Lord Sugar finally launches YouView internet television service


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The Independent Online

Lord Sugar today unveiled the much-awaited YouView internet-supported television service and promptly told customers they could expect to buy the system for one third of the launch price if they waited two years.

The Amstrad founder announced that YouView would go on sale at the end of this month for £299, a higher price than had been anticipated. “Will I be surprised in two years time if the boxes in the retail channels will be £99? Not really, you know what it’s like in the consumer electronics industry,” he said.

YouView, which is seen as the successor service to the Freeview platform, was revealed at a grand ceremony at the London Film Museum in the presence of BBC Director General Mark Thompson, whose successor was being announced on the same day, and the chief executive of Channel 4 David Abraham. The broadcasters, along with ITV, BT, Channel 5, Talk Talk and Arqiva make up the seven partners who have each so far invested £10m in YouView.

The service will allow easy access to television on-demand services and YouView announced today that it was in discussions with 300 additional content partners – likely to include arts organisations and charities - who could potentially transform the television experience.

But the initial launch of YouView is a cautious one and based on simplicity of use. “You can’t get anything easier than this,” said Lord Sugar. Again encouraging consumers to wait and see, the peer admitted the service contained a “minimum of facilities and features on there at the moment” but said it had potential to grow, describing it as a “carcass” and a “template”.

He said he was “proud” to be associated with a “revolutionary new product” and had been personally involved in designing some of the navigation features. “I am the prime master of making stuff that is easy to use,” he said. Praising the convenience of YouView’s three-step instructions guide, the host of The Apprentice adopted a demeanour familiar to his television audience when he added: “With the greatest respect if they can’t understand that then they shouldn’t be watching TV.”

Answering criticisms that the service had been damaged by long technological delays, so that it will not be in living rooms in time for the opening ceremony of London 2012 on 27 July, Lord Sugar said that the Olympics were not a recognised deadline. “We are launching a television platform that’s going to be there forever,” he said.

He celebrated YouView as a British technological success story, although the box that is being sold at launch is produced by Korean manufacturer Humax. Further boxes are being made for BT and Talk Talk but will not be ready for the launch.

YouView is currently being trialled by 2,500 of the Humax boxes and Lord Sugar said that he had received favourable responses from triallists who had contacted him on his Twitter account.

Richard Halton, the chief executive, admitted that the team had faced a “difficult technical challenge to get to this point”. But he said YouView was a “dynamic evolving proposition that is just going to get better.”

Mr Thompson came to YouView’s defence by pointing out that the Freeview digital terrestrial service and the watch again iPlayer platform had both been criticised for technical delays but had proved to be highly popular. He described YouView as a “compelling platform that the BBC is very proud to be part of”.

What is YouView?

The most attractive feature of YouView is its ease of access to the on-demand services of all the public service broadcasters with users being able to scroll back for a week to watch programmes they missed, as well as forward to record shows in the schedules ahead.

Other platforms, such as Virgin Media, already provide similar features but YouView will be free – once consumers have forked out £299 for their box. Although it is designed as a simple-to-use television experience, customers of BT Vision and Talk Talk will be able to access other content, such as specialist film and sports channels.

The game changer will be when other partners join the service. YouView is talking to 300 organisations and the first two, Scottish broadcaster STV and BSkyB (which is offering a movies, sports and entertainment package called NOW TV) will join the platform later in the summer.

In its initial guise YouView doesn’t live up to Lord Sugar’s billing of a “revolutionary product” and he admitted himself that his target market was not people who have already paid out for satellite or cable television services. He wants to reach “the Freeview audience that don’t want to be tied to a subscription”.

One problem is that some Freeview viewers may already be facing bills – of up to £224 - for repairing interference to their signals that will result from the introduction of the 4G mobile network next year. Some of the 20m Freeview households are slow adopters of new technology who have only recently upgraded from analogue sets and will be reluctant to go through further upheaval so soon. Especially if the £299 price of a YouView box is going to plummet in response to market forces, as Lord Sugar himself admits.