Free-to-air IPTV service misses Olympic launch

LONDON — New U.K. free-to-air IPTV service, YouView — backed by the BBC, ITV, Channel 4, Channel 5 and telcos Arqiva, BT and TalkTalk — will not be up and running by its London Olympic Games deadline on July 27.

BBC director general Mark Thompson told pols on Tuesday that hopes of a mass market bow this summer have been dashed.

He said, “It’s true we will not have a large number of boxes out before the Olympics.”

Analysts don’t expect the YouView set-top boxes, which provide access to digital terrestrial TV and radio content online, to be available in stores until the last quarter of 2012.

The venture has been subject to numerous delays. Its one-time chairman, Kip Meek, ankled in the spring of 2011 and was replaced by businessman Alan Sugar, host of the U.K. version of “The Apprentice.”

But not even Sugar could get YouView ready in time for a consumer launch linked to the London Olympics.

Thompson said hundreds of YouView set-top boxes were being tested, adding there was no point in offering the service until it was as simple to use as the BBC iPlayer, the pubcaster’s on-demand catch-up service.

Thompson said, “We want a completely stable product that delivers from day one. We want people to have the same experience on YouView that they had with iPlayer.”

He admitted there were still hurdles to jump in terms of development, but that the project was near completion.

“IPTV turns out to be quite difficult to do,” Thompson said, suggesting that Google and Apple “would probably say (they were not) satisfied they had found a killer solution yet.”

He continued, “People want a TV-like experience — they don’t want a search box or quirky keyboard, they want something that feels like TV, but which gives them more choice and functionality.”

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