[Last week’s] YouView ‘launch’ is way overdue but also too early. We’ve been talking about this for four years as the future of TV but its only just gone to beta testing and the set-top boxes are not yet in the shops. Clearly the consortium wanted to make some kind of impact ahead of the Olympics, but in effect this will not be a mainstream proposition for UK consumers until the end of 2012.
Had it launched in 2010 or 2011, it would have been able to shape the market, but now it is another smart TV platform competing with offers from Freeview Plus, Sky, Virgin Media, XBox and TV manufacturers. The defining features of YouView - such as the backwards electronic program guide (EPG) - are no longer so revolutionary. That said, some of the competing technologies - from Google and Apple, or from the likes of Roku and Boxee - are either nascent or effectively non-existent in the UK market. There is still time for YouView to make its mark.
Informa believes that a cross-device platform not tied to one manufacturer has a great chance of succeeding, if the content offering and consumer experience are right. Different partners foresee a different role for YouView within their overall offerings - it is not entirely clear how YouView will sit alongside BT Vision, for example - but in due course the scale and scope of the YouView offering may yet challenge premium offerings from its partner providers such as BT and Sky. BT’s TV strategy is still based on acquiring exclusive (and very expensive) content rights - such as the English Premier League - to tempt an audience, but TalkTalk’s decision to offer LoveFilm may be just as attractive for consumers, but much cheaper for the operator.
As the market has moved on, it is not yet entirely clear where YouView will sit in the UK TV landscape. Freeview has been hugely successful in building an audience at one end, and has continued to evolve its offer. At the other end, pay-TV providers, notably Sky, have been at the cutting edge of investing in their content and also making it available across different devices. Where will YouView sit on this spectrum? This is a major dilemma: If it’s not good enough, it won’t gain traction with audiences who now have other choices. If it’s too good, it could threaten the business of other service providers, including some YouView partners.
One further issue lies in the way the market has moved on since YouView was first conceived, specifically with the growth of multi-screen offerings from TV providers. With a content-rich platform like YouView, navigation will be key. Is an on-screen EPG the best solution or does the future lie in second-screens, as we control our viewing through our smartphones and tablets. If so, is YouView equipped for such a scenario?
More answers will emerge as the product rolls out, and once prices come down (as they will). YouView’s impact on the market is likely to be profound, given the clout of those behind it, even if it faces challenges. In the meantime, for a more detailed response to the overall YouView proposition, Informa clients should look out for an upcoming report by my colleague Ted Hall – watch this space.
Nick Thomas is a principal analyst with Informa Telecoms & Media, with a key focus on global TV and digital media