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YouView targets 10 million homes

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Photo credit:

Adam Bowie

Richard Halton, CEO, YouViewTV discusses managing seven high profile shareholders and empowering staff.

YouView is a television platform, through which customers can watch on demand TV, catch up on the last seven days using the scroll back feature as well as pause and record live TV. Launched in July 2012, YouView now has well over one million connected devices as well as an expanding range of content and network partners.

The TV service – which is a joint venture between BBC, ITV, Channel 4, Channel 5, BT, TalkTalk and Arqiva – is led by Richard Halton who held a number of senior positions at the BBC before becoming CEO of YouView.

Shareholder relations

Having seven shareholders, including a number of direct competitors, is a big challenge, said Halton, although he adds that it is their key strength too. “For YouView to be successful you need a great product and you need great TV content. The people who understand television are the people who make it. Broadcasters understand not just how to make programmes but also how to make them discoverable, how to find them, how to put great context around them and add a lot of value to them,” he said.

Halton recently led negotiations around new funding arrangements between the shareholders. All seven shareholders signed up to a set of common objectives for the business which was consistent with those agreed when the business was started in 2010, Halton said. A mechanism was agreed whereby any of the shareholders could put in more investment on top of the agreed equal stake, if they wanted to see a specific project delivered or the roadmap accelerated in certain areas.

“In the first instance it will be the Internet Service Providers (ISPs) who

spearhead the additional investment. The extent to which they continue
to do this will be a function of how quickly we can grow our revenues, add more features and grow as a business.” he explained.

Musical Chairs

The company has had four chairmen in the last four years since YouView was set up. Kip Meek was the initial chair but after eight months in the role, he was replaced by Lord Sugar at the request of Channel 5’s owner Richard Desmond who was reportedly frustrated by the length of time which it was taking to bring the product to launch. Lord Sugar was chair for two years but after a bust-up with Desmond left the role. Sir Charles Dunstone became interim chair until the position was filled last September by Simon Duffy.

“YouView has been through a life cycle and if you are running a business through different phases you need a slightly different person for each of those stages. All of the chairs have been suited in one way or an- other to the phase of the project that they have worked on,” said Halton. Halton said that for him a great chair is “someone who helps you get on and run the business” which he said is current chairman Simon Duffy’s singular strength. Duffy brings a vast breadth of experience and there is very little that he doesn’t have experience of when you need support, adds Halton.

Halton led the recent negotiations and said there were times when they “needed to pull in the big guns” and get everyone focused on specific issues that needed agreement on, and Duffy was a really great point of escalation in these instances.

Mentorship and development

Halton said he has kept in touch with all the former chairs of YouView and while he hasn’t had one specific mentor, he said he has built a network of people throughout his career with whom he can touch base. He is also a great believer in formal coaching and he has worked with the same coach since he was running corporate strategy for the BBC in 2006.

Coaching and development extends to Halton’s management style and he said that he is fortunate to have a team of very ambitious people at YouView, who have been able to take on responsibility in their different areas.

“The only way you can get staff to commit to the business is to set out a very exciting stall for what’s going to happen in the future and to get a team who believe in the vision,” said Halton, adding that despite the large commercial backing, the organisation has always retained the feel of a start-up company and a group of people who have come together because they are passionate about wanting to make something happen and who will relentlessly pursue that regardless of the obstacles.

“I think it’s really good to empower people and say ‘come on, you built this thing’,”
he added.

YouView is currently hiring for a significant number of technology roles to grow the business and Halton acknowledges that it is challenging to attract the best technology talent. But he believes there are a small number of things that matter to great technology engineering: working on a product they believe in; giving them autonomy; and articulating a strong vision. YouView invests in employer engagement and the feedback speaks for itself: 95 per cent of staff believe passionately in where the company is going.

Defining success

Halton said that ultimate success is defined in compellingly simple terms: there are 10 million homes in the UK that have Freeview and there are 10 million subscribers to BT and TalkTalk and although they don’t match perfectly there is a significant overlap and the aim is to reach as many of that base as possible.

“For me personally, figuring out how we can become increasingly self-sufficient as a business is important because as you grow, your ability to recover your assets, look at your opportunities and to make the business more sustainable, improves. But for now it’s growth, it’s market share and being in as many of those homes as possible,” Halton concluded.