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Hard man “set top” guru Sugar called up to bash heads at YouView

Readers in the US and Europe won’t realize that the UK’s version of The Apprentice has Alan Sugar (more properly Lord Sugar) as its host and this week

By PETER WHITE

Published: 10 March, 2011

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Readers in the US and Europe won’t realize that the UK’s version of The Apprentice has Alan Sugar (more properly Lord Sugar) as its host and this week he said his catchphrase “You’re fired,” to more than just a contestant, as he replaced Kip Meek as Non-Executive Chairman of YouView, the UK's OTT TV set top project for public broadcasters.

Sugar came to prominence as the founder of Amstrad which made consumer electronics goods and PCs throughout the 80s and 90s and ended up focusing on set top boxes and was acquired to bring in-house DVR manufacture to BSkyB. His close allegiance to BSkyB will not make him popular among the shareholders of YouView, who are all broadcasters who live in fear of Sky.

Sugar is known as one of Europe’s most hardened negotiators and his reputation for acquiring the cheapest components to drive his CE empire is legendary. He also regards a deadline as a deadline, and won’t put up with squabbling empire builders ruining his plans.

YouView has just announced a disastrous delay to what is a relatively simple project, building a set top that will take both a DVB-T signal and an internet signal and merge them into a single EPG, with a UI simple enough to be intuitive for the public to buy. The project has been complicated by branding squabbles and the size of various logos, the inclusion or non-inclusion of various bits of technology and the thrust of the overall market brand of YouView, ahead of channel brands.

The operation’s seven shareholders (BBC, ITV, BT, Channel 4, TalkTalk, Arqiva and Channel 5) have not broken out publicly arguing about the spec, but all but.

Kip Meek was in the past respected for his work at UK communications regulator Ofcom, but by its very nature, is well versed in compromise. Sugar by comparison has no idea of the meaning of being meek or of compromise and this may be the last hope for YouView to get something meaningful onto the market before it is buried in pay TV funded rivals.

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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