YouView gearing up to launch 'the future of television' in the U.K.

Open, Internet-connected television platform in negotiations with several U.S. studios


LONDON -- Early negotiations with several U.S. studios are underway with YouView, the U.K.'s freshest entrant in the free-to-air and Internet-connected television service playground.

Backed by a lineup of Britain's free-to-air broadcasters and promising to be "the future of television," YouView chairman Kip Meek said there were ongoing "early stage discussions" with the U.S. studios about IPTV channels and content.

Meek said he could see no reason for U.S. partners not to sign up with the service but made it clear that a successful launch and take up of YouView will drive studio participation.

"If and when this [YouView] becomes very successful, it will be important for U.S. studios and content providers to participate in this route to the marketplace," Meek said.

Describing YouView as an "enriched television service," the service has seven equal shareholders including the BBC, ITV, British Telecom, Channel 4 and Channel Five. Communications and media services company Arqiva and telecoms and broadband provider Talk Talk makes up the seven.

Meek also noted it would be down to each individual stakeholder to sort out where, how and at what cost making their content available would affect the YouView window and their existing content contracts.

The seven stakeholders have between them committed £126 million ($200 million) over the next four years, or £4.5 million ($7.1 million) annually each until 2013.

To date, the cash is being pumped into developing the myriad technical requirements for a service that aims to offer a searchable electronic program guide allowing viewers to search seven days in the future or the past for upcoming programs and fare they may have missed.

Meek, talking at a Broadcasting Press Guild lunch here, also said talks are ongoing with BSkyB about signing the satellite operator up as an affiliate able to offer YouView box purchasers access to its content.

Sky and U.K. cabler and broadband provider Virgin Media have both been initially hostile to the YouView proposal, with whispers of the service being anti-competitive.

Media regulator Ofcom is taking a wait and see attitude to YouView, setting up a watching brief to monitor its progress as launch approaches.

Formerly known as Project Canvas, YouView boxes will go on sale next year, providing access to the hugely popular BBC iPlayer, which garners over a million downloads per month, as well as, 4OD and the TV download service from Channel 5 straight to the television.

Meek declined to put a price on the set-top box other than to say the ambition is "to keep that cost low" for the service which is hoping to launch in the first half of 2011.

He also said that Freeview users, currently totaling around eight million here, would be a target for the new service, alongside Freesat users. But the service will only offer restricted web access as it is not being set up with the Internet on the television in mind. That said, Meek said he would anticipate that the web applications and prospects would evolve and grow over time.

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