YouView gains ground in UK as teething troubles recede

The UK’s hybrid connected-TV platform, YouView, is gaining momentum after a slow start with 400,000 subscribers by the end of March 2012, six months after its long-delayed launch.

This compares with just 230,000 customers at the end of January 2013 after four months, indicating that uptake has accelerated considerably over the spring.

The platform, which provides access to both Freeview TV linear channels and on demand content via a hybrid set top box incorporating both broadband connection and digital terrestrial antenna, has attracted praise and criticism in equal measure. Rather like Liberty Global’s Horizon hybrid box launched in September 2012, YouView was hit by a spate of quality and service related complaints early on, often being caused by incompatibility between the box and the TV. There were issues over aspect ratio, sizing and picture placement, but these could in many cases be resolved by adjusting picture controls on the TV set itself.

The issues could usually be addressed by tweaking the HDMI output of the box, but naturally, the average TV subscriber does not expect to have to configure the box to obtain optimum quality. As YouView has got on top of these issues take up has picked up, allowing the good aspects of the platform to shine through, notably high-picture quality, as has been widely reported by early adopters, and also scalability as a TV platform.

The platform has a big base to aim at, as there are around 11 million UK households currently receiving Free-to-Air (FTA) TV compared with 14.6 million pay TV. YouView was really aimed at homes in that FTA sector that have not been able to access on-demand or catch-up content from portals such as BBC iPlayer on their main TVs until now. YouView delivers that on-demand access via the TV and will start supporting linear channels via the broadband connection later in the year. The ultimate objective is to dispense with the Freeview DTT option and deliver all content over broadband.

Currently costing £250 as a stand-alone unit, prices will have to come down to attract the majority of the FTA households. But, meanwhile, it is also being promoted within two pay-TV services, from Telco BT and ISP TalkTalk. BT Vision offers the box at a one off subsidized cost of £50 ($75) plus subscriptions from £4 a month upwards. BT currently offers a different hybrid set-top box for its premium service tiers, but its long-term strategy is to migrate all subscribers to YouView and dispense with digital terrestrial to save the transmission fees it currently pays to DTT infrastructure provider Arqiva.

BT Vision, with 830,000 subscribers, is the UK’s number three pay-TV player behind cable company Virgin Media on 3.7 million and DTH operator BSkyB on 10 million. TalkTalk is number four, having relaunched its pay-TV service entirely based on YouView late 2013. TalkTalk is actually running ahead of BT in YouView signups, currently with over 200,000 customers acquired at a rate of around 10,000 a week, compared with about 150,000 BT Vision YouView customers.

YouView also claims that its customers, including subscribers to BT Vision or TalkTalk as well as those who have just bought the box as a free service, are engaging increasingly with on demand options. There are now over 2.2 million VOD plays per week, and around 60 percent of all YouView customers viewing VOD programs every week. On average viewers watch seven programs at an average length of 27 minutes, or over three hours of content altogether.

While this is still far less than typical pay-TV subscribers, it is growing quite fast, leading YouView CEO Richard Halton to comment, “We’ve had a great start, and we’re delighted to have received such a positive response from consumers. We’re already the fastest growing TV service in the UK, and now we can see that translating into viewing.

"Seamless access to content is at the heart of the YouView proposition, and we are delighted to announce that Internet channels are set to launch this summer, as well as the extension of our app strategy to the Android platform. YouView is taking catch-up TV into the mainstream.”