Opinion: I like YouView. There, I've said it

It may have been a shambles up till now, but Jason is starting to believe YouView could become the way millions of people watch TV.

YouView has become a bit of a joke over the years in tech circles. Envisaged as an easy way of getting TV on-demand from the major broadcasters, it's been delayed so many times I'd given up hope of it ever being released.

The project has been a shambles, but I'm starting to believe that after all the false starts, this could just become the way millions of people who don't pay a subscription watch TV.

A couple of things helped changed my mind at its press launch this morning. First was something Mark Thompson, the director general of the BBC, said. He pointed out that, yes, YouView is delayed, but so was iPlayer (by about two years).

With both iPlayer and Freeview, Thompson pointed out, many people said the BBC was too late to enter the market, and look how well they turned out . He's right -- consumers don't care that YouView has been a catalogue of expensive disasters behind the scenes, they just want to know if the product is any good.

Simplicity is critical

That's the other thing that changed my mind -- in the short time I spent with it today, the service looked good. It's very simple and straightforward. The box has a big hard drive and can record two Freeview channels while you watch a third programme over the Internet.

Compare it to something like Virgin's TiVo and it doesn't win on features. But for the people this is aimed at -- those who don't own a PVR and are barely aware they can watch programmes on their computer -- that's a good thing. Most importantly, the menus are easy to understand and, crucially, fast.

It's been said that in the age of smart TVs, this sort of service is unnecessary, as Internet-connected sets offer a bunch of on-demand services already. To which I say: have you ever used a smart TV? They're all horrible -- slow menus, convoluted interfaces and generally frustrating to use. YouView felt light years ahead of those when I used it.

Contested control

There are problems though. One thing that could prove the platform's undoing is the lack of control YouView has on some of the experience. One of the cool things about the programme guide is the ability to scroll backwards in time through the last seven days, click on a show and stream it on-demand.

That sounds lovely, but what happens in reality is the box kicks you out to a TV station's own video player, rather than one made by YouView. That means the interface is ever so slightly different depending on which channel owns the programme you're watching. It also means long, unskippable adverts if the broadcaster wishes to show them.

The other, larger, problem is that YouView isn't offering a way to pay for anything. Everything I saw on the service today was free, but at some point there will be on-demand TV shows and films you have to pay for. But to shell out for them, you'll have to sign up to accounts with the services selling those shows individually -- in other words, you'll have to log in a lot. For a service that's painting itself as the ultimate in consumer friendliness, that's not good.

How much?

Then there's the price. The people YouView is aimed at are never going to pay £300 for this, no matter how good it is. At the press conference this morning, YouView chairman and creator of the E-m@iler Lord Alan Sugar said he wouldn't be surprised if there were YouView boxes on sale in shops for £99 in two years' time. That's a long time in consumer tech.

There's a chance that BT or TalkTalk, both shareholders in YouView, may bundle the box with a broadband deal for a lot less. But I can't see BT cannibalising sales of its own BT Vision box -- which is very similar to YouView -- so I'm not holding my breath for a mega discount here. (We'll know either way at the end of the month.)

But despite the problems, I remain a YouView convert -- at least for now. It's going to take years, but there is a chance this will change the way millions of people watch TV in the UK forever.

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