Ofcom gives YouView green light

UK regulator Ofcom will not investigate the BBC-led YouView connected TV project, dismissing objections from BSkyB, Virgin Media and a number of smaller companies.

The decision means that YouView, formerly known as Project Canvas, remains on course for a launch in the first half of next year.

Cable operator Virgin Media and hybrid IP/DTT pay-TV provider IP Vision had alleged that YouView potentially could breach the terms of the 1998 Competition Act, while other complainants including BSkyB claimed that the project partners would be incentivized to withhold content from competing platforms, that the Canvas technical standards had not been developed openly, that the YouView brand would be tied to a specific user interface and that the project was likely to restrict competition between TV platforms.

Ofcom, however, said that an investigation of YouView would be premature at this stage as IPTV was still an emerging sector and the project’s impact could not be known for some time.

“Ofcom’s view is that consumers’ interests will not be served by opening an investigation. It would be premature at the current stage of YouView’s development given the absence of a clear risk of consumer harm,” said CEO Ed Richards. “But if evidence does emerge in the future that YouView causes harm to the interests of viewers and consumers we may reconsider whether to investigate.”

Ofcom pointed out that YouView was likely to “bring benefits to viewers and consumers” and that “any potential harm to competition would need to be offset against these benefits”. Finally, it said, “Whether or not YouView and its partners will harm competition in the ways alleged will depend upon how this emerging market develops and how they act, particularly in relation to providing access to content and issuing technical standards.”

Ofcom said that there was little current evidence that the YouView partners – which include the BBC, ITV, Channel 4, Channel Five, BT, TalkTalk and Arqiva – were likely to withhold content to competing platforms, and that it would keep their content syndication policies under review. Regarding the platform, Ofcom pointed out that the partners had already made a number of technical standards available to the industry. On the question of the user interface, the regulator admitted that YouView could lead to a more limited choice, “but an assessment of this would need to recognise the choice that already exists in the TV market and new opportunities for entry from other firms, as well as the potential benefits to consumers of a common ‘look and feel’.”