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Saturday, 26 March 2011

YouView - one box does all

Lord Sugar is on board to get things moving at YouView. I’m a big fan of the great man and and his ways and I like to imagine him at the staff meet and greet saying, “I don’t want you pissing money up the wall” (quite literally my No.1 Apprentice quote). We can assume that as the launch has been delayed until 2012 the build up to the Olympics is the big consumer moment when YouView boxes need to be established in the marketplace. Lord Sugar knows his 4Ps so he’ll want to get those bleedin’ boxes out at the right price “as sure as I’ve got a hole in my bloody arse” (my No.2).

For those of you who don’t know YouView promises to revolutionise the way the public use their TV. An HD digital freeview box with internet access and a hard drive, with an easy to use interface that allows you to access application based web content alongside digital channels. All without messing around with different devices. It is the internet access that should get the arts excited as it allows content providers access to the public through their telly. For arts organisations it creates the potential to become broadcasters. The challenge for YouView will be how do you make masses of content accessible in a meaningful way? With potentially thousands of content providers will the smaller niche providers be visible to anyone except those who know exactly what they are searching for?

I don’t have one but apparently 11% of televisions sold in 2010 were internet enabled and that number will climb fast; adding up to a lot of people who may not want an extra box in 2012. I’ve been using my Playstation to watch iPlayer, 4OD and download movies and apart from the fiddliness of using a controller that is designed for gaming it is a pretty good experience. I also get to watch my DVDs and Blu-rays and can even watch Sadler’s Wells videos via our player all through one box.

But it is a mess under my TV. I’ve got an external amp to give extra oomph when watching films and listening to digital radio, a PVR to record programmes, a Playstation (there’s an Xbox and a DVD player somewhere too), and sometimes connect my mac up to browse the web. But I’m the only person in the house who can work the TV. When my Dad visits he has no hope once he touches a button on one of the three remotes. What the buying public need is a single solution that is easy enough to use to get them taking advantage of all this exciting new web based content (I was told that only 15% of those internet enabled televisions are actually ever used to access the web).

There are an impressive array of partners involved in the project, including Blinkbox, Blinkx, BSkyB (which is big news), Film4oD, Golant Media Ventures, Guardian News & Media, IndieMoviesOnline, Lovefilm, Pushbutton, Radioplayer, Stream UK, STV, Travel Channel, Tvinci, UTV and woomi for content, while on the tech side there are Alcatel-Lucent, Capablue, Deluxe, easeltv, IMD, ioko, Kaltura, Nativ, Ooyala, Red Bee Media, Technicolor, TripleSEE and Twofour.

From the arts sector the two biggies of theatre broadcasting, the National and the ROH, are already on board. But one concern is they are quite simply light years away from most arts organisations in terms of the resources they can put into the filming and distribution of their own shows.  The other is that as they generally play to full houses and are London based national organisations the role broadcasting plays in their business plan is quite different from the norm. Smaller arts organisations will be keen to see what they can produce for the platform with modest resources and how they can use YouView to reach new audiences to support their core activity – live performances. The newly announced BBC/Arts Council digital training programme will have a big role to play in the process.

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