The prospect that the BBC might pull out of YouView has emerged as a genuine possibility following the BBC Trust report into the BBC’s distribution of its services.
The BBC’s terrestrial involvement in Freeview and satellite sibling Freesat are also in play, but the broadband platform is more likely than most to come under pressure.
To the casual observer YouView isn’t even a part of the BBC, even though it was at the centre of its establishment as Project Canvas, set up after the collapse of Project Kangaroo.
Like YouView, Kangaroo had been set up by the PSBs as a means to bring together the online catch up services into a single platform. A UK Hulu if you like. But the competition authorities didn’t like the idea of such a venture, so it was back to the drawing board.
When Canvas was making its regulatory progress it was suggested that outside partners be brought in. Those partners emerged as telcos BT and TalkTalk, both of which needed to save lacklustre TV services of their own.
So while the man at the end of Doctor Who reminds us to catch up with any episode we may have missed by using the iPlayer, you have to go to ITV to hear a YouView ad that looks as if the product has come straight out of BT Labs.
The Adshel posters don’t dispel the image either. YouView is for all intents and purposes what telcos give you instead of Sky+ or TiVo, as opposed to the product that brought pay-TV innovation to PSB television.
Freeview boss Ilse Howling has for the most part, in public anyway, treated YouView with indifference. So the emergence now of Freeview Connect, a brand she has subtlety used in the past, should not be treated as coincidence.
There are some key differences between the make up of Freeview (and indeed Freesat) and YouView. It should be remembered that Sky was a founder member of the terrestrial platform, welcomed in after the collapse of ITV Digital, and present with Sky News and low cost entertainment channel Pick TV.
The men in suits were sniffy about Sky’s involvement in YouView, but as it turned out the platform has given a home to its Now TV service.
So it is now probable that the discussions taking place around Freeview will result in YouView being left to the telcos, while Freeview Connect emerges as a unifying brand that brings in catch up TV services that have largely been absent while the PSBs played with YouView.
Three largely separate platforms for the PSBs to offer free to air content is at least two more than is needed. A move to reduce them would be welcomed.