YouView Is on the Starting Line; Has it Already Lost?

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After two years of delays, the U.K.'s new internet connected TV platform YouView is set for official launch this week, but a limited initial rollout means a muted opportunity to cash in on the London Olympics.

The announcement follows the completion of a first-stage trial in 350 homes in May, and prepares the way for a wider public trial which will see the non-subscription VOD service rolled out to thousands of households.

Volume production and launch of a full package is, however, not likely until the autumn, meaning that the marketing bonanza of the 2012 London Olympic Games will have been missed.

YouView is the development of a consortia comprising broadcasters the BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and Five; telcos BT and TalkTalk; and hardware firms Cisco, Humax, Technicolor, and the U.K.'s digital terrestrial infrastructure provider Arqiva. Sky is notably absent, but has not ruled out joining the service in some form.

YouView was devised as a means to future-proof free-to-air television against pay TV, and will target the estimated 9 million (31 per cent) U.K. non-pay TV homes that have a broadband connection.

Consortium members have dismissed the idea of missing the Olympic window as unimportant in the long run.

"From our perspective missing the Olympics is no big deal. We take a really long term view of YouView," BT Vision's chief executive Marc Watson told The Telegraph newspaper. "This is a platform for the future -- we do want to build it out to millions of people and we'll take several years doing that. It's much more important to get the product right than rush it out to market -- people are not going to remember whether we missed the Olympics or not."

Carl Hibbert, head of broadcast research at FutureSource Consulting, says that while the YouView concept is an interesting proposition, particularly for those consumers who don't want to be tied into a subscription TV service, "The challenge is that there are many alternative ways to source OTT content (smart TV, tablet, smartphone) and therefore it may prove difficult to get consumers to pay for yet another set top box."

He added: "Much depends on the prices of the box and any differentiating content, but clearly there is a significant marketing budget allocated to launch and significant industry players behind it."

The content mix on launch will feature a searchable library of around 20,000 programmes and a backwards-compatible EPG offering seven day catch-up via the VOD players of its stakeholders (iPlayer, ITV Player, 4oD, and Demand Five).

Separate portals from shareholders BT and TalkTalk will also feature a range of VOD. BT, for instance, will incorporate YouVIew into its IPTV service BT Vision. It will offer the box at subsidised rates to subscribers of its broadband packages with the plan being to ditch FreeView altogether and deliver all content including linear broadcast services over the internet.

Live TV will initially only be available from around 70 existing FreeView channels over DTT. No date has been set, though assurances given that other content providers will be able to stream linear channels via IPTV. It will also offer a TV app store.

Distribution across devices such as tablets and mobiles, and multi-room capabilities, are also planned, where it will rub up against well established second-screen streaming services Netflix and LoveFilm.

Starting life as Project Canvas, YouView was originally slated to launch in 2010, and is expected to have cost £115 million ($180 million) by 2014, with each partner investing £16.4 million ($26 million) million on the effort.

Watson noted: "If you had asked me a couple of years ago I would have probably said it was going to be a real problem if YouView wasn't in the market by now. But the reality is that the market has moved slower than we thought it might. The vast majority of British households don't have product like this -- so the opportunity is absolutely still there."

Set-top boxes are expected to retail for around £200 ($314) with Humax, Cisco, and Technicolor primed to manufacture. YouView does not dovetail with the manufacturing plans of the emerging de facto standard of hybrid TV in Europe, HbbTV.

With 20 EBU members including RAI (Italy), RTVE (Spain), YLE (Finland), RTBF (Belgium), and NRK (Norway) readying deployment of HbbTV services this year alone, there are estimates of 60 million HbbTV-compliant TV sets in Western Europe by 2014.

While YouView would contend that its platform is more sophisticated than the current versions of HbbTV, the project has drawn criticism from consumer electronics vendors who would appreciate a common standard for the entire region.

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