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Wednesday 09 March 2011

Lord Alan Sugar brought on board to 'save ailing YouView'

Lord Alan Sugar has been hired by the BBC and the other major terrestrial broadcasters to save ailing internet connected set-top box venture, YouView.

Sir Alan Sugar is to step down from his every day business to avoid a conflict of interest with his new government role.
Sir Alan Sugar Photo: BBC

The shareholders of the ‘next generation of Freeview’ internet connected set-top box, which has been blighted by persistent delays and cost the BBC approximately £6 million to date, has hired Lord Sugar to be YouView’s non executive chairman, after Kip Meek, a senior broadcast figure, departed after only eight months in the role.

Meek, who has held several other senior broadcast and telecoms roles, including a stint on the board of directors at the controversial online advertising company Phorm, explained his unexpected departure: “It has been apparent for some time that the YouView board would benefit from additional expertise in consumer marketing and technology delivery. Lord Sugar clearly supplies this. As the venture progresses towards launch, the change in Chairman makes sense. I wish Lord Sugar well.”

YouView, which is equally co-owned by the BBC, ITV, Channel 4, Channel Five, TalkTalk, BT and Arqiva, has been delayed from going on sale twice. Originally scheduled to launch by the end of 2010, its launch date was pushed back to 2011 and now is not expected on shelves until early 2012.

However, having been blighted with technology issues, and also having lost its technology chief, Anthony Rose, a key architect of the BBC iPlayer, many have questioned whether the expensive venture will get off the ground at all and - if it does – whether it will still be relevant.

Ian Maude, head of Internet at Enders Analysis, said: "The later YouView leaves it to launch, the market opportunity will shrink, with consumer demand being soaked up by other services and web TV applications. If they can't get it out before the Olympics, which is looking less and less likely, I wouldn't bother. It's a badly kept secret that the team are considerably behind schedule.”

Dan Cryan, head of broadband at Screen Digest, added: "With more and more TV catch up services, such as the iPlayer, coming to the living room TV set using the browser, YouView risks becoming irrelevant."

A senior TV source added: “The shareholders will be hoping that Lord Sugar can deliver some sort of extra vision that has been lacking until now. However, as these fallouts keep happening, it doesn’t bode well for the ailing venture.”

Lord Sugar will be paid a salary for the role but it is not yet known how much.

YouView has appointed Lord Sugar, with immediate effect. Speaking on behalf of the shareholders, Charles Dunstone, Chairman of TalkTalk, said: "Lord Sugar's experience in delivering set top box technology to the consumer is unrivalled and we are delighted that he will be with us as we introduce a new, enhanced television experience to homes across the UK. As we move from the development to the delivery stage I can’t think of anyone better placed to help bring YouView to market than Lord Sugar."

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