BT dumps UK’s Pace for Humax

UK-based Pace, the world’s largest set top box maker by volume, has been rejected by Telco BT in favor of South Korean electronics group Humax for the new version of its BT Vision pay TV service. With around 700,000 subscribers, BT Vision is the UK’s third largest pay TV service, but is poised for growth after some aggressive content deals including acquisition of some rights for English Premier League football matches where Sky has been dominant for over a decade.

BT Vision has also been boosted by the arrival of the UK’s YouView hybrid platform which it has backed strongly, along with the country’s main Free To Air broadcasters including the BBC, ITV, and Channel 4. Until now, BT Vision has had to rely on digital terrestrial for its broadcast channels, delivering just VOD over its broadband network, but YouView will allow much more seamless integration within a single IP-delivered service. This will avoid having to use the DTT infrastructure provided by Arqiva.

But, BT needed a new set top box for the YouView version of the service, and chose Humax over Pace. Both have developed set top boxes for the YouView platform, and Pace had been expected to be chosen as the incumbent supplier for the existing BT Vision DTT/IPTV hybrid service. Pace had been chosen in January 2010 to supply the set top box, called Vision+, for the second generation of the BT Vision service that was originally launched in December 2006. This second generation box brought BT Vision customers HD capable PVR services, and were praised at the time for their low energy consumption as part of Pace’s low environmental impact (LEI) initiative.

But, now it appears that Pace was unable to meet BT Vision’s latest requirements, at least within the required time scale, although BT has indicated the door is still open for future contracts. Humax had already been chosen as the lead supplier for the YouView project itself, so its selection by BT Vision in the end was not such a surprise after all. Pace may also reflect that both Cisco and Technicolour, two of the world’s other leading set top box makers, decided to pull out of the YouView project because they did not consider it to be a sufficiently large market. YouView is unique to the UK, with the rest of Europe pursuing hybrid TV via the HbbTV standard. Pace itself may now decide it is time to cut its losses on YouView, even though it is still in the frame for other versions of the platform, as is Chinese telecoms equipment maker Huawei.