YouView, the hybrid television platform planned by British broadcasters and broadband service providers, may not be ready until the end of 2012. The repeatedly postponed project will apparently now not roll out until at least the fourth quarter of the year. By which time, it may be too late to make an impact on the market.
The Sunday Telegraph, referring to a senior source, reports that Lord Sugar, who was appointed as non-executive chairman of the venture, did not think the project was in good enough shape to show to the public, beyond limited test groups.
Based on his no-nonsense boardroom style in the television show The Apprentice, we can only imagine that Lord Sugar left the teams in no doubt of his disappointment. It is only surprising that at least one of them has not been fired.
The marketing and public relations team left the process six months ago and were not replaced. The project appears to have been operating in radio silence and a general media blackout since then.
Steve Conway, a former head of marketing for the BBC New Media division, has now been appointed as the new head of marketing for YouView, reporting to Richard Halton, the former controller of business strategy at the BBC who heads YouView as its chief executive.
YouView claims that it will “change the way you watch TV forever” but it appears to be taking forever to deliver. Millions have been spent on YouView, with little to show for it so far. No matter how technically or politically challenging it may be, it is difficult to understand the delay in delivery.
The YouView consortium of the BBC, ITV, Channel 4, Channel 5, BT, TalkTalk and Arqiva was formed in September 2010, two years after the BBC first proposed what was originally known as Project Canvas. YouView said then it would launch in the first half of 2011. In February of that year Richard Halton put back the launch until early 2012, saying “Our focus has always been to deliver a product to consumers that is right, but not rushed.”
In September 2011, still seemingly in no rush to deliver, YouView said it was still “on track to launch in early 2012”. That launch window has clearly passed. The Telegraph had previously optimistically predicted that YouView would go live on 14 May. Now it seems that it will not be available until late 2012.
Needless to say, that will be long after the London Olympics, which could have provided a powerful launch platform for YouView. As it is, the prospect of the Olympics may persuade many consumers to upgrade their televisions to new models, most of which will have Freeview built in, many also able to connect to the internet.
Freeview continues to grow from strength to strength, boosted by digital switchover and the availability of high definition services. Freeview is the leading television platform in the United Kingdom, with 10.6 million homes relying on Freeview for their main television set.
Smart televisions that can connect to the internet are becoming prevalent and Freeview is gaining many of the features that might have differentiated YouView. Many Freeview devices and displays are already able to connect to the internet and receive services such as the BBC iPlayer over broadband.
Freeview will also inherit the ability for digital video recorders to scroll back through the programme guide by up to seven days to access programmes on demand over broadband.
This follows the release of the latest D-Book 7.0 specification from the Digital TV Group, which includes provisions for integrating a catch-up programme guide.
All of which questions whether there is a real raison d’être for YouView. The only real enthusiasm for YouView seems to come from BT and TalkTalk, the broadband service providers who were relying on it to replace their own video platforms.
The broadcasters backing YouView appear ambivalent in their support for the project. Even the BBC, which proposed it in the first place, is more pre-occupied with promoting its own iPlayer proposition across different television devices and displays.
If and when YouView eventually launches, it will have a lot of catching up to do to repeat the success of Freeview, in a much more competitive market. Rather than simplifying things for viewers, it could leave consumers even more confused.