The service has been in Beta trial for some time, with updates being delivered every two weeks. “Even now, in the week before we go live we are still developing new features,” said Richard Halton, CEO of YouView at a press event to mark the launch.
TalkTalk and BT will use the new platform to launch own-branded versions of YouView, highlighting their own brand on the home screen, with the YouView brand relegated to a subsidiary position. The new platform will also enable the two operators to prioritise some aspects of the overall experience to highlight their own content.
“One aspect of this was to enable the ISPs to really own and develop their services. This is something you will really see as BT and TalkTalk roll out their services over the coming weeks,” said Halton.
TalkTalk, which is first to launch, rolling out the upgrade in phases from next Monday, will include a TalkTalk TV Planner app that sets reminders or enables recordings of live TV from mobile phones, along with a new More TV area to highlight TalkTalk’s own sports, kids and entertainment ‘Boost’ packages.
Halton played down speculation that YouView could see a change in ownership following reports that BT was keen to buy out its partners in the consortium. YouView is jointly owned by the UK public service broadcasters, BT, TalkTalk and Arqiva.
Halton said that public service broadcasters had been “intimately involved” in the development of the platform, with their content remaining prominent. “They are still equal equity partners in the business,” he said.
The existing shareholder agreement runs until 2019, and Halton said there were no plans to change the existing ownership structure ahead of that.
He said that the primary distribution of YouView devices was via BT and TalkTalk. “The partnership we now have with BT and TalkTalk is now extraordinarily strong,” he said.
Halton said that there were now 2.5 million YouView connected devices. “It is still an aggressively growing platform,” he said.
With the move from an Adobe Flash-based platform to one that is HTML-5-based, which has been ongoing for some time, YouView has become more open with third-party content providers such as Netflix finding it easier to join.
Halton said that there was “a pipeline of new content partners” that would be brought on board over the next few months.
He pointed out that many new linear services had been added to the platform, but added that VOD services would also be added in the future. However, he emphasized that the next-generation platform launch was more focused on the experience and navigation rather than new content, pointing out that it is designed to enable viewers to better discover what they want to watch among the 70,000 on-demand titles available through the service. “The HTML journey should help leverage those other content partners, but this next-generation [service] should better bet thought of as improving the navigation experience,” he said.
Halton said that work had been ongoing on the project for the last 18 months. He said the new platform was focused on enabling users to navigate an “exploding” range of content available on the service.
He said that YouView had hired cloud services engineers, HTML developers and others to develop the platform.
Halton said that all YouView homes, including those with legacy boxes, would be upgraded with the new user experience. “It will come overnight. It is important we take people with us, so you will keep everything you have bought and recorded safe. These simple bits of looking after the consumer are essential,” he said.
YouView has kept many of the features of the existing interface, with the simple visual design of the EPG remaining in place, though the guide is now transparent. Apps such as iPlayer now load more quickly, said Halton.
“There are a few touches we have added, such as allowing channel and programme names to extend [and be visible],” he said. Other new features include the introduction of MyTV as the place where DVR recordings are stored, now “an important hub for people to find and discover content”, said Halton. Recordings are now visible in a mosaic format. The mini-guide that appears at the bottom of the screen now includes thumbnail pictures of programmes that are playing.
Set-top boxes are identifiable to YouView’s back-end in the cloud, enabling the platform to make the visibility of recordings on the set-top available on phones and other devices that have the YouView app.
The ability to play back the content on other devices in the future is “a roadmap item”, said Halton.
Halton said that delivering more of the overall experience from the cloud was a priority. However, he said that a purely cloud-delivered DVR service was complicated by the fact that rights were restricted to the existing VOD window, meaning that recordings could not be stored in perpetuity.
Nick Thexton, CTO of YouView, also present at the launch event, said that the impact of cloud infrastructure on TV had enabled faster innovation. “We have now added cloud infrastructure,” he said. “The difference now is the ability to implement new services quickly from the cloud.”
Thexton said that the use of cloud technology was enabling YouView to provide apps for a range of devices. “It is not any more about linking just one phone to one set-top box,” he said.
He said that the HTML-5-based infrastructure would ultimately enable the experience to be rolled out on lower-cost boxes.