I’ve already addressed some of the scepticism about YouView but there’s a couple of other points worth making.
Here in the UK subscription TV services are normally watched on hardware owned or sold by the service provider.
A side effect of this is if you’re a Sky, Virgin Media or BT Vision customer and cancel your subscription your box loses some or all of its functionality. Worse, incompatibility between platforms means you’ll need a new box from your new provider.
This makes sense from the company’s point of view – why would they want to subsidise boxes and features for former customers – but acts as a barrier to change.
Those who do move providers find themselves taking time off work, waiting in for installers and having to learn a whole new system. Not everyone finds the last of these as easy as those reading this post probably do.
YouView is different.
It’s been widely reported that both BT and TalkTalk will be offering content to their broadband customers who have a YouView box. It’s possible others will follow.
But a point often overlooked is that a YouView box can be used with different broadband providers who each offer access to different content, just as a mobile or home phone can be used on different networks.
What does that mean for users?
I currently get my broadband from Virgin Media which is unlikely to be offering any content via YouView.
If I buy a YouView box from a High Street retailer and connect if to my broadband I’ll get the standard content plus anything I choose to pay for on top of that, such as Sky’s NOW TV.
If I later decide to move my broadband to TalkTalk my existing YouView box will give me access to the bundled TalkTalk content. There’s no need for me to buy a new box.
And if I later move my broadband away from TalkTalk I’ll either get my new ISP’s content, assuming they offer any, or revert to the standard content and my YouView box will work just as it did the day I bought it.
This means suddenly ISPs can compete in the TV market by adding content to an existing, pre-installed platform. That lowers the barriers of entry and allows a whole raft of companies to challenge Sky and Virgin Media.
Another reason to be optimistic about YouView is it opens the prospect of consumers buying content from more than one ‘gatekeeper’.
Currently a Sky customer can only rent Pay Per View movies and events from Sky Box Office, Virgin Media are also the only retailer of Pay Per View content on their platform, even when they’re reselling Sky’s content.
But YouView is a platform not tied to a single content provider, it has no business reason to exclude the likes of LoveFilm from the service merely because Sky’s NOW TV is available. Indeed, the more options the platform offers, the easier it’ll be to sell boxes.
Companies who are used to competing at the platform level, with the customer choosing who to buy their entire TV experience from, could easily find themselves competing for customers on a per film, series or even episode basis.
Consumer choice is a good thing, it drives up standards, often lowers prices and empowers the buyer over the seller.
A platform where the user feels they’re in charge, where they can swap or upgrade boxes as they wish, where they can buy content on the terms they find most suitable and where they can easily reduce their spend as they need is likely to be a winner.