a big revolution in broadcasting.”
“We’re talking about a box which will be somewhere between one hundred and two hundred pounds and which once you’ve got the box, if it’s a DTT box you can plug it into you aerial and your television as normal but you also plug it into your broadband connection, you fire it up and then you start getting all of these services.”
The apparent confusion between the Freeview brand and digital terrestrial television is interesting. Freeview is the trade mark in the United Kingdom of DTV Services Ltd, the digital terrestrial television marketing organisation that is equally owned by the BBC, ITV, Channel 4, Sky and the transmission network company Arqiva.
YouView is a joint venture between the BBC, ITV, Channel 4, Five, Arqiva, BT and TalkTalk. Sky is notably not involved. Five left and then rejoined the venture but its services were not referred to directly by the director general of the BBC.
There is clearly a wish to trade on the success of Freeview, which is effectively synonymous with digital terrestrial television in the United Kingdom. It has built significant brand recognition through the transition to digital broadcasting and is now built into virtually every television on the market. Over 60 million devices have been sold.
However, any relationship between Freeview and YouView is unclear, beyond a certain similarity in name. Whether YouView will effectively be promoted as an extension to Freeview or a replacement has apparently yet to be determined.
The London Olympics have been consistently used as an example of how YouView will be a game changer. Every Olympic Games tends to produce innovations in broadcasting, but for many people in Britain the London Olympics will be the first they see in HD, or possibly 3D, or by broadband or on their mobile.
It would be very surprising if more than a million homes will have YouView by the summer of 2012. By then there will be many more millions with network connected televisions or broadband-enabled pay-television platforms. Online services like the BBC iPlayer will be available across multiple devices and displays. Televisions powered by the likes of Google and Intel will bring the web to the living room screen, whether broadcasters want it or not. The connected television revolution is already under way and broadcasters are playing catch up.