YouView Announced

Finally, the official announcement of YouView: the new website has gone live today.

As someone who already had a reasonable idea of what the service was going to look like, I must admit to being a little disappointed that there are scant details about the boxes themselves, and some more timelines from ISPs would have been nice. Likewise, I was hoping for a developer API to be part of the announcement, and are there plans to expose the IPTV platform on mobile apps, plugins with popular media center applications etc? However, overall I am encouraged that they seem to be going down the right path (or rather, my own view of "right").

I am a great believer in standards, and for me YouView seems to be achieving a good balance of just enough standardisation to give consumers what they really want, whilst retaining just enough scope for differentiation so that competition and innovation can work. By being open about the specifications and encouraging participation, the partners appear to recognise that getting people on board is the only way for the platform to succeed. If there is enough momentum and it works, there is a clear win for everybody here: the content providers only need to support one platform to get good exposure to a wide range of devices, and device manufacturers can get a huge range of content and a consistent for a scaleable development cost and with a consistent user interface to design products with. The biggest worry I have really is that this is really just a slightly bigger empire: that Sky will refuse to join in, or some movie studio or another will block their content from appearing on the platform. Aside from that, the standard of implementation is of course still an unknown.

Without seeing a box in action it is impossible to tell whether the implementation of a unified interface for live and online TV is up to par, but I believe it would be a major achievement if YouView has managed to corral the content providers into a consistent aggregate system. I work with distributed data integration systems in my day job and I know how hard this is: not just technically (e.g. identifiers for TV shows, categories etc), but also in getting separate organisations to work together well. So for me, the acid test will be this: When I finish watching a new episode of "Would I Lie To You?" on BBC, I want the "More episodes" function to tell me about all the episodes, regardless of whether they are live TV in the future, catch up from the past, or on demand, and regardless of whether they are provided by BBC or Dave. If the same episode is provided by multiple mechanisms, I want the system to recognise that what I care about are the purely functional differences:

  1. Can I watch it now? If not, when?
  2. Which is the highest quality?
  3. Does it carry ads?

For sure, the provenance of the content is very important and it is necessary to inform me about this. But if the user interface limits me to navigating within the confines of a provider-centric viewpoint, it has failed. When I sit down to watch TV, I don't think "ooh, I wonder what is on Channel 5 tonight", I think "is there anything I want to watch?". Luckily, it does indeed seem like, at the level of on demand content at least, an integrated navigation and search for all the programming across different providers is indeed the philosophy of the product. Many years after we got an integrated guide (a la Sky, Virgin, Freeview), it seems we will get one for all content no matter how it is delivered.

Well, nearly. Now, if it could integrate the content I have on my NAS box...

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