The BBC is reportedly planning to scale back its investment in YouView.
The broadcaster will cut its support of the set-top box, which was intended to become the new flagship platform for Britain’s free-to-air digital television – Freeview 2.0.
Now, according to The Guardian, BT and TalkTalk will be left as the main shareholders in the set-top box, which is jointly owned by BBC, ITV, Channel 4, Five, Arqiva and the two telecoms groups. YouView has enjoyed a successful launch, despite spiralling costs and delays, with more than 1 million homes now using the box.
But while the YouView box can be purchased for £229 off the shelf, the majority of customers signed up through a BT or TalkTalk pay-TV subscription – just 3 per cent are estimated to have picked one up from the high street. As a result, the BBC are reportedly concerned about their funding of a platform that is, so far, mostly benefitting private companies.
Indeed, while a range of new services and channels have been added to the box in the last year – a partnership with Curzon World Cinema offers rentals for BT customers and a TalkTalk agreement with Sky gives customers access to sports channels – the concern is that the future of Freeview has turned into a package of premium options for the two communications companies.
“YouView was meant to be the champion of the next generation of free to air but the involvement of the internet service providers means that it has become a pay platform,” one expert tells the newspaper. “YouView isn’t the champion of the free; it’s the home of the pay.”
The BBC’s involvement was originally on the condition that it would not subsidise joint venture partners, with all seven partners owning 14.3 per cent share and bearing equal costs. Now, The Guardian reports that the BBC, Channel 4, Five, ITV and Arqiva will all reduce their financial contributions.
A YouView spokesperson said: “All seven shareholders remain committed to YouView and are confident of finalising the renewed shareholders agreement by the end March.”
The BBC chimed in: “We are committed to YouView and are confident of finalising the renewed shareholders agreement by the end of March.”
The broadcasters are now expected to focus their funds on promoting Freeviw and Freesat, which offer free aerial and satellite digital TV respectively. Freeview is backed by the BBC, ITV, Sky, Arqiva and Arqiva and currently serves 11 million homes. Freesat is backed by the BBC and ITV and is used in approximately 1.8 million homes.
Update: A nicely balanced piece from SeenIt.co.uk reminds that it’s part of the “natural order” of a maturing platform to require less funding after its initial stages, with operating costs being met in part by content owners joining the platform.
Indeed, with UKTV’s Yesterday and Really both joining the service earlier this month, it’s clear that YouView isn’t going anywhere – and with a YouView Official Rep commenting on its community forums that the BBC would be bringing its Red Button to the platform, even if the BBC scale back their funding alongside other broadcasters, The Beeb’s support isn’t going anywhere either.