Canvas UK IPTV JV Confirmed ‘YouView’; Halton Is CEO

The brand name for the UK’s public-service connected-TV joint venture, codenamed Project Canvas, has been confirmed as “YouView” (after all, it rhymes with “YouTube”). A website has launched as part to communicate the brand.

Incorporated Friday night and owned by the BBC, ITV (LSE: ITV), Channel 4, Channel 5, BT (NYSE: BT), TalkTalk and Arqiva, the service was conceived by the BBC to bring VOD and internet services to broadband-enabled Freeview PVR boxes.

Project director Richard Halton, formerly the BBC’s IPTV director, has been named YouView CEO. He staged a media briefing and launched the website Thursday morning – armed with which he will, over the next few weeks, pitch third parties like arts organisations to become content suppliers by developing YouView TV apps.

A promotional video says: “There’ll be a huge range of on-demand pay-TV. Once developers start creating apps, who knows what your TV could do? It will change the way you watch TV.”

Halton said: “It’s going to spawn a whole new range of creative content. Today, we’re quite limited by the red button. Television will become a much more diverse, rich interactive experience.

“You’ll have access to pay content as well, you’ll be able to go online and find on-demand subscription content. That means, all of a sudden, the free-to-air platforms, which typically have been the ones with the least choice, suddenly see this explosion of choice and content.

“It’s going to take the Freeview platform, which risked being left behind, and keep it in step with all other offerings on the market.

“We looked at lots of different names and tested them and ‘YouView’ came through very, very strongly,” he said, adding that the brand development was “not a significant cost”.

Launch date for YouView-enabled boxes is planned to be first half of 2011. YouView received over 30 expressions of interest from hardware manufacturers, who have had to explain their credentials before being allowed to build YouView-badged hardware.

YouView is upfront that it’s a “subscription-free alternative” to the Sky and Virgin Media (NSDQ: VMED) pay-TV platforms, each of which has its own VOD options. Indeed, the BBC Trust acknowledged this year that they those providers will lose revenue because of YouView…

But, on top of Sky’s opposition on antitrust grounds, media regulator Ofcom has been urged to conduct a full competition investigation by Virgin Media, IPTV box service Fetch TV, local TV groups Six TV and United For Local Television, plus the Open Source Consortium…

“We’re going to respond to any questions that Ofcom ask us,” Halton said. “We have already told the OFT (Office of Fair Trading) that we don’t think there’s a merger issue.”

YouView chairman Kip Meek: “Many types of content provider can be affiliated with YouView – and that includes Virgin and Sky. (YouView) is very, very important for the free broadcasters to enable them to compete in a connected-TV environment.

“I can rest very easily at night thinking that this is a service which will be pro-competitive; we are very confident that the competition issues will be put to rest.”

Halton said: “The seven million homes with Freeview and broadband is the core market. Our research suggested that 870,000 homes would go online to get YouView – that’s a big number. (Telcos) could essentially do as they do today with a phone, or offer (YouView) as an incentive as they do today with a laptop.”

YouView Ltd has about 100 staff, but this will shrink to 40 or 50 post-launch. The current seven partners will remain the only JV members until following launch.

YouView may eventually cannibalise BT’s own BT Vision IPTV service. “They have an installed base of BT Vision boxes today – those are not being turned off,” Halton said.”They are committed to those existing customers. Some BT Vision customers could have a home as part of YouView service; I think they would say there’s a role for that brand (BT Vision) as part of YouView as well.”