At the launch of the new Freesat+ ‘Freetime’ box this week, Emma Scott quite rightly said that the industry shouldn’t compare it with YouView. A room full of over eager journalists and industry commentators took her at her word, and then ignored it. Within hours there were the predictable headlines of ‘Freesat launches YouView competitor’ appearing over the blogosphere. We however, feel she is right to avoid comparisons and have decided not to descend to that level of commentary. Comparing Freesat+ and YouView is pointless – let us explain.
First off, they are products aimed at different groups of consumers. At a basic level, YouView is targeting people with aerials, and Freesat is targeting people with dishes. People don’t choose a box and then decide what to stick on their roof. While Emma was at pains to avoid suggesting that Freesat is after Sky customers, the Freesat target customer group does have much higher percentage of people who have experienced pay TV than the YouView customer group. They therefore tend to be more service and device literate, and are a more discerning customer group than the general DTT customers YouView is intended to capture. No point in comparing, they are targeting different market segments.
Even on pricing, with Freesat+ at £275 to YouView’s £299 it is wrong to compare. Freesat is a retail product that people buy in shops like John Lewis. They tend to know what they are looking for, and are able to work out the price / value trade off that the various Freesat boxes in the market offer. However, it is likely that the majority of YouView customers won’t be paying retail for the box. Most industry observers believe that the majority of YouView devices will be subsidised as part of a broadband/TV subscription. No-one will be standing in Curries wondering whether to save £20 by buying Freesat instead of YouView, so the comparison is pointless.
Even as development achievements, these two projects are apples and oranges. The YouView project looked to see what could be achieved by throwing the resources of four large broadcasters, two ISPs and a broadcast technology group together. They have spent the last five years unlocking their combined innovation firepower. Freesat+, on the other hand, was a more modest attempt to see what a small, focused team could achieve in 18 months, using off the shelf, open source technology. The fact that they have ended up at a remarkably similar place, at a remarkably similar time, is a matter for their shareholders, not the market to conjecture on
It is not even worth comparing them as technology solutions given how different their two approaches were. Once again, YouView sought to leverage the development firepower of its partners, to balance open standards with a ‘unique’ technology approach. It attempts to fuse Flash and the kind of heavy DRM that content partners required back in the first decade of the 21st century. It is a classic British approach and can’t really be classified as OTT. Freesat+ plus has been able to use the kind of HTML5, HbbTV and OIPF standards that weren’t available for roll out until this second decade, but are now widely used across Europe. They were helped in this decision making process by the fact that Freesat will have to be truly OTT, in that all of the internet content will be delivered over the open web, while YouView will use a combination of open web and ISPs CDN network to deliver quality controlled (QoS) streams and downloads. YouView will also have to manage a variety of multi-cast pay channels required by some of the partners to justify their investment in the project. ( Beyond Sky Sports, we are waiting with bated breath to see what Mr Desmond chooses to do with this capability).
As propositions, they may be similar (ie they both offer all the major FTA players, a backwards EPG,search, summary menus, potential for pay players, wired not wifi etc) but everyone has these nowadays don’t they? (Well everyone apart from Sky, Freeview and every major so called ‘smartTV’ on the market) Comparing those would be like comparing cars based on which had better wheels and windows. So having discounted the relevance of comparing the two boxes on every commercial aspect, all you would be left with is a gratuitous feature and functionality fest that quite frankly is beneath us*.
* Please see our sister company iBurbia’s upcoming event: ‘YouView and ‘Freetime’ Face Off!’ – We Love Them Both But Which Is Better?’