A unique over-the-top (OTT) initiative has emerged in the UK, one of the most exciting and innovative television markets in the world. The main broadcasters in the country - including the BBC - and the biggest Internet Service Providers (ISPs) have joined forces, to build YouView. It took three and a half years - and some sniggering at the back - since the inception of the original Project Canvas. But YouView is now a reality and we think it is a fantastic product.
YouView aims to make VoD very accessible, particularly to those audiences not interested in pay TV packages, or not so tech savvy. The set-top box (STB) is a hybrid DTT/IP device, available subscription-free from retailers since September 2012, for around £200. In addition, ISPs - and YouView shareholders - BT and Talk Talk now also bundle the device with some of their broadband packages. Through these channels, YouView STBs are expected to enter UK households en masse. But, in a living room crowded with connected TVs, games consoles and cable STBs, what makes YouView different?
Open or closed?
YouView aims to strike a unique balance between open and closed OTT platforms. A totally open platform like the original Google TV essentially brings a web browser to the big TV screen. It gives access to almost all video available on the public Internet, in full random glory. The drawback of this Internet smorgasbord? An inconsistent user experience, not well-tailored for the big screen, and many quality issues. On the other end of the spectrum, a closed platform like Apple TV provides a consistent and quality user experience, but a comparatively small set of content, handpicked on Apple’s commercial terms. YouView aims to find a balance that delivers the best of both worlds.
At its heart, YouView is a platform that any content provider can publish to, on the basis of Fair, Reasonable and Non-Discriminatory (FRND) listing. This principle is core to the ambition of YouView, and possibly a regulatory requirement, given the structure of the venture. This ensures that - in time - YouView will provide access to a wealth of on-demand content: from big broadcasters to niche publishers, from ITV1 to Trainspotter On-Demand.
And while every content provider should build their own portal, YouView remains in control, not only of the SDK, but also of the core user interface (UI) and of a central metadata aggregation service. YouView defines standards for video encoding and user interaction. And YouView checks that content providers comply with those standards. This ensures quality of the YouView product.
TV is not quite dead yet
YouView also aims to bridge the gap between VoD and linear broadcasting, an area woefully ignored by most pure Internet players. Searching for content in the YouView UI returns both linear and on-demand content. The Electronic Programme Guide (EPG) seamlessly shows both the next 7 days of broadcast programmes, and the last 7 days of catch-up programmes. Predictions of an imminent death of linear broadcasting have been largely overstated; British audiences have never watched as much linear TV as they do now. YouView recognises this and embraces both the old way and the new way of watching video (thus reflecting its shareholder structure!).
Everybody loves a standard
The YouView technical specification might not be everyone’s favourite bedtime reading, but we strongly recommend it. It is an ambitious initiative, in a world of fragmented and proprietary VoD technologies. YouView proposes largely open, standard-based solutions to widespread industry problems. It talks about scalability through adaptive streaming over HTTP, quality of service (a perennial headache for OTT providers), content protection, multicasting of linear channels over IP, etc… It is a comprehensive, impressive and very welcome contribution but it might not take the world by storm: elsewhere in Europe - in particular in France, Germany, the Netherlands and Spain - HbbTV has emerged as a technical standard with similar aims.
At BeBanjo, we believe there isn’t just one way of watching VoD content. VoD belongs on multiple platforms and multiple devices. But YouView holds a special place in our hearts. Two of the YouView shareholders are our customers. Our Movida and Metadata products are directly integrated with YouView, and used to publish some of the VoD services available on the platform today. In fact, we have been working with YouView and Channel 5 for more than a year before the consumer service launched and we’ve enjoyed (almost) every minute of it. Ok, the YouView STB is quite expensive today, and lacks some key features like WiFi. But this will no doubt be addressed soon, and we think YouView will rightly become a British favourite.