YouView Takes Shape as a Pathfinder for TV

Anthony Rose, CTO at YouView (formerly called Project Canvas), has used a number of events recently to outline what YouView is and how it is going to change television. The YouView project was described by one moderator at the Streaming Media Europe conference last week as a “Pathfinding project for the evolution of TV” and that is unlikely to prove an over-statement, given the way the hybrid IP/broadcast model will start to influence what people watch and how they watch it during the rest of this decade. Below is an outline of what has been revealed recently.


  • YouView could be decoupled from Freeview via IP-only devices.

  • An abstraction layer means content deals can relate to the YouView ‘platform’ and cover multiple devices, reducing the complexity of content licensing.

  • The Marlin MS3 DRM will be free to use for content providers. YouView will initially support this DRM only but Flash Access will follow.

  • The platform is open to multiple payment service providers, opening the way for ISPs to partner with content owners and add purchases to their broadband bills.

  • YouView could support open codecs apart from MPEG-4 if they are supported in hardware.

  • The platform is expected to trigger the uptake of IP Multicast by ISP networks and consumers, driving down the cost of ‘broadcasting’.

  • Content discovery is critical and will not rely on the EPG (Electronic Programme Guide).

  • YouView is central to ambitions for 30-40 live BBC streaming channels during the 2012 Olympics, with social interactivity.

  • Linear TV is viewed as a key driver for content consumption across the platform. The migration to VOD is taking longer than expected because the “Silicon Valley kids deny the existence of linear”.

  • YouView will be operated on a cost-recovery basis.

Open Platform
Rose describes YouView as an open platform with three components: open standards, some client software that YouView has developed to run on that platform, and a metadata ingest service. In terms of video delivery, the codec supported today is MPEG-4 within an MPEG-2 Transport Stream, with Flash providing the rendering layer. Rose says there is no reason why the company would not support other open-standards codecs but they need to be supported in hardware to provide the expected performance.

YouView is based on open standards and the specification documentation is now available at the YouView website. “Anyone can make a box and they do not need to call it a YouView box,” he noted. “They can do this in the UK or for other markets.”

Within the platform, the managed YouView code sits above the D-Bus and the OEM manufacturer code sits below the D-Bus, with the aim that the YouView user interface (UI) can flourish on multiple devices. One of the aims of the project is help STB or other device vendors create multiple product manifestations based on the same development work.

Rose promised that content will be made available on YouView on a fair and non-discriminatory basis. Content providers can build a player and use a ‘desktop’ application to drive viewers to their video portal site or they can provide metadata for the YouView system to aid discovery. Rose expects most companies to make use of the metadata ingest.

YouView will be operated on a cost recovery basis and does not aim to exploit the platform for commercial gain, Rose told delegates at Streaming Media Europe. The company will not take payments, which includes advertising revenue shares.

Freeview and Beyond
The first YouView set-top boxes will be Freeview HD PVRs (with two HD tuners). There will be opportunities to differentiate STBs on YouView, by including DLNA home networking capabilities and WiFi, for example. Rose suggested that in the year after launch YouView may be built into television sets and that some devices could be introduced without hard drives.

There is the possibility that YouView will not always be linked with Freeview: “We have said that at launch it is a Freeview+ proposition but there are variations on a theme. It is entirely conceivable to have an IP-only device, although that does not hit the sweet spot in my opinion.” Anthony Rose added that there is nothing to stop manufacturers from swapping out the UK DTT reception components for digital terrestrial technology suited to other regions.

Blending On-Demand and Live TV
Rose told the Streaming Media Europe conference in London that the key USP (unique selling point) for YouView will be the blending of live and on-demand content, pointing out that many new devices are focusing on IP-only. “The user ends up with two remote controls, one for the television and one for the world of on-demand and we think that is missing a big opportunity,” he said.

A few days previously Rose went further, telling an audience at the Mashup event that linear creates demand for what people want to watch. “You can switch on the television and linear TV it is just playing. We need a new way to create and drive demand where there is unlimited inventory. Many of the new devices we see from Apple and others almost deny the existence of linear.”

Rose admitted that when he began working on the BBC iPlayer catch-up service (in a previous role), he also thought linear channels were history. “But the world does not move that fast. I suspect moving to VOD will be much slower than originally expected and one of the reasons is because the Silicon Valley kids deny the existence of linear and the existing way that people consume content.”

YouView will provide regionalisation and localisation features by recognising where a consumer lives in the UK from the DTT signal they are receiving. That means they can be targeted down to one of 30 areas within the UK. Content owners can choose where their content is seen, which could include the whole of the UK (or even worldwide availability later).

YouView and the 2012 Olympics
YouView is regarded as a key enabler for the BBC’s planned 2012 Olympics coverage. Rose says the broadcaster will have 30-40 channels of live streaming and 5,000 hours of coverage from the event, which is clearly more than can be broadcast. The aim is to stream these (with the help of IP Multicast to support this scale of streaming).

YouView will provide new levels of interactivity. Whereas today the ‘Red Button’ interactive service on broadcast TV triggers an MHEG function, the Red Button on YouView will be able to trigger a Flash application. Rose said the developer community will be able to create apps that YouView could not conceive. “For me, that is the most exciting part. We don’t have to build the end proposition. We are providing the building blocks.”

He spoke about the ability to overlay widgets on top of live television so viewers could follow ‘Team GB’ and also track which events their friends are watching at the Games, giving them the ability to join them in watching the same content.

The Need for IP Multicast
YouView will support IP Multicast for live TV. At the Mashup event Rose noted the extreme alternatives for content providers trying to launch TV channels today. At one end of the scale is digital terrestrial broadcasting, costing £8 million for a DTT channel but then allowing broadcasters to add new viewers for zero additional cost. At the other end of the spectrum is unicasting, where you pay almost nothing to set up a video service but have to accept the relatively high cost of adding a new user each time the audience builds.

Rose expects IP Multicast to break this mould, with low up-front costs and a low cost for adding users. At Streaming Media Europe he predicted that IP Multicast will enable anybody to become a broadcaster. “You can be your own Big Brother,” he suggested. “You can set up your own television channel and broadcast to millions of people and be listed in the EPG.”

IP Multicast will increase capacity for live streaming over the web. Rose explained that the England vs Germany game in the FIFA World Cup this summer was watched by 800,000 people on BBC iPlayer despite being available on television, resulting in 800,000 simultaneous streams. This included HTTP live streaming in what must have been one of the first examples of this technology being used on such a scale. “The game used 30-40% of the UK consumer Internet capacity and that was for one game that was also available on television at the same time,” Rose points out.

Looking ahead to the 2012 London Olympics, he added: “Relying on unicast is not the way forwards so we think multicast is key. Five per cent of the Internet in the UK is multicast enabled and most users do not have plug-ins that can render multicast so there has been a ‘Catch 22’ situation where the ISPs do not bother supporting multicasting in their networks and consumers do not bother using the multicast plug-in.”

Rose expects this to change, helped by the support for multicast within YouView. (YouView shareholders also include the ISPs TalkTalk and BT so these are prime candidates to drive the expansion of IP Multicast in the UK broadband networks.)

Central Role for Content Discovery
At the ‘Where is the future for Multiscreen’ Mashup event, Rose cited Joost as an example of why content remains crucial for any service. “If you do not have great content, you have a problem. But also, in a world where there are unbounded possibilities in terms of quantity, how do you get great content to the surface?”

When speaking about YouView, Rose has always emphasised the importance of content discovery and he told the Mashup audience that somebody has to shape audience desire. “You need somebody to say: ‘This is for you’,” he said. Thus recommendation is viewed as a key part of the new platform. “The recommendation system helps you to be the trusted guide that should be able to surprise and delight.”

Rose believes YouView will provide the right balance between too little content on television and too much content on the Internet. As such, it will provide a good home for medium-sized content providers (as well as others). “A small to medium sized content provider will probably enjoy better performance than on the Internet because they are in a slightly smaller pond,” he predicted.

At Streaming Media Europe, Rose said the platform would provide multiple points at which consumers could engage with and find content. “One of the criticisms we have been hearing is that YouView will favour broadcasters on the EPG but our UX [user experience] teams are hard at work to explore various paths to content whether that is a category view of content or favourites or personalisation systems. “The EPG is only one of many ways to get to content”, he added, pointing out that content providers like Netflix (one of the many online content providers that want to get on the platform) do not have channels so will have to rely on these other forms of discovery.

Of course, the EPG will inevitably be an important focus for most consumers once they understand its key innovation: the fact that it will look backwards as well as forwards, with the backwards-facing portion showing off the content that is available on-demand (catch-up TV).

Reducing Complexity for Content Owners
Rose says YouView will help simplify the connected TV environment for content providers. He pointed to the challenges of getting content onto multiple connected TV devices, which requires separate development work and also separate deals with each manufacturer to get their content icon on the ‘desktop’. Working in the opposite direction, different licensing deals with Hollywood content owners are required for each platform content is presented on. “It is a bit like broadcasters having to have a new deal every time somebody makes a new television set,” he declared.

Rose said that because of the abstraction layer that YouView provides, someone can complete a content deal for YouView that then applies to a whole range of products. “Hollywood will be able to license once for deployment across all YouView boxes. “A content provider will be able to authenticate that a device is a YouView box and choose to make all their content available on all YouView boxes,” he told the audience at Streaming Media Europe.

Initially YouView will support Marlin MS3, the Marlin Simple Secure Streaming Specification. In due course the platform will also support the Flash Access content protection solution, Rose revealed at Streaming Media Europe. Thanks to the deal between YouView and Intertrust (which licenses Intellectual Property), the use of Marlin MS3 will be “essentially free” for content providers, he added.

Paid Content and Payment Mechanisms
YouView will support paid content but the company does not want to become a ‘king maker’ by choosing a payment gateway provider, so will ensure that different payment gateways can integrate with the platform so content owners can choose their payments partner. Rose suggested, as an example, that if a consumer is using a given ISP network, the ISP could take care of the billing (on their bill) on behalf of the content owner. This presents the interesting possibility that network owners can become the trusted billing partners for content providers, exploiting trusted brands, where they have them. Other billing options might include PayPal or Matercard, as examples.

Rose is convinced that the concept of advertising breaks will be consigned to history. He expects advertising innovations to enable advertiser messages without the traditional interruptions in viewing. One example of what might be possible, though not necessarily supported within YouView, is real-time insertion of advertising into the scenery of 3D content, like a real advertisement on a billboard that somebody walks past in a drama.

What he does expect to see on Youview is sponsored events and perhaps content-related companies leveraging the platform in new ways, like an opera house monetizing its content by selling tickets rather than from advertising revenues. Content owners will also be able to use information about what people are watching to help them target messages more effectively.

By John Moulding, Videonet