Is there room for another player in the market?
If you’re not entirely sure what YouView is, it might well be because all of the talk about what started under the codename ‘Project Canvas’ faded away when the media got bored of talking about something that might never see the light of day.
As a joint venture between all the terrestrial broadcasters (BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5) and BT, TalkTalk and Arqiva, the concept was sound; Instead of simply offering the ability to record terrestrial television, via Freeview (including HD), to a hard drive like countless other boxes, the system was designed to go online to offer catch-up TV services too. All without a monthly subscription.
In the last two years there has been no shortage of set top boxes that come with dual HD tuners, varying sizes of hard drive storage and support for Freeview, Sky or Virgin Media customers. Many now include Internet connectivity, giving access to services like BBC iPlayer or the web.
In other words, everything that was to make a YouView box so special has been done by everyone else.
The new box, manufactured by Humax, will retail for £299.95 when it goes on sale in mid-July at retailers like John Lewis, Currys, Comet, Argos, Amazon, Richer Sounds and Euronics. Later on, BT and TalkTalk will make a variant of the box available to its customers, possibly for a lower price (or free) depending on the monthly package purchased and the length of contract (most likely 18 months).
At such a high price, you’d probably expect a pretty amazing specification. After all, Sky and Virgin will each supply you a box with a 1TB hard drive, dual tuners and access to the Internet with catch-up TV services and pay-per-view movies – albeit with a requirement to subscribe to their services.
What more can the Humax bring to the party? The reality is, not a lot. There’s a rather miserly 500GB hard drive and there’s no Wi-Fi support built-in. You either get a Wi-Fi dongle to plug in (at extra expense), or run an Ethernet cable or Powerline adapter connection from your router if it’s not located nearby.
A great moment for British television.
Not put off by the high price, Lord Sugar (non-executive chairman since 2011) was on hand to launch YouView by declaring it “a great moment for British television”, before going on later to admit that within two years the price might well fall to £99. A statement that might make it difficult to convince people to part with three times as much money now. Not quite a Gerald Ratner moment, given what he said was totally true of any consumer electronics product, but still an odd thing to say before a single unit has been sold.
What the YouView system really offers the consumer isn’t down to the hardware. This box is just the first of what is likely to be number of models. Expect more storage, sleeker designs, integrated Wi-Fi and who knows what else on the second and third generation models. And, of course, lower prices.
All-in-one EPG: Seamless integration
YouView is really about is its EPG, which presents things in a rather unique way to the competition. Unlike every other box on the market, there’s no EPG for the broadcast material, with separate menus to access BBC iPlayer or download movies – as you’ll find on a Sky+ box with Anytime+, a TiVo with iPlayer installed as an app and most Smart TVs that have different categories and menus.
The EPG has everything in one place. And, unlike other programme guides, you can even go back in time – by up to seven days. Missed a programme by a few hours or even a few days? With YouView that’s not a problem. Just scroll back and the programmes from the past will be streamed via the Internet. There’s no need to load up iPlayer or 4OD first because the system makes all the inner workings totally invisible to the user.
Our intention with this simple–to-use box is to provide extraordinary TV for everyone, with on-demand services combined with TV channels with an opportunity to search back an entire week to catch what they’ve missed. It’s a whole new way of experiencing TV.
What’s more, there’s a far more comprehensive search facility than you’ll find on most Freeview or Sky+ boxes. Only TiVo could be considered as having a really good search feature of its own, plus other boxes made by Humax.
Searching is also conducted on top of the broadcast, so you don’t need to miss anything when looking for other things to watch or record. It means you don’t have to try and watch a broadcast in a tiny window shoved in a corner when doing things, or even lose the picture completely on some boxes.
Simplicity is going to be the biggest benefit to the end user here, and even people who can cope perfectly well with a system that has multiple menus or apps to deliver the same thing will probably prefer YouView if given the choice. The question is whether people will stump up £300 now for something easier, especially if YouView can’t get the word out to the general public.
YouView is a work in progress and isn’t going to succeed or fail purely down to the sales of the first box to go on sale. What’s more, the service will expand beyond Freeview when other companies sign up to be included on the EPG.
Look to the Sky
Sky has announced it will be joining YouView in the future, with its new NOW TV service. This will bring Sky content, from exclusive TV shows to movies and sport on a pay-per-view basis, without the need to have a Sky subscription. STV is also confirmed to be joining later too.
There’s nothing to stop other content providers like Netflix or LoveFilm getting involved either, or any new company that sees YouView as a platform that can compete with the likes of Sky and Virgin Media.
It’s not easy to see how the initial box will sell in huge numbers until the price falls (or a Wi-Fi enabled model ships), but given the right marketing and other companies signing up to join in and bring even more choice, it’s hard to imagine that YouView could fail.
It might also give the rivals food for thought about their EPG designs of the future…