UK communications regulator OFCOM has confirmed no investigation will be launched into YouView (formerly Project Canvas) the new IPTV on-demand service from the UK’s free-to-air networks. According to guardian.co.uk, YouView will launch in the first half of next year and target the 7 million Freeview households that have a broadband connection. YouView’s seven partners include British Telecom, ITV, Channel 4, TalkTalk, Channel 5, Arqiva and the BBC.
The YouView platform will provide UK viewers access to a subscription-free, one-off payment IPTV offering through their compatible set top box. The platform will combine the best of the UK’s digital TV channels with the last seven days’ catch up TV available (including backdated EPG), as well as bringing a full range of on-demand services and interactive extras straight to the living room. The set top boxes will also include a PVR and similar search functions to that of TIVO by allowing the viewer to search for programs by genre, interest and locailty. YouView is anticipating that ISPs will offer special broadband packages to users of its services whose Internet usage will increase as a result of YouView usage.
YouView had come under fire from competing media companies including Virgin Media and BSkyB, two of the largest subscription TV providers in the UK. OFCOM in total received submissions from 12 parties that alleged breaches of UK competition law and that YouView partners would be incentivised to withhold content from competing platforms in order to ensure the growth and dominance of YouView.
OFCOM found that it would be premature to open an investigation into YouView’s operation because:
- IPTV is still an emerging sector, and the impact of YouView on the market will not be known with any confidence for some time;
- It is likely that YouView will bring benefits to viewers and consumers. Any potential harm to competition would need to be offset against these benefits; and
- Whether or not YouView and its partners will harm competition in the ways alleged will depend upon how this emerging market develops and how they act, particularly in relation to providing access to content and issuing technical standards.
In response to OFCOM’s decision, YouView Chief Executive Officer, Richard Halton said:
“We have been clear throughout this process that YouView will stimulate competition in the TV platform market and create opportunities for content providers and device manufacturers. Most importantly it represents a great consumer proposition. We therefore welcome this decision from Ofcom. In a market dominated by pay services, we are creating the only mass market IPTV service that will be subscription free. All our efforts are now focused on launching a brilliant consumer product for launch next year. We look forward to broadening our engagement with wider industry partners over the coming weeks and months.”
It will be interesting to see the success of the YouView offering on top of the already 50 digital TV channels available on Freeview in the UK. In the US, website Hulu whose partners include NBC Universal, News Corp., The Walt Disney Company and Providence Equity Partners and can be access from PCs, TVs, mobile and tablet devices has been very successful with their on-demand offering. According to their website more than 225 companies, including FOX, NBC Universal, ABC, Lionsgate, MGM, National Geographic, Paramount, A&E Television Networks, PBS, and Warner Bros. Television Group supply content to Hulu.
IPTV whilst still a niche player is certainly gaining traction in many markets of the world and is seen by many as the future of TV. With the recent launch of Google TV and increasing broadband speeds throughout the developed world this new form of consumer driven content delivery (as opposed to program director delivered content) is likely to gain a strong foothold in major world markets. If the success of Hulu is any indication, the impending launch of YouView should be good news for the UK free-to-air sector in its fight against pay-TV giant BSkyB.
Australian media executives should also take note of the launch of YouView. Whilst the free-to-air networks have banded together under the Freeview umbrella to push the digital TV message ahead of the analogue switch-off in 2013, each network has gone their separate way with their on-demand IPTV offerings. Seven has content accessible through TIVO’s CASPA on-demand service or through Plus7 which is available at Yahoo!7 or on a Playstation 3. Meanwhile, Channel Nine’s on-demand service is FixPlay which is accessible on Ninemsn. Network Ten’s website also features an on-demand service. The ABC’s iView on-demand service is available also online or through Playstation 3.
In competition to Australian free-to-air networks’ on-demand IPTV offerings is Telstra’s T-Box, Foxtel & Austar’s on-demand service and Fetch-TV whose service is accessible to iiNet users. In order to combat this explosion of on-demand services, Australian free-to-air networks may want to consider adopting the UK approach with a YouView like service deliverable through Freeview compatible TVs and set top boxes.
It is still early days but content providers around the world are now scrambling to ensure they have an IPTV offering for the consumer. YouView is one of these exciting new services and one that should be followed closely by Australian and international media executives.