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Sky Joins Virgin Media UK to Lodge YouView TV Competition Complaint with Ofcom

Posted: 14th Oct, 2010 By: MarkJ
youview uk set-top-boxuk sky broadbandThe controversial YouView (Project Canvas) service, which claims to have developed an "open standard" for bringing subscription free broadband ISP based internet TV services (e.g. BBC iPlayer ) directly into homes via special Set-Top-Boxes (STBs), has received another sharp blow after BSkyB ( Sky Broadband ) joined Virgin Media in lodging an official competition complaint with Ofcom and the Office of Fair Trading (OFT).

Back in August 2010 Virgin Media complained that the service would be anti-competitive, a proprietary closed platform, and could limit consumer choice instead of expanding upon it. However the OFT had to throw out its own investigation in May 2010 because it did not have jurisdiction to review it under the merger provisions of the Enterprise Act 2002.

A Virgin Media Spokesperson said in August 2010:

"[The] Canvas partners have significantly exceeded their original claims to be creating a common set of open standards which could have been improved upon by others and are now intent on controlling every aspect of how people watch TV.

The BBC Trust has already acknowledged, but then completely ignored, the impact that Canvas will have on so many different organisations; from consumer electronics firms to software developers and enterprising new technology manufacturers to independent programme makers. We strongly urge Ofcom, supported by the OFT, to thoroughly examine Project Canvas and its clear anti-competitive behaviour."

Virgin Media contested that it could not use the standard because YouView wanted to impose their own interface upon the platform, including the YouView channel listing and search facility. This would have been entirely controlled by the Joint Venture (JV) partners, allegedly allowing them to give preference to their own content.

BSkyB, much like Virgin Media, also has its own user interface and Electronic Programme Guide (EPG) to protect. Sky is also angry at the use of public money to fund what they perceive as being their competition and believes that the internet-enabled television (IPTV) market already has sufficient competition. If by that they mean BT Vision and a few niche alternative platforms then we'd have to say.. no.

YouView CEO, Richard Halton, commented:

"While we welcome justifiable scrutiny, the timing of this submission is clearly designed to extend the regulatory process in pursuit of commercial self interest rather than the public interest.

We remain committed to creating a viable, subscription free alternative to meet consumer needs and stimulate the market. YouView will create competition among TV platforms and increase the range and number of opportunities for content providers and device manufacturers.

We encourage Ofcom to take this wider view as they continue their consideration."

At present YouView is supported by several major broadcasters and ISPs, including the BBC , ITV , BT , TalkTalk , Channel 4, five and Arqiva. It is set to launch during the Q1-2011, with both BT and TalkTalk planning to be among the first to introduce related products.

At the end of September the governments Culture Secretary, Jeremy Hunt (MP), gave his support by remarking upon how he envisioned new local TV services that would "exploit the potential of new platform technologies, such as YouView ... to grow their service and improve their cost-effectiveness."

Certainly more than a few consumers would like greater choice of TV services than those offered by BT , Sky and Virgin Media UK. The principals upon which YouView were based seem like a good model. However in practice there do appear to be some significant problems and such complaints are clearly not without merit. It's now up to Ofcom.
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