BT had only 60,000 customers with a YouView box at the end of 2012. Meanwhile it added 21,000 BT Vision customers in the last quarter, taking its total to 770,000. Although it is still early days for YouView, it has some way to go to make any real impression on the television market in the United Kingdom. Nevertheless, BT clearly hopes that its plans for sports coverage will make a difference.
BT only began actively marketing YouView in January, although there was a multimillion-pound campaign to promote the platform. Ian Livingstone, the chief executive of BT told analysts there had been an encouraging increase in take-up of YouView in the last few weeks as a result but did not offer any further figures.
TalkTalk announced in mid-November that it had 29,000 YouView customers, growing at a rate of around 1,000 a day, so it may have a similar number of YouView boxes installed. Youview has not released any numbers for retail sales.
BT appears to include YouView boxes within its BT Vision numbers. It seems the availability of YouView has done little to improve the adoption rate for BT Vision.
The installed base for BT Vision has been growing steadily over the last three years at an average of around 9,000 net additions a month, although over the three quarters that has dropped to 7,000 a month.
The 60,000 YouView boxes currently represent less than 8% of its BT Vision customer base, which in turn accounts for less than 12% of BT Broadband homes.
The BT Infinity high-speed broadband network now passes more than 13 million premises and now has more than a million retail customers, representing 16% of its retail customer base.
The total number of YouView homes is currently marginal compared to Freeview and Sky, which each have over 10 million, or even Virgin Media with 3.8 million or Freesat with around 2.6 million.
BT is now multicasting 18 channels in standard definition, with a further 4 in high definition, meaning that that they will be available over broadband. They include a number of pay-television channels, such as Discovery, National Geographic and MTV, available to BT Vision customers for an additional monthly subscription. BT is still negotiating with Sky over the right to carry Sky Sports channels on YouView.
BT will be launching two sports channels in the summer, having invested hundreds of millions of pounds in acquiring the right to show some Premier League football matches and domestic rugby matches. It has signed a ten-year lease for studios in the former International Broadcasting Centre at the Olympic Park and has a long-term contract with Sunset+Vine to produce programming.
BT is in this for the long game and can still afford to fund its investment in television from its other revenues. The aim is clearly to challenge Sky in competing for exclusive coverage of sports. With relatively few homes signed up for BT Vision it is difficult to see how it will succeed in its own right. The BT Sport channels may end up being carried on rival satellite and cable platforms, which will increase their reach but diminish differentiation.
Meanwhile the ambivalence towards YouView is interesting. Despite being a shareholder in the consortium, BT is continuing to promote its own BT Vision+ brand, while also promoting “YouView from BT”. The lack of clarity can only serve to confuse consumers.