On Wednesday morning we popped into YouView’s Thameside HQ to get a briefing and some hands-on time with the set top box platform’s next-generation, image-rich, new software which starts rolling out to real-world users from next Monday.
The firm’s army of developers and coders have completely rewritten the entire codebase, dropping the Adobe Flash of previous generations in favour of a more modern and more flexible HTML5 approach.
Gone are the old dark menu screens, in come transparent backgrounds which allow you to browse the EPG, flick through your recordings library and even change settings while keeping up with your chosen film or programme.
Users with visual and cognitive impairments who find the transparency effects a problem can switch them off and instead display menu items on a solid background.
As part of the update, the button-like menu bar now appears as a series of text links placed above a carousel of thumbnail images showing currently live programmes, recordings and on-demand players.
At launch a rebranded MyTV section – previously MyView – will house the user’s recordings but will be enhanced in future updates to include features such as ‘continue watching’ shortcuts to any partially watched recordings in your library. Recordings can also be browsed in a full-screen mode, where they’re presented in an image-rich grid.
In a nice focus on the customer experience, the first time a box is switched on after it’s been updated, users will be guided through the changes. This hand-holding extends to reassuring them that all their recordings, series links and settings have been retained. This should save a lot of households a moment of panic.
YouView bosses Richard Halton and Nick Thexton say every single one of the 2.5m STBs connected to a broadband connection will get the update, including the very first boxes sold at launch in 2012.
TalkTalk customers will get the update first, followed by those using boxes supplied by BT – who say they’ll announce their go-live date “very, very soon” – and retail owners.
As part of YouView’s “no box left behind” approach, its developers were required to demonstrate their work on the older set top boxes to prove that users would continue to get a “best in class” experience.
This onerous rule has certainly paid off – the media demonstration showed the new software running on one of the earliest Humax boxes yet there was no sign of it struggling to keep up. The slick, speedy performance was easily on par with any of the current generation boxes offered by YouView’s rivals.
We’re told customers with newer boxes, including BT’s 4K UHD model, will see some more transitional animation effects than those with earlier models but crucially nothing of importance has been withheld from the older boxes.
In a break with the past, the colours and theming of the software can be changed by BT and TalkTalk who say they’ll take the opportunity this offers to bring the boxes closer to their corporate branding.
Building for a Cloudy Future
Halton and Thexton were very keen to stress that this new version of YouView is the start of a new future for the platform which is moving more of its backend functions to the cloud, both allowing the boxes to focus on handling live TV and serving the pretty thumbnails and allowing YouView to eventually become a platform where user data – such as recording lists – can be accessible on multiple devices.
We’re told this could potentially see lists of recordings available in the YouView smartphone app and, where the show is available in iPlayer, All4, or ITV Player, allow the user to watch their chosen programme with a single tap of their finger provided they have the appropriate VoD app installed on their device.
This could provide a quick, cost-effective way of making ‘recordings’ available on the move without waiting for broadcasters or ISPs to buy expensive PVR rights from the various producers and studios.
Speaking to SEENIT after the presentation, Halton said it was also possible that YouView could move into curating content – for example flagging up BBC Three shows or Netflix’s collection of Marvel superhero dramas (note: these are our suggested collections, not a sign of the platform favouring any particular content provider).
YouView has seen the departure of two content providers – Quest and Sky Store – in recent weeks but indications are that no further exits are expected and Halton insisted that additional player apps will be “launching in the coming months,” although no specifics were forthcoming.
We tried teasing more details out of him after the session, asking about all the obvious names but commercial confidentialities meant our efforts failed to pay off.
However with YouView now in 2.5m homes the platform is clearly one which brands will need to consider when thinking about how to bring their content to a wider audience.
Some YouView users had started to fret that an absence of big updates or new content providers indicated the platform was starting to stagnate, but Halton said the development of this new next-generation software had taken 18 months to plan and build and the firm was committed to getting it right before unleashing it on end users.
From what we saw today it seems like the platform was right to take its time, if the performance seen in the demos and hands-on sessions matches what customers experience in the real world (and we’re assured it will), even those original 2012 boxes will feel like they’ve been given a whole new lease of life.