Nigel Walley: My View of YouView
Nigel Walley, managing director of Decipher, considers whether the original statements by the Canvas consortium, which made sense from the consumers’ point of view, are still valid now: “The Canvas project has been tortuously slow, and since 2007 the world has changed”…
The Canvas project has come in for a lot of criticism in the market over the last few months. Some of it, deserving and some of it self-serving. However, I am concerned that few people seem to be looking at this from the point of view of the consumer struggling to make sense of an increasingly confusing TV market.
At the beginning of the Canvas project, there were two statements made by the consortium, which made sense from the consumers’ point of view. Firstly, they said that, while there was good provision of TV VOD in the pay arena, the market had failed to provide a solution for the free market. Now, while this was essentially a supplier-led argument (there was no research showing a groundswell of demand), they made the reasonable, and essentially Reithian, statement that it was incumbent on the BBC to step in and provide a solution where market failure had occurred.
The second point made was that, where TV VOD had been provided in the pay area (by Virgin, and BT Vision), it had been configured and presented in a way that was ‘platform-centric’. Using VOD made us feel good about the platform brand not the channel or programme brand. Canvas was an opportunity to create a ‘broadcaster-centric’ experience that made us feel good about channel brands. We need to look at both those statements.
Firstly, the market failure question. When the first principles of the Canvas project were laid out in 2007, the statement that ‘the market had failed to provide a solution for TV VOD’ was true – there was no TV VOD for customers who did not want to pay a subscription, and there were no planned products on the market. However, the Canvas project has been tortuously slow, and since 2007 the world has changed. By the time Canvas/YouView launches in mid-2011 it will be just another TV VOD product in an already over-supplied market for TV VOD devices serving the non-subscription TV market. As I write, there are already 7 or 8 devices on sale in the UK that can deliver a specially designed, ‘big screen’ TV version of the BBC iPlayer. These include Freeview and Freesat boxes that are on sale in Tesco, John Lewis and M&S. That is not market failure.
The ‘Connected Device’ manufacturers are also delivering TV VOD. Every new Sony TV screen, and BlueRay disk player has iPlayer built in and it is likely that the same will also be true for every Samsung, LG and Panasonic device. On top of that, Every PS3 ever sold in UK can already access iPlayer. Before Xmas, many of these same boxes will also have access to a ‘big screen’ ITV Player, Demand Five and LoveFilm. It is clear that the big screen iPlayer innovations to date have met the original Reithian need to distribute BBC content onto the TV in the free part of the market.
Not only do all these innovations give a lie to the canard repeated by the consortium members this week, that ‘Canvas will deliver VOD into the free market’, but they will actually compete against Canvas and make its success even harder to achieve. That is before the launch of another direct competitor, Google TV. It is not inconceivable that there will be over a million devices with free access to TV VOD in the market before Canvas launches. Canvas can only justify itself, and survive commercially, if it delivers something significantly different and compelling into a market which is already oversupplied with TV VOD services. This leads us to look at the second statement.
The idea that Canvas would provide a broadcast centric way of presenting VOD – was based on the notion that ‘the platform is designed and owned by companies that understand content’. It spoke of a service in which the needs and interests of the free-to-air channels and their brands, would be brought to the fore. This would benefit the broadcasters and provide clarity for the consumers who had a good understanding of those brands. This is where the consortium has been in greatest danger of failing the consumer.
At the outset, the project was put into the hands of many of the teams who had launched PC VOD ‘players’. These were people who had built different and competitive brands to the broadcast brands that Canvas was meant to protect. It seems that in the early days of the project, the teams were more interested in solving how to put their player brands onto TV, than working out how to use VOD to build broadcast brands. While the broadcast would be Freeview at heart, a consumer looking for catch-up Eastenders or Coronation Street would use a YouView EPG to access an iPlayer or ITV NetPlayer branded service. Each VOD team was responsible for designing their own VOD areas. YouView is already an unnecessary extra brand in a market struggling to understand Freeview, Freesat, Seesaw, Fetch, and 3View. The early outcome would have been a cacophony of conflicting brands and EPG designs. Most importantly it would have represented a failure of the consortium’s responsibility to deliver against the second promise to the consumer.
The only thing that can justify the Canvas investment, in an already oversupplied market, is if the design and presentation of the whole TV experience is a breakthrough of consumer clarity. The service needs to point the way towards a 21st century channel brand experience, not be a vehicle to let the VOD teams build non-linear empires. My feeling is that common sense is breaking out, and that this is achievable.