How mobile giant EE's attempts to innovate in TV backfired spectacularly

EE Kevin BaconEEHollywood actor Kevin Bacon is the face of EE and EE TV in the UK.

Mobile carrier EE launched its television service, EE TV, in November 2014 and marketed it as “the UK’s most advanced TV service.” But 18 months later, two of its most innovative features have been called into question.

In March, EE TV became the first UK television platform to allow subscribers to record their favourite shows and watch them on their tablets and mobiles for an unlimited period of time.

But after less than four months, the “Recordings to Go” functionality was pulled and references to the service have been purged from its website. In an email sent to subscribers in May, EE TV said the decision followed “discussions with content rights holders.”

Business Insider can reveal that the BBC, ITV, Channel 4, and Channel 5 had major reservations about the functionality and EE was made aware of these concerns in a legal letter to its general counsel, James Blendis.

The broadcasters felt that “Recordings to Go” was an unlicensed use of copyright protected content and potentially infringed UK copyright laws.

TV industry sources have told Business Insider that EE TV launched “Recordings to Go” without consulting the major British broadcasters, many of whom were caught off guard by the innovation. Sources said some US production studios were also concerned by the EE TV feature, given they hold the rights to many of the programmes aired by the BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5.

EE has “undermined” its relationship with rights holders

One TV industry source said EE TV’s behaviour was in stark contrast to Sky, which launched its online service Sky Go — which enables subscribers to watch TV shows on the move — in full consultation with major rights holders.

“EE has slightly undermined its relationship with content providers,” the TV insider added.

An EE spokesman reiterated the fact that “Recordings to Go” was withdrawn following conversations with rights holders.

“We’re keen to innovate, and we’ll continue to seek new ways to offer our customers a great experience,” he added in a statement to Business Insider.

The broadcasters welcomed the withdrawal.

A BBC spokesman said: “The BBC did not licence or otherwise authorise EE’s ‘Recordings to Go’ service. We understand from EE that the ‘Recordings to Go’ service is due to be withdrawn.”

ITV added that it too was not informed about “Recordings to Go” prior to launch and “approached” EE about its plans, while Channel 4 emphasised why it is vital TV platforms protect content rights.

“As a 100% commercially funded PSB which invests all profits back into free-to-air programmes, it is important that we secure commercial or contractual relationships with third party platforms for the features they provide, to protect future investment in original UK content and the creative sector,” a Channel 4 spokeswoman said.

Channel 5 did not respond to Business Insider’s request for comment in time for publication.

Lingering concerns about EE’s innovative catch-up service “TV Replay”

EE TVEEEE’s ‘TV Replay’ functionality.

Although progress has been made on “Recordings to Go,” there remains lingering concerns about another EE TV feature, called “TV Replay.”

UK television industry magazine Broadcast reported in September last year that ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5 had complained about the functionality, which automatically records hundreds of hours’ worth of content and presents it in an easily-navigable menu.

Sources have told Business Insider that the trio of broadcasters remain unhappy about “TV Replay” and are engaged in conversations with EE about the matter. They are concerned because the service encourages ad skipping.

Unlike the “Recordings to Go,” the issue has not provoked a legal letter, but the broadcasters are maintaining a watching brief.

One person with knowledge of the matter said EE TV’s low subscriber base — which Business Insider is told stands at 100,000 — means it is not currently a major issue. This could change if EE TV has a growth spurt.

An EE spokesman said: “EE TV is the UK’s most advanced TV service and combines the best of live and recorded programming across TV’s, mobiles and tablets — helping to increase broadcasters’ viewership by making their content available on more screens in each household. Whilst we cannot comment on individual conversations, as you’d expect, we are open to working with all of the services in the market, and are speaking with a wide range of content providers about the exciting partnership opportunities the EE TV service brings.”

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