When Smart TV platform YouView first launched last year all the talk was of maximum freedom for consumers who would be free to buy a box from a shop or partner ISP (BT or TalkTalk) and then dip in and out of subscription content or swap content or broadband providers with no hassle.
But 16 months after launch that’s not quite how things are panning out and the platform is looking increasingly fragmented.
Plug your box into a broadband connection supplied by either partner ISP and it’ll update to include their Video on Demand player and any extra subscription channels they offer. But unless you have the right box with the right software version you won’t be able to access much of that content.
Ever since it launched its YouView-based TV service last year, TalkTalk has declined to sell its broadband delivered channel ‘boosts’ to customers who have a box not supplied by themselves.
At launch it didn’t offer full channels and instead provided a library of on demand content through a dedicated BT Vision Player app and allowed customers with a retail box to sign up for either Pay As You Go or unlimited access to this on demand content. But in recent months this has changed.
The ISP has revamped its offering to include 18 entertainment channels delivered over broadband for a wallet-friendly £7 per month but declines to sell them to BT Infinity broadband users who didn’t get their box from BT.
The best they can get now is Pay As You Go access to the on demand library in return for a £5 monthly fee – what this covers is very vague – and an activation fee of £35.
Anyone querying this is assured that there’s a deep technological difference in the boxes which means the subscription channels won’t work on anything other than a BT supplied box, but this isn’t the case.
The retail YouView boxes and YouView from BT boxes are identical devices made by Humax and customers who have both types and a subscription to the extra channels have been able to view them on either box. I know because I’m one such user.
This is hardly surprising, the entertainment channels are streamed using the same technology as BT’s three sports channels which the company does make available to retail YouView box owners.
So it seems that the inability of retail box owners to sign-up for the extra channels is a business decision on the part of BT and not some deep technological barrier within the boxes.
Either way, it’s creating fragmentation in the YouView eco-system, as has a recent software update which finally introduced the ability to record and trick play the broadband channels, but only for those users with boxes from BT.
TalkTalk customers will have to wait until next year to be able to record any extra channels they pay for and there’s no firm date for when the same ability will be added retail box owners who might want record or pause from BT Sport.
Meanwhile ISP supplied boxes lack the initial accessibility update rolled-out to retail boxes in October and must wait until next year to get the very impressive features revealed yesterday and coming to retail units next week.
While these gaps between updates may make sense to YouView and its partners – BT will clearly want to prioritise allowing its customers to record the channels they pay for while YouView needs to satisfy the BBC Trust that it’s delivered on the accessibility front – at a consumer level there’s understandable demand for features to be kept in closer sync across all boxes, regardless of their origin.
There’s little point three TV providers all selling their services under the same YouView brand if the boxes don’t all do the same things at pretty much the same time and if a user with a box from one provider can’t fully use it with another when they come to change broadband supplier.