Is Youview killing UK digital services?

As Youview comes in, manufacturers are shying away from the UK market, seeing it as increasingly niche
Jamie Carter
Jamie Carter -


In the world of consumer electronics, 1$ = 1£. We’ve all seen products that get released in the US for a certain dollar value, then weeks later are put on sale in the UK for the exact same number of pounds.

That situation is becoming less frequent, but it’s not necessarily a good thing.

There was a time when the UK was known as ‘the golden isle’ by the globe’s manufacturers.

Products could be pushed onto these shores and sold for a healthy mark-up – and electronics manufacturers from the Far East have traditionally been more than happy to make pander to our wishes.

How else would be have gotten away with Freeview and Freesat?

While the rest of Europe use common standards for TV broadcasts and can be sold the same TVs en masse, the UK has stubbornly refused to conform.

The willingness of (mostly) Japanese brands to churn-out UK-specific electronics has never been in question; as an example, Panasonic makes both TVs, PVRs and Blu-ray recorders with both Freeview HD and Freesat HD tuners inside, which can only ever be sold in the UK.

Meanwhile, the rest of its fleet of AV products is sold indiscriminately across Europe, if not the globe.

This expensive situation is the same for the likes of Samsung, Sony, LG, Philips and Toshiba, but how long can it last?

It’s already imploding, if Sony’s recent announcement is anything to go by. The catalyst is the coming age of IPTV, and YouView.

Sony is busy ramping-up its ‘Bravia Internet Video’ service, which now includes Qriocity – a service of on-demand videos and music – to the extent that it clearly sees a future of homogenised hardware that differ only in the services they offer over broadband.

UK-specific services like YouView – an IPTV-upgrade of Freeview (formerly Project Canvas), which is slated to start next year and will require a new generation of set-top boxes – are a step to far for the likes of Sony.

“YouView is a UK-specific project and aimed at PVR-based products, which doesn’t fit with Sony’s global network and objectives,” said the Tokyo-based company.

Oddly, Sony currently sells a 1TB-endowed SVR-HDT1000 Freeview HD PVR in the UK, though with a semi-mature IPTV platform and the PlayStation Network in its arsenal, I can see where Sony is coming from.

Its online service already boasts BBC iPlayer and Lovefilm, with scope for many more services to come; put simply, YouView is too late.

But does Sony really want to get mired in the messy world of global licensing of content?

With its hefty entertainment arm, Sony is better placed than most to do this, of course, and it must – aside from BBC iPlayer its current crop of content has ‘global audience’ written all over.

It’s lowest common denominator stuff (Ford Models or SingingFool, anyone?) that’s too North American centric, at best, and needs to be tweaked to suit Brits – something that would have been a whole lot easier with the help of YouView’s owners, the BBC, ITV, Channel 4, Five, TalkTalk, BT and Arqiva.

Easier, but more expensive, given the hardware-specific implications.

Sony might be able to pull something off on its own (not that Qriocity is a great start), but we don’t hold out much hope for the other, more hardware-focused, brands, few of who are supporting YouView.

LG, Panasonic and Samsung, such vocal supporters of Freeview HD in recent years, are steering clear of committing to making YouView set-top boxes though we suspect that they will jump on the bandwagon if it materialises.

The brands that will make YouView gear – Huawei, Manhattan, Pace, Vestel, Cisco and Humax – are looking at a niche UK market, and a modest profit, while the big brands need to sell their products into emerging, new markets to stand any chance of growth.

In a fast-changing global economy, the golden isle is becoming nothing of the sort – and YouView could easily become a casualty.

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