Ofcom gives go-ahead for broadband TV service

Nick Clark
Wednesday 20 October 2010 00:00
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Youview, the venture designed to bring "catch-up" TV into the living room, is on track to launch next year after the media watchdog decided there was currently no competition case to answer. Ofcom decided against a formal investigation into YouView – previously known as Project Canvas – under the Competition Act despite 11 complaints from, among others, Virgin Media and BSkyB. The regulator said it was too early to judge the venture's impact.

Ed Richards, the chief executive of Ofcom, said: "Ofcom's view is that consumers' interests will not be served by opening an investigation. It would be premature at the current stage of YouView's development, given the absence of a clear risk of consumer harm."

YouView, whose partners comprise the BBC, ITV, BT, Channel 4, Five, TalkTalk and Arqiva, has already been cleared by the BBC Trust while the Office of Fair Trading decided against its own inquiry. The venture's chief executive, Richard Halton, said he was "pleased and relieved by the news", adding: "This clears the regulatory hurdles for an ambitious project."

An insider at one of the 11 complainants said Ofcom was "holding the stable door wide open for this platform, yet admitting it might need closing at some point in the future. By then it will be too late and consumers will already have lost out". It is understood that the complainants are looking at options, which could include a judicial review or going to the European Commission.

The regulator did say yesterday that its position could change and that it would continue to monitor the venture, which plans to launch the first boxes bringing internet services such as iPlayer to the television in the first half of next year.

"If evidence does emerge in the future that YouView causes harm to the interests of viewers and consumers we may reconsider whether to investigate," Mr Richards said.

The complainants, headed by Virgin, protested in August the YouView partners would have an incentive to withhold shows from competing platforms. It said the venture had not made the technical standards widely available and feared it would restrict competition between television platforms.

Ofcom said an investigation would be "premature" because internet protocol television was in its infancy, and YouView's impact on the market would not be known "for some time".

It concluded that the venture "will bring benefits to viewers and consumers. Any potential harm to competition would need to be offset against these benefits".

A Virgin Media spokesman said "We are perplexed and disappointed by Ofcom's decision," but declined to comment further until it has examined the statement. A spokesman for Sky declined to comment.

Revolution on the radio

While YouView's partners are working to overhaul the way British viewers watch television, the BBC has also joined commercial rivals to launch a player that will do the same for radio.

The Radioplayer will be rolled out in December before a full launch in February, and will be available online as well as through internet-connected TV set-top boxes, such as YouView. It is also being developed for mobile devices.

The service was first announced last year, and will provide listeners with one location for more than 200 streamed BBC and commercial stations as well as local, community and student radio.

The commercial players backing the venture include Global Radio – whose brands include Classic FM and Heart – Absolute Radio and RadioCentre.

The Radio Council, which oversees the service's development, said last year that listening online was seen as "difficult and unpopular", before adding: "But there was considerable public interest in a simple interface offering the whole of UK radio." Currently, 4.7 million people listen to radio online – about 8 per cent of the total audience.

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