The BBC Trust has endorsed the corporation’s continued involvement in YouView, the internet-connected TV established by broadcasters and ISPs.
The approval follows a review of the service’s operations and the BBC’s promotion of it, areas the Trust said it would monitor when giving its initial approval for BBC involvement in the project.
A report published today welcomes YouView’s implementation of accessibility features for viewers with visual and cognitive impairments but says not enough progress has been made in delivering a full text-to-speech solution.
However, in its response to the Trust’s review, BT said the service’s accessibility features “would not have developed as quickly as it has without BBC involvement.”
All seven shareholders recently signed a new funding agreement for YouView.
Today’s report reveals that the one condition of the BBC’s continued involvement, is that text-to-speech functionality providing remote control functionality and the ability to browse the EPG “must be implemented in 2014/15.”
One initial condition the Trust imposed was that the BBC must not favour YouView in its on-screen promotion of TV platforms.
Today’s report say there’s no evidence that this condition has been broken, nor of the BBC’s involvement “affecting the decisions of other public service broadcasters to make their programmes available to other platforms.”
Some stakeholders, including Channel 4, suggested the BBC was being overly cautious and “could do more to promote the platform across its different services”.
It also calls on YouView to “promptly” ensure channel owners can deliver content direct to users without having to go through BT and TalkTalk, two of the projects other shareholders who both use the service as the basis of their pay-TV services.
Such functionality is already planned and, in its submission to the Trust’s review, Sky confirms its intention to offer channels direct to consumers via its NOW TV brand.
In October, the company told the Trust: “Sky has invested significantly in adapting its internet TV service, NOW TV, for the YouView platform and intends expanding its offering to include linear channels and additional content so that the service on YouView matches that available on other platforms and devices.”
This confirms expectations that the service’s Entertainment Pass, which includes access to Sky 1 and Sky Atlantic, will be made available on YouView.
However Sky expressed unhappiness that the ability to add these channels has been delivered later than expected, a situation it claims “has had a detrimental impact on the success of NOW TV on the platform and makes marketing the service difficult due to the need to highlight differences to the service via YouView.”
Sky has also expressed concern that TalkTalk and BT might be permitted to block services connected to their networks or have a role in determining whether the quality of content was sufficient.
However YouView has confirmed that the ability to offer channels without doing deals with BT and TalkTalk is expected to be added “in the summer of 2014”.
The Trust says progress on this will be monitored and insists “no shareholder (or partial coalition of shareholder) should be able to exert a gatekeeping role with respect to the type of distribution technologies that meet the required quality standard.”
Today’s report also rejects complaints that the service has become captured by BT and TalkTalk.
Trustees say that although most boxes have been supplied by the ISPs, the basic packages offered by them “are not the same as a pay television subscription” because “customers can top up with additional channels, but the 70 television and radio channels that form YouView are provided free of charge”
The report adds: “The tie-in period for customers acquiring a Youview box as part of a bundled offer is for a limited duration, after which the Youview box remains the property of the customer who is then free to connect the box using an alternative ISP if they choose to do so.”
Commenting on the report and its findings, BBC Trustee Suzanna Taverne said: “The BBC has always been a pioneer in harnessing new technology to continually improve its services for licence fee payers, and its involvement with YouView is very much a part of that.
“We are pleased that the conditions we set are being met, that YouView is delivering for audiences on important issues like accessibility and parental controls, and that the BBC’s involvement is not proving harmful to the wider market.
“There’s more work to be done to ensure that YouView truly serves all audiences and we’ll look to the venture to deliver on this in the coming months.”
A spokesperson for the BBC said: “The BBC Executive welcomes the Trust’s endorsement of the BBC’s involvement with YouView. The BBC are committed to supporting a range of innovative services and open platforms that allow Licence Fee payers to access BBC content.
“The findings in this review validate our support for this service. We will respond to the Trust, outlining next steps shortly.”