Lord Sugar to head YouView
By Chris Forrester

YouView, the much-delayed VOD system proposed for the UK, is to get Lord (Alan) Sugar as its new chairman. YouView, formerly known as Project Canvas, is not likely to launch fully until next year. Delegates to the Digital TV Group’s (DTG) annual summit in London on March 4th heard that a ‘beta’ test version of YouView would probably emerge towards the end of this year.

YouView is backed by the BBC, BT, ITV and Channel 4, telco Talk Talk, Channel 5 and play-out specialists Arqiva. YouView’s first problem was with the BBC Trust which took more than a year to finally approve the BBC’s involvement (February 2009 to June 2010).

YouView’s CEO Richard Halton told delegates at the DTG event that the core technical specification would be published on April 14th to be followed by other more detailed system elements needed by product developers. He said he expected the YouView specification to form the model for similar services in other countries and regions.

However, these further delays mean the manufacturing sector is going to have to work hard to have products in retailer’s stores much before mid-2012.

Lord Sugar, the no-nonsense star of the BBC’s version of The Apprentice and the man who built Amstrad, is expected to replace Kip Meek, the current YouView chairman, and has been given the brief of knocking heads together in order to get the service back onto a dependable timetable. YouView is budgeted at £115 million(€133.4m) to cover development and launch costs and the first four years of operations. There have been widespread concerns that the ‘open standards’ used by the YouView project are anything but truly ‘open’. Investment bank Morgan Stanley, for example, sees YouView-equipped set-top boxes to likely cost anything between £150-£200 in the marketplace.

BSkyB’s ‘Anytime+’ and Virgin Media’s TiVo-based VOD services are already active, while Arqiva’s SeeSaw VOD service is also live, but reportedly up for sale. BSkyB is lobbying against the use of public cash to the disadvantage of private broadcasters, while Virgin’s CEO Neil Berkett has also been a highly vocal critic of the scheme.