YouView Has Global Ambitions for its HBB Spec

With the YouView (formerly Canvas) and HbbTV initiatives gaining momentum for the delivery of Hybrid Broadcast Broadband (HBB) services in Europe, there is a growing interest in whether there is enough common ground in the standards and technologies that underpin them to deliver some technology harmonisation. One of the biggest prizes could be the ability for content owners to develop services for HbbTV that can also be enjoyed via YouView-compliant devices. However Jeff Hunter, Chief Architect at YouView, believes that the more ambitious scope of the YouView project means it would be difficult for some services developed for this platform to run on the current, first generation of HbbTV devices.

Hunter is keen to emphasise that discussions about YouView and HbbTV harmonisation should distinguish between the technologies used to deliver services and the wider commercial requirements that drive them. The bottom line is that they are designed for different things. He notes that the initial push for the HbbTV initiative was to deliver strong interactive services for the digital TV market in markets like France and Germany, including a teletext replacement, and making services available quickly in particular on the current generation of iDTVs (integrated digital TVs).

YouView, on the other hand, is initially designed for the UK market where ‘Red Button’ interactive services are well established and widely used, and is looking to ‘move the needle’ in terms of services and features for a market used to interactive TV.

“Different territories are in different states of market development and that is part of the reason why we are seeing different business drivers,” Hunter says. “YouView shareholders already offer successful connected television services like BT Vision [the Freeview/IPTV platform from the UK telco] and online services like BBC iPlayer and 4oD [Channel 4’s online on-demand offer] and it is about evolving those businesses into another phase of the consumer offering. That requires a more capable platform.”

Hunter also points out that YouView is creating a complete ecosystem of content, services and device partners, plus a retail brand, so these different commercial requirements must be stripped out of the harmonisation debate. He says both the business outcomes sought by the HbbTV initiative and YouView could be perfectly viable.

“If you are harmonising technology, the starting point is to agree what the commercial requirements are. That is where the challenge has been in terms of full harmonisation [for HBB] not just at a European level but globally,” he observes.

However, when it comes to finding the overlaps in enabling technology between YouView and HbbTV, Hunter says there is already common ground and potential for more. There have been discussions about how the choices made for the different specifications could map into each other.

“Of course we want harmonisation,” he says, referring to the narrower technical definition. “There are benefits to all parties for using common enabling technology and that is through the economies of scale it delivers, leading to price erosion of consumer equipment and headend services.”

If it became possible to deliver HbbTV services on YouView specification devices it would boost the chances of YouView becoming a pan-European solution for Hybrid Broadcast Broadband. European broadcasters would be able to maintain their HbbTV services but deliver enhanced interactive services as well to consumers equipped with higher specification connected devices. Whether that happens or not, it is clear YouView has ambitions for its specification to be used internationally anyway, with the aim of creating economies of scale for device and content partners.

According to Hunter: “While the UK market is large, the device partners who are investing in YouView products really want to take that investment and use it on a global scale. If our content partners can package content for YouView and then make that available outside the UK that would deliver a fantastic cost saving for them so that is an important consideration for our shareholders as well [who include producers and exporters of content like the BBC and ITV]. It is important for our partners to have a technology solution that can be deployed into a base that is larger than the UK and the target for them is global. We are already working on making the YouView story into a broader story.”

Hunter adds that a large number of companies are looking at what YouView is doing in the UK and are extremely interested in the approach. “It is seen as a very forward-looking and visionary initiative,” he observes. He adds that YouView as a service does not have any exclusivity over the content created for use on the platform. So if someone produces content in a YouView friendly format there is nothing to stop them distributing it to any device based on the same technology.

This makes the publication of the YouView specifications all the more significant. These are now available on the company’s website and have been submitted to the DTG (Digital TV Group) in the UK, the organisation responsible for maintaining the ‘D-Book’ technical bible for the UK DTT platform and which will also provide test and conformance for Connected TV services. YouView became a member of the DTG last week. Over the coming months these specifications will also be translated into documents aimed at specific stakeholders like ISPs, content providers and advertisers to explain how they can work with the platform.

YouView already makes use of many existing and emerging standards from the DVB, W3C and OIPF (Open IPTV Forum), among others. “Where there are good specifications already in the standards domain we are looking to use those,” Hunter adds.

By John Moulding, Videonet