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YouView arrives at last

The UK’s much delayed YouView hybrid TV platform will finally launch this week with set top boxes from Humax, but not in time to benefit from a sales boost from the London Olympics as had been hoped.

Cisco and Technicolor are also committed to manufacture YouView set top boxes, but volume production is not expected until later in the year, with the launch appearing in effect to be a second-stage trial rather than full-blown package. The platform will provide 70 digital channels via the UK’s Freeview digital terrestrial service, as well as the last seven days’ catch-up, plus series recording and thousands of programmes on demand. Much of the on demand content will be provided through the existing catch up services, the BBC iPlayer, ITV Player, 4oD and Demand 5.

Despite all the delays, YouView continues to attract interest from vendors, and, as a result, a cap has been imposed on the number of participants. But, the bigger test will lie with consumer acceptance, and here the delay may prove more costly, since, in the meantime, other options have emerged, particularly for viewing on alternative screens such as PCs and tablets, with Netflix and Amazon’s LoveFilm well established, while the catch-up services are available online anyway.

The main target is connected TV viewing on the big screen and the 9 million UK households, 31 percent, that have terrestrial Freeview on their main TV and do not subscribe to pay TV. But, many of these people take Freeview because they cannot or will not pay for services, and so may not be easily persuaded to buy the set top box. Pricing will therefore be critical, with estimates of £200 to £300.

However, YouView will also be incorporated into the IPTV service of BT Vision, since BT is one of the platform’s supporters, and also in future services from another of the backers, ISP TalkTalk. They will offer the box at subsidized rates to subscribers of their broadband packages, with the plan, at least in BT’s case, being to ditch FreeView altogether and deliver all content including linear broadcast services over the Internet. Since BT’s broadband service will be needed to access the future YouView-aligned version of BT Vision, this will, in effect, be a pure play IPTV service.

Apart from BT and TalkTalk, YouView has been driven by broadcasters BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5, as well as the country’s digital terrestrial infrastructure provider Arqiva. The project has drawn criticism from some Consumer Electronics companies, such as Sony, which has accused UK broadcasters of focusing too much on the platform and not enough on the end devices. This view is not surprising from a CE maker, but does reflect a general desire for a common standard for hybrid TV, with the HbbTV specification being almost universally adopted in the rest of Europe emerging as a leading contender.