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YouView delayed again, signs its own death certificate

With millions of pounds spent and years of development we're frustrated that free TV on-demand service YouView has once again been delayed. We think it's the end of the road.

YouView, the on-demand TV service from the major broadcasters and broadband providers has once again been delayed, the company has announced, this time until "early 2012".

And that's probably the last thing you'll ever hear about the service, because by the time it does get around to launching, no one will care. Even if the service could magically arrive tomorrow, it still wouldn't have much of a chance, given the prevalence of online-service 'portals' on Blu-ray players and TVs.

A 2012 launch achieves only one thing, and that's to allow Sony, Samsung and LG to develop better and better online features on their hardware, which do essentially the same job as a YouView box will. Many already have YouTube and BBC iPlayer, for example. Even Panasonic, which currently operates the weakest portal, will have a much improved version up and running this year.

That really shuts YouView out, because electronics manufacturers want to control how their customers access catch-up TV -- and companies who've invested in their own portal are unlikely to make YouView boxes or include the service in their TVs.

The reason these built-in portals reign supreme is they're contained within things you've already bought. There's no need for yet another box to cost you money and take up space. And money is a big issue -- YouView hardware is expected to cost £200 at launch, and that's simply too expensive. A Sony Blu-ray player will only set you back £100, and will give you Demand Five and iPlayer, as well as LoveFilm access. Sony has big plans too, so expect all sorts of new services to arrive over time.

There's also a real problem with the messaging. Making a lot of fuss early on about 'Project Canvas' was an idiotic move. Codenames might excite geeks, but they're little more than an ego trip for whoever thinks them up. When the final moniker is chosen, no real people will connect the codename to the finished product.

(Look at Apple, a company that has perfected hype. It doesn't give things codenames that reach the public and when it announces a product, that's when we find out what it's called. The one time it did let a codename slip was with Apple TV, which it had named iTV, another TV-streaming project that hasn't exactly done brilliantly.)

The current technical samples of YouView boxes used to demonstrate the service to stakeholders at the BBC, ITV and BT have been blighted with reliability problems, according to a Telegraph source. With each company involved already having spent £6m, he was surprised and annoyed that no one could show a box that didn't crash as soon as it was turned on.

So far, YouView has promised very little. We know it will provide catch-up services to set-top boxes, but that's a market served brilliantly by Virgin, and increasingly by Sky, which has launched an on-demand streaming service to certain customers. Both of those companies are opposed to YouView because they say it will damage their services.

We don't think they really have much to worry about. Virgin's new TiVo service, on the other hand, really will change the way people watch TV, and in a much simpler way.

So, with tens of millions already spent, 150 people employed by the company and no less than 18 months of development, you would have expected it to have already have launched. The fact it hasn't suggests the project is either poorly managed or the goal is just too ambitious. Whatever the problem, YouView is dead in the water.

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