Things were already bad at YouView, the UK’s struggling on-demand TV service, but there was complete meltdown on February 28th when the operation’s Chairman, Lord Alan Sugar (who fronts the UK’s version of The Apprentice reality TV show) and the owner of Channel 5, Richard Desmond reportedly came to near fisticuffs during a regular board meeting, when Desmond allegedly told Lord Sugar that he was “fired”.
The abuse from one to the other was heard throughout the YouView suite of offices (at Desmond’s Northern & Shell offices alongside the River Thames), with both parties to the row evidently using what can best be described as ‘colourful’ invective. Britain’s national newspapers jumped in on reporting the quarrel, which was evidently based on Lord Sugar’s decision to quit his £500,000 per year role.
The blistering argument was watched by the other board members including the acting director-general of the BBC, Tim Davie. YouView is owned by the UK’s network broadcasters, plus telephony operators BT and TalkTalk and broadcast infrastructure provider Arqiva. YouView offers broadband homes a free TV download and catch-up service.
YouView itself has been beset by problems and suffered extreme launch delays which Lord Sugar’s appointment was meant to remedy. It was initially planned to launch in early 2011 but actually went ‘live’ last summer. Even the UK’s free-to-air Freeview service (which YouView piggy-backs upon) recognises that its younger sibling has a long way to go. MD Ilse Howling, admitted ten days ago that YouView still only served a minority of viewers: “For the mass mainstream of viewers, I think [YouView] has a long way to come,” she said.