U.K.'s YouView Internet TV Determined to Launch in 2011

Rivals and Advertisers Express Concern; Plus, Does It Sound Too Much Like YouTube?

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LONDON (AdAge.com) -- The controversial new U.K. internet TV company YouView is confident the service will launch next year, despite complaints to the U.K. media regulator that it will stifle competition, could be harmful for advertisers and might take up too much of the country's internet bandwidth.

YouView is a consumer brand for content that will be accessed via a set-top box connecting TV sets with digital TV stations using aerial, and the internet, via a broadband connection.

The YouView interface.
The YouView interface.
Through the set-top box, viewers will be able to watch live TV as well as shows they have taped. It will also let them access free "catch up" TV services hosted online via the BBC's iPlayer, where programs can be watched up to a week after broadcast, and other content made available by anyone from YouTube to Lovefilm, the British version of Netflix.

The YouView brand was formally unveiled earlier this month, with plans to go live in the first half of 2011. An earlier version, known as Project Kangaroo, failed to make it past competition regulators three years ago. YouView is backed by seven partners including the BBC and commercial broadcaster ITV, and the broadband provider BT.

But not everyone wants YouView to see the light of day. Even before the brand name was revealed this month, pay-TV providers Sky and Virgin were complaining about its launch to the media regulator Ofcom. (Sky has since said if YouView is a success, it will likely make some of its content available on the platform.)

A further complaint was made this week by interactive TV software company Electra Entertainment, which claims that it has been told by venture capital funds that they are waiting to find out more about YouView before deciding where to invest.

Then the U.K. advertisers' association, ISBA, said it is recommending that Ofcom investigate YouView over concerns that it could become a "quasi-monopoly." ISBA's director of media and advertising, Bob Wootton, who doesn't publicly oppose YouView, he has said that "internet-connected TV has new impacts for advertisers" that need to be examined.

What is undeniable is that YouView will give advertisers opportunities to connect with viewers in ways not possible at the moment. Content producers and advertisers can create apps accessed by remote control. And for advertisers, more data on viewers will be available when they watch TV via the web.

YouView's partners are trying to reassure advertisers.

Louise Evans, director-corporate communications at ITV, Britain's largest commercial TV company, said: "As well as long-established spot advertising, advertisers will be able to develop closer business-to-consumer advertising relationships with viewers, the like of which has only really been possible on the internet to date. This is an incredibly powerful development, as better-targeted marketing will lead to better campaign results."

Richard Halton, CEO of YouView, is dismissive of speculation that YouTube might sue for trademark violation over the YouView name. He says the company did due diligence before choosing the brand name. He also points out that YouTube's parent company already has its own IPTV service -- Google TV -- a brand that will not be confused with YouView.

Ofcom is expected to decide in the next few weeks whether to investigate YouView. YouView has already been cleared by the BBC Trust, which decides what areas the publicly funded broadcaster can enter.

"There will be plenty of noise about YouView from our competitors, we expect that, but from our perspective this thing is going to happen," Mr. Halton said. "YouView is critical to maintaining competition, offering an alternative to pay TV. It will succeed or fail on how we communicate the proposition to consumers, and we're focusing along with our partners on getting set for the consumer launch."

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