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BT and TalkTalk hijacked YouView, so what’s the point in Freeview Connect?

James Temperton
11 Jun 2014
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The BBC, ITV and Channel 4 are now working on Freeview Connect to rival YouView

YouView was meant to be a way for people to get free catch-up TV, but BT and TalkTalk have been blamed for turning it into a colossal and costly failure.

The BBC Trust has called into question the wisdom of the BBC spending millions of pounds creating a supposedly 'free' platform, which it believes has been overrun by companies flogging it on expensive contracts.

YouView had admirable aims - it was created to take on Sky and Virgin Media’s stranglehold on the pay TV market by offering a similar service with no monthly fee. After all, why should you have to pay for BBC iPlayer, ITV Player, 4oD and Demand 5?

In a shambolic turn of events BT and TalkTalk have been allowed to hijack the service for their own commercial gains, leaving the major broadcasters who had invested millions to get it up and running looking thoroughly stupid.

YouView

Priced at between £150 and £250, sales of YouView boxes have been poor. Of the 1 million YouView set-top boxes sold in the UK, just 30,000 were bought on the high street with the rest being flogged by BT and TalkTalk as part of their broadband and pay-TV services.

Along with other investors the BBC, ITV and Channel 4 have pumped tens of millions of pounds into YouView, only to bullied out of the project by BT and TalkTalk.

In February of this year the BBC Trust released a damning review of the service and the BBC's involvement in it:

"In practice, nearly all YouView 'sales' have been of subsidised equipment offered by sponsoring internet service providers in exchange for a subscription payment of some kind," the Trust said.

It added that the failure of YouView should force the BBC to rethink its strategy of making catch-up TV freely available to the masses.

The major broadcasters remain equity shareholders in YouView, with BT and TalkTalk happy to pump money into the project in a bid to take on Sky's massive pay-TV market share.

Freeview

Enter Freeview Connect. Announced earlier this month, the new partnership between the BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and transmission company Arqiva hopes to make free TV and catch-up services available to the masses, without costly monthly subscriptions. Sound familiar?

The new Freeview service will see £100 million of investment over the next five years as the broadcasters aim to take on YouView, a service they have already shovelled millions into creating. As yet there's no word of when Freeview Connect will be available.

Ultimately, all this incompetence and waste is bad news for normal people who want to watch TV without paying a fortune for the privilege. Apparently that is too much to ask.

YouView has been a shambles ever since Lord Sugar, who was paid £500,000 for a year as chairman of the company, unveiled the new service at a glitzy launch party in 2012 - two years late.

Freeview Connect needs to deliver on its promise of free, high-quality catch-up TV. If it fails like YouView then millions of people are going to be left paying over the odds to watch the shows they love.

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