Ian Burrell: Will YouView catch the eye in such a crowded TV market?

Media Studies: Much is riding on it, seven partner organisations are going to invest more than £16m each in the system

On Wednesday, Lord Sugar will be unveiling the chronically-delayed YouView internet television service. If the £115m project had been a task for his apprentices, then those who have failed to get the product to market in time for the showcase of the London Olympics would surely have been fired.

YouView, we were informed when it launched in 2010, would be the living room box that changed everything. It would allow us to scroll backwards for a week on our programme menus, as well as forwards, and offer interaction with social media sites. YouView would have "bleeding-edge technology" and a "massive range of content", the CEO, Richard Halton, told me during a guided tour two year ago.

We were led to expect channels from a host of new internet broadcasters, ranging from arts organisations to charities, and we were promised the service would be available from last summer.

In fact, the reveal this week feels like a panicky attempt to tell the public that YouView is "nearly there", but it won't be over the line in time for the most important British digital broadcasting opportunity of them all. The BBC announced last week that it will stream 24 channels of Olympics content on Facebook, the first time the broadcaster has partnered with the social-media giant in this way.

Meanwhile, Apple TV already offers television, films, YouTube streaming and all the content from your other Apple devices for £99. Smart TV providers such as Samsung give access to the BBC iPlayer, YouTube and key film providers Netflix and Lovefilm. Sky will launch its NOW TV internet television brand imminently. Virgin Media, which is planning something similar, already provides most of the key features that YouView will offer.

Into this very crowded market, YouView will emerge this autumn with a price tag of £200 for the box but no charge for its basic service. Its core market will be the 20 million households who currently take the free-to-air Freeview service. Lord Sugar, who is chairman of YouView, will not be amused by news that millions of Freeview customers face bills of up to £212 for installing filter equipment to protect their television signals from interference caused by the 4G mobile network that is due to launch next year.

Much is riding on YouView. The seven partner organisations (BBC, ITV, Channel 4, Channel 5, BT Vision, Talk Talk and Arqiva) are expected to invest more than £16m each in the system.

But the exciting talk of two years ago seems to have gone. YouView will not be capable of searching the internet and it will launch without the presence of those non-traditional broadcasters who could revolutionise the viewing experience. Social interaction and obscure content are pleasures that YouView customers must enjoy on the second screen of a mobile or tablet. "We don't see any evidence that customers really want to search the Internet on their telly, they have got other devices they can do that with," Marc Watson, CEO of BT Vision and a YouView board member, told me last week.

Instead, the marketing message will concentrate on YouView's simplicity of use and the final weeks to launch will be spent on improving the speed of navigation of its extensive library of around 20,000 programmes from the major broadcasters, plus film and music services. Users will be able to scroll backwards and forwards through the channel guide and watch programmes recommended for them on the basis of their viewing habits.

"The thing that we thought was very important was that this remains a television experience," said Watson. "We wanted to make this as unintrusive as possible."

When it finally arrives, YouView will inevitably be televised but it will hardly be a revolution.

Hobsbawm's rise highlights a lack of women in the top jobs

Having been made the inaugural "Professor in Networking" at the Cass Business School, Julia Hobsbawm was on Friday named as "Media Woman of the Year" by Real Business magazine.

While this is a great accolade for London's finest salonnière, it highlights the lack of women at the top of the British news media in 2012.

The loss, for diverse reasons, of News International chief executive Rebekah Brooks, Trinity Mirror boss Sly Bailey and long-standing Sunday Mirror editor Tina Weaver has shorn national newspapers of their biggest female stars.

Only Dawn Neesom, editor of the Daily Star, and the newly appointed Sarah Sands at the London Evening Standard occupy senior roles.

The commercial broadcasters are all run by men and it is looking unlikely that we will be getting our first female director general of the BBC, in spite of Caroline Thomson, the chief operating officer, and Helen Boaden, director of news, being among the early front-runners.

It's not as if women have not been doing cutting-edge journalism. the past year has seen stunning bravery from the likes of Alex Crawford (Sky News), Lindsey Hilsum (Channel 4 News) and the late Marie Colvin (Sunday Times). Among the best investigative reporters of the moment are Claire Newell and Holly Watt (Daily Telegraph), The Guardian 's Amelia Hill, and Melanie Newman at the Bureau of Investigative Journalism.

No doubt Hobsbawm and her editorial intelligence networking organisation will be addressing such issues on Thursday when they examine the gender balance of commentators in the media at a debate called "Gender Commentaria". It will, at least, be an opportunity to schmooze.

 

* "A little lock up in Islington where a number of people with a record player are trying to make each other laugh all day." That was how the editor of The Word, Mark Ellen, described his music magazine when I visited it five years ago.

Back then he was enthusing about the potential of podcasts and the enduring appetite of readers for the fine writing of his team of "silver-haired old rock bores". But now "dramatic changes in the media and the music business" have caused the magazine to close after nine years.

The turntable on the record player has ceased to revolve and the laughter has stopped.

i.burrell@independent.co.uk

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