The BBC can carry on investing in internet TV outfit YouView, the BBC Trust has ruled. The oversight panel "endorsed" the broadcaster's continued involvement in the video on-demand organisation and has published a report supporting its decision.
YouView today is now largely sold through its two big ISP shareholders – BT and TalkTalk – which tout it as a telly catch-up service accessed via subsidised set-top boxes.
YouView was conceived at the BBC in the mid-2000s when the broadcaster feared it could fall behind because it lacked a whizzy TV platform like Sky+. ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5 shared these concerns: they needed a modern distribution system, and so they together founded YouView.
Technology has moved on since the service was drawn up, and today there's no need to install a physical box to watch programmes and films over the internet.
Here, in 2014, we have a million and one ways to get UK channels: from apps in smart TVs and over-the-top services to the broadcasters' own on-demand services such as iPlayer or 4oD. All this means the case for YouView is far less certain than it used to be.
If the BBC Trust had revisited the market case for investing in YouView from first principles, it’s arguable whether it could continue to justify it. The big beneficiaries, after all, are BT and TalkTalk. The trust didn’t choose to ask that, however, opting last summer to hold a much narrower inquiry into accessibility, signposting, syndication and cross-promotional activity (which News Corp does incessantly for BSkyB).
“The scope did not extend to an assessment of YouView relative to other platforms nor did it, in any deliberate sense, revisit the rationale underpinning our original approval,” we’re reminded.
The trust's report from that inquiry, published this month, ticks off YouView for being slow to provide accessibility features, and agreed with one stakeholder that complained delivery was tied to BT and TalkTalk. It will ask YouView to address this.
“No shareholder (or partial coalition of shareholder) should be able to exert a gatekeeping role,” the report notes.
The BBC also invests in Freesat and Freeview – which appears to be playing a wildcard called FreeView Connect – not yet announced, but confirmed by multiple industry sources. This will replicate YouView functionality, and will appear embedded in smart TVs. Not everyone has seen the “open standard” yet.
So what happens to YouView may all be a bit moot. We shall see. ®