A BBC Trust report, prepared by the consultancy Mediatique, has recommended “careful review” of the BBC’s investment in content distribution, including distribution on the YouView platform “in light of BBC-wide platform and distribution strategy and in particular its duty to promote the availability of services free (or at no incremental cost) at the point of delivery”.
A key point here is that the BBC may be failing in its duty to make BBC programming available for free to payers of the licence fee. “In practice, nearly all YouView ‘sales’ have been of subsidised equipment offered by sponsoring internet service providers [BT and TalkTalk] in exchange for a subscription payment of some kind.”
Latest figures suggest that of the 1 million YouView set-top boxes installed in the UK, only around 30,000 or 3 per cent, were bought unsubsidised at retail. “This may have implications for the BBC’s strategy of promoting ‘free’ access to its services”, the report says.
One press report quoted an industry expert as saying that “YouView was meant to be the champion of the next generation of Free To Air but the involvement of the internet service providers means that it has become a pay platform. YouView isn’t the champion of the free; it’s the home of the pay.”
Officially, the BBC remains committed to YouView. However, it’s reported that three YouView partners (the BBC, Channel 4 and ITV) have joined in an initiative to develop connected FTA viewing under a new brand called Freeview Connect, a development which would indicate a desire to disengage from YouView.
The broadcasters are understood to be collaborating to establish a new service to make their catch-up TV services available as standard on smart TVs.
Freeview Connect is being led by Digital UK, an industry body funded by the BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and Arqiva and which exists to support Freeview viewers and channels, providing information on receiving terrestrial TV and advice on reception and equipment).
It appears that the future for YouView is by no means clear and far from rosy.
By John Holland