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BBC, C4 and ITV Moot Internet Catch Up TV Service Freeview Connect

Tuesday, Feb 11th, 2014 (2:16 pm) - Score 1,826

Who needs YouView (IPTV) anyway? The BBC, Channel 4, ITV and Digital UK appear to be considering a third bash at the Internet based catch-up TV game (aka – Freeview Connect) after their last attempt, YouView, ended up becoming more of a commercial customer retention tool for the big broadband ISPs (e.g. TalkTalk and BT).

So far around 1 million homes have installed one of YouView’s set-top-boxes, which began its life on the back of Project Canvas as a Joint Venture project between the BBC, ITV, BT, Channel 4, TalkTalk, Arqiva and Channel 5. The service has received a lot of praise but it’s also struggled to expand beyond set-top-boxes for ISPs.

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Indeed the majority of those customers come from TalkTalk, with others from BT and smaller ISPs like JT, and yet only 30,000 have sold via retail without ISP branding. Meanwhile the broadband providers are using YouView to both distribute premium as well as Freeview TV content.

In our view that’s partly because YouView’s set-top-boxes have until recently been very expensive (only at retail because the big ISPs often include them at no extra cost) and even now for the same money you can get a Freeview HD STB with built-in wifi and a Blu-ray player, which is something that YouView doesn’t offer.

On top of that YouView’s major TV broadcasting partners last year indicated that they wanted the technology to pursue a “multi-device strategy” (here), which was said to have a particular focus on Internet Connected TV’s. But it’s alleged that there were some internal differences over the groups future direction, which needed to be resolved before the old partnership agreement expires at the end of March 2014.

So it’s perhaps little wonder that the major Freeview focused TV broadcasters want to have a third bash, albeit this time at something they can control and stick on more than just a Set-Top-Box for ISPs. At the same time the BBC indicated that it might scale back its investment in YouView (here), although in fairness that has arguably been miss-reported because you’d expect the investment to reduce after the primary R&D / launch phase.

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According to The Guardian, the new Freeview Connect service would be more open to other devices than YouView. The pitch sounds similar to how YouView was first proposed after the demise of Project Canvas but so far YouView hasn’t been widely adopted outside of its STB role for ISPs and most non-YouView STBs and devices still have to reach separate agreements in order to show catch-up TV content for the BBC’s iPlayer, 4OD etc. A single solution would be simpler, especially if YouView can’t be made to do it.

Digital UK, which looks after Freeview and promotes its digital terrestrial interests, has confirmed that a new catch-up TV solution is being explored but so far nobody outside of the main broadcasters seem to know much about Freeview Connect.

A potentially even bigger problem would be that Freeview Connect might cause widespread confusion among consumers, many of which have only just gotten around to understanding YouView (mention the name and some will still ask, “what’s that?“), by adding another samey catch-up TV initiative. The scaling back of support in YouView might also worry the projects ISP partners, although equally it could afford them more control.

The fact is that YouView does at least work and it would be far better for the partners to make it more accessible across additional platforms, although clearly that approach hasn’t happened in the way some had desired and as a result alternatives like TVCatchup have stepped in to fill the void (it’s fine when the streams aren’t breaking up).

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But is there still a place in the market for Freeview Connect? Maybe but it’ll need a lot of advertising and won’t involve the big broadband ISPs, at least not as primary partners. Meanwhile we expect YouView to live on, fuelled by limited broadcaster support and continued backing from BT and TalkTalk.

Mark-Jackson
By Mark Jackson
Mark is a professional technology writer, IT consultant and computer engineer from Dorset (England), he also founded ISPreview in 1999 and enjoys analysing the latest telecoms and broadband developments. Find me on X (Twitter), Mastodon, Facebook and .
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