YouView, the planned connected television platform backed by leading British broadcasters and broadband providers, has yet to announce a launch date. There are now reports that it may not be ready for full launch until just before the London Olympics. Even then, only relatively small numbers may benefit. Meanwhile Freeview already offers access to high-definition channels and broadband enabled video on demand options.
Originally proposed as Project Canvas in October 2008, and branded YouView in September 2010, the proposed hybrid broadcast and broadband platform was then due to launch in 2011. In February 2011, YouView announced that it would have a product in trial by the end of that year, with a full consumer launch planned in “early 2012”. Richard Halton, the chief executive of YouView, said then: “Our focus has always been to deliver a product to consumers that is right, but not rushed”.
Lord Sugar, appointed as non-executive chairman in March 2011, has been uncharacteristically quiet about YouView.
In its most recent announcement, YouView said in September 2011 that was “on track to launch in early 2012”. February 14 was apparently an internal target.
The marketing and public relations team was subsequently made redundant and there has been little public communication since. There is still no sign of a confirmed launch date and there are suggestions that it could now slip towards the summer.
Ian Livingstone, the chief executive of BT, one of the partners in the consortium, told analysts in early February that YouView was expected to launch in the “middle of the year”.
Dido Harding, the chief executive of TalkTalk, another partner in the venture, said four days later that it was “on track for launch Spring 2012, exactly as we said in November”. Back then TalkTalk was planning a closed trial with 3,000 boxes in the first quarter of 2012, followed by a public trial with 10,000 customers.
The chief executives of public listed companies clearly have to be careful about releasing price sensitive information, until an official launch date is announced. For the record, the first day of summer is 21 June, which is not quite half way through the year.
Early in the year, sometime in the spring, by the middle of the year — these are minor slippages in a project that is now two years late in launching. The important thing is that it works, so testing it thoroughly sounds like a good idea.
Mind you, there is a big difference between running a trial with a few thousand homes and launching a platform aimed at around ten million homes in Britain that do not currently have pay-television.
The two broadband service providers involved are likely to lead the launch. They may still be hoping to take advantage of interest in the London Olympics, which begin on 27 July. BT is the official communications services partner for the 2012 Olympics.
That does not necessarily mean that many people will be able to watch the Olympics through YouView. BT and TalkTalk have taken years to reach around 750,000 users of their television services.
BT Vision is currently gaining users at the rate of 40,000 homes a quarter. Even allowing for a major marketing push aligned with the Olympics, there is a logistical limit to how rapidly it will be able to supply its subscribers with new boxes.
In the meantime, BT may be hoping to offer similar services across its legacy BT Vision boxes, in a migration away from its current Microsoft Mediaroom platform.
It may be some time before there is retail YouView product in the shops. A number of partners are working with YouView, including Pace, Cisco and Huawei. Technicolor pulled out and so far other major electronics manufacturers, including Sony, have yet to support the platform, although in principle, any manufacturer can licence the specification.
Freeview reached several million homes within two years of launch on 30 October 2002. The exact numbers depend how they are counted. With analogue television signals due to be switched off, the penetration of digital television in Britain is now almost universal.
Freeview sales are now being driven by high-definition television, with four terrestrial channels available to most homes, covering the whole county following digital switchover. Over 1.3 million Freeview high-definition receivers were sold in the last quarter alone, with over half a million Freeview high-definition televisions sold in December 2011.
YouView may struggle to differentiate its proposition in a market that now has a vast array of digital viewing options. Based on a broadband-enabled twin-tuner digital video recorder, with a prescribed user interface based on Adobe Flash, YouView must now compete with smart televisions that already have access to online services like the BBC iPlayer, LoveFilm and YouTube.
YouView is not alone in being late to launch. Eric Schmidt, the chairman of Google, said at the Edinburgh International Television Festival in August 2011: “We expect Google TV to launch in Europe early next year, and of course the UK will be among the top priorities.” As yet there has been no word of a launch in the United Kingdom, although Google released an update to its software, providing support for Android applications.
In December the chairman of Google told a conference in Paris: “We’ve just released version two and by the summer of 2012 — the product cycles are long — the majority of the televisions you see in stores here will have Google TV embedded.”
Then of course there is the speculation about what Apple might do in this market, building on its ecosystem of products.
2012 will undoubtedly be a big year for connected television. We will find out whether the waiting for YouView will have been worth it, or whether it will be eclipsed by other products that transform the television experience.