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IPTV UK: failure to launch?

Rivals fear YouView. They may not need to

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An observer might reasonably suggest that companies which disapprove of YouView should simply leave its content providers to their own devices and instead compete on the strength of their own channel offerings and technical advantages.

Unfortunately, the output of the BBC and ITV remain among the most-watched programming in the country, and the cable and satellite companies are unwilling to lose that material, for which they currently pay handsomely.

Virgin's logical course of action would be to join YouView and thereby influence the development of the platform and prevent its public-service content from being limited to internet distribution. The BBC Trust, the Corporation's governing body, recently said it believes syndicated BBC material should go solely through iPlayer, which appears to mean the web, YouView and nothing else.

Virgin isn't the only company concerned about competition. Sources close to the company allege that the company has been discouraged from joining YouView by members who want to both keep their syndication fee cake and eat it too, and by those who fear the presence of Virgin, BSkyB or both will hinder their ability to steer consumers toward their own pay TV offerings.

YouView participants deny this, and paint a picture of universal IPTV harmony that competition-averse rivals want to scupper.

Ofcom has been asked to investigate YouView, but the UK broadcasting and communications regulator has refused to do so, saying that until YouView's platform is complete, the technical specifications, access provisions and the commercial terms defined, it has nothing to judge.

It may not need to, in any case. Arqiva this week all but put a 'for sale' sign over SeeSaw, which risks becoming redundant when YouView launches, unless it can licence a lot more content from sources other than the UK's terrestrial broadcasters, all fellow YouView members. Arqiva's need to find "an investment partner" for the project suggests it's unwilling to bankroll such acquisitions alone.

Separately, insiders have claimed YouView's mid-2011 launch date is over-optimistic because it's proving too hard to integrate participants' existing systems. They suggest it could be a further six months before the organisation is ready to tell content providers and equipment makers how they can use its technology. With consumer interest in online content increasing rapidly - BBC iPlayer had 145m view requests in 2010, up from almost 90m in 2009 - they may choose not to wait. ®

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