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Freeview 2024?

The announcement yesterday from Digital UK about the future of Freeview is intriguing. What does it mean for the future* of free television in the UK?

What does this mean?  Photograph: Wikimedia commons
What does this mean? Photograph: Wikimedia commons
published on UK Free TV


Combining free-to-view TV with low-cost streaming services

Yes, you did read it right, it did say

“exploit the trend towards ‘cord cutting’ as viewers build their own ‘skinny bundles’”

in a BBC/ITV/Channel 4 press release. In the UK context, “cord cutting” must mean “not subscribing to a Sky or Virgin Media TV subscription”, which to be fair can be expensive, perhaps a thousand pound a year.

The low-cost streaming services are :

  • Netflix from £6 a month
  • Amazon Prime, £8 a month (£79/year) but includes Amazon next-day-delivery
  • YouTube, free (for now)

The need to highlight the above streaming services is that as the speed of internet connections has risen, the ability to reliably provide domestically and professionally usable video services has been reached. 

In the old days, you might have been able to order a DVD online and have it posted to you.   Later it was possible to download a video and watch it later.   Then came the time of on-demand promise, and buffering.

Today, almost all UK homes can watch streamed online video without interruption, often on more than one set at a time.    Over this time, the above services (and others, of course) have made themselves available on everything from the cheapest smartphone to the highest of high end televisions.

In the same time, the device that once did what a television did has morphed from a desktop computer with a VDU into mobile devices to fit any hand size from infant to giant, laptops and tablet computers are harder to distinguish for one another.  That a device is technically a television and technically can be connected to aerial or dish to watch live broadcasts of numbered channels is not foremost in the mind of purchasers.


What needs to happen

First, the public service broadcasters need to merge their offerings into a single Freeview app.  This means rather than having four apps, four websites, four Freesat apps and so on, just have a single point of entry for all their channels: a single app you can use on Android, iOS, Windows, MacOS and on set-top boxes.

Secondly, the system needs to be able to provide access to live TV streams, but also be able to rewind (“watch from the start”) or switch to a on-demand version of a show being repeated.

Thirdly, the system needs to work better with modern technology.    Amazon Prime video users can watch and navigate content by talking to Alexa, with a Google Home you can control YouTube streaming to a Chromecast.  To survive, Freeview must match these functions.


Why this might not work?

The above seems like a great start, but it might not be enough.

There is the obvious point that Netflix, Amazon and Google (owners of YouTube) are some of the biggest companies in the world edging their way to being trillion-dollar (£750 billion) companies. 


If you – somehow – took the BBC and ITV plc and Channel 4 and rolled them all together (say, £13.5 billion), you would have still only have one seventh of a Netflix, a forty-fifth of an Amazon or a fifty-second of an Apple.

It saddens me to say this, but in this game, £25m a year is too little, too late.  

What do you think?   It Netflix, Amazon and Youtube the unstoppable future?  


* “Trying to predict the future is a mug’s game. But increasingly it’s a game we all have to play because the world is changing so fast and we need to have some sort of idea of what the future’s actually going to be like because we are going to have to live there, probably next week.”

Help with Television sets?
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In this section
Why did the BBC just use 1.1 Million TV Licences to buy UKTV from Discovery? 1
ITV and Freeview2
New Freeview Mobile App Launching in January 20193
Broadcasters collaborate to secure future of free-to-view TV 4
BBC Local Radio on Freeview 5
Will the World Radiocommunication Conference be the death of Freeview?6

Wednesday, 13 June 2018
Colin R
1:21 AM

@Briantist Brian Butterwoth:

Below my comment is the full DigitalUK text that Brian is referring to.

As I said in my post of 24 April to the Crystal Palace transmitter page, it seems that the Government wants to sell off all the Freeview raido spectrum to make billions of pounds. This latest announcement from DigitalUK seems to be code for 'Freeview viewers can go to expensive online or to even more expensive satellite to get their so-called 'skinny bundles', because FREE terrestial TV is going to come to an end in the next ten years'. My post copied here:

"Does anyone get the feeling, like I do, that the government would like to sell off the entire UHF TV specturm to mobile data serivces sometime in the next ten or twenty years, and shut down terrestial TV altogether? All these recent less-than-user-friendly changes [for the 700Mhz band clearance] may be a way of 'encouraging' people to switch to satellite TV, or in due course to most TV being delivered by broadband Internet. It may be no coincidence that Ofcom recently set OpenReach and other broadband infrastructure providers a target of a minimum of 10Mb/s broadband to all homes, i.e. sufficient bandwidth to be able to watch any television channel of your choice. It may be feasible, and it may even be reasonable by then, but it would be nice if there was some open and honest communication of the strategy, if this is indeed the case."

DigitalUK 11 June 2018:

"Broadcasters collaborate to secure future of free-to-view TV
The UK's top broadcast companies have signed a new five-year agreement to accelerate Freeview's transition to a fully hybrid platform, providing the best in free-to-view live and on-demand TV.
The collaboration between BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and network operator Arqiva the four shareholders of Digital UK - will see an investment of 125 million over the next five years to build on the success of Freeview Play, the UK market leader in free-to-view connected TV. Alongside the ongoing support for the Freeview platform, new developments will include a mobile app and improvements in content discoverability and navigation. Since launch in 2015, more than three-and-a-half million Freeview Play products have been sold in the UK from brands including Panasonic, LG, Sony, and Toshiba, accounting for 60% of smart TV sales. The service gives UK viewers a seamless combination of live and on-demand content all in one place with no monthly subscription.
Digital UK will lead on implementing the new strategy, focusing on product development and working closely with sister organisation, Freeview, on a refreshed marketing approach and brand positioning. The new investment will help Freeview exploit the trend towards cord cutting' as viewers build their own skinny bundles' combining free-to-view TV with low-cost streaming services. Since 2016 Freeview has grown its base of main sets by over a million homes to 11.4m cementing its position as the UK's largest TV platform. Around 19 million homes watch Freeview on either the main or a secondary set.
Key areas of development will include:
A new mobile app enabling viewers to access live and on-demand content on a range of smartphones and tablets, launching later this year
Restart functionality allowing viewers switching on mid-way through a programme to watch from the start using catch-up links built into the Freeview Play TV guide
Improved navigation through voice search, and further evolution of the Freeview Electronic Programme Guide (EPG) on televisions
The agreement to invest in developing Freeview as a fully hybrid platform reflects the continuing strength of linear TV but also the growth of on-demand viewing.1 Ofcom recently highlighted challenges created by new players such as Netflix and Amazon, calling for more industry collaboration to maintain the prominence of PSB content on connected TV interfaces.2
Jonathan Thompson, CEO of Digital UK, said: As the UK's TV landscape becomes increasingly impacted by global players, this new commitment from our shareholders is a major boost for UK viewers. Building on this spirit of collaboration, we will not only safeguard free-to-view TV but reinvent it for a new age of viewing.'
Joining forces is a strategy that the head of the world's foremost alliance of public service media, the European Broadcasting Union (EBU), supports, Technological innovation increasingly requires new models of co-operation and investment to meet ever changing public needs. The EBU has always
1 Source BARB
2 PSB in the Digital Age, Ofcom, 8 March 2018
championed open innovation initiatives for Public Service Media. This new deal provides added value and new services for viewers across the UK, especially for online and streaming consumption, said Noel Curran, Director General of the EBU.
About Digital UK
Digital UK supports Freeview viewers and channels. The company manages strategy, policy and service development for digital terrestrial television (DTT) in the UK and provides day-to-day technical management of the Freeview Electronic Programme Guide (EPG). Digital UK is owned by the BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and Arqiva and has also led development of Freeview Play, a hybrid platform bringing together free-to-view DTT and catch-up services in a range of TVs and set-top boxes."

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Colin R's 5 posts US flag
Colin R
2:11 AM

If the Government wants to sell off all of the UHF TV Spectrum to mobile data services, what does this mean for the TV channels that we can recieve? The DigitalUK Coverage Checker says that I can get 118 standard def and 16 high definition channels.

So what is a so-called 'skiiny bundle'? Presumably much less than 134 channels that I can recieve free-to-view over the 'air'? We already know that the channels in the Com7 and Com8 Muxes are liable for the chop (and that is nearly 25 channels!!) come the early 2020s because of the sell-off of first the 800MHz and now the 700MHz UHF TV spectrum to make billions of pounds for the Government at the cost of humble viewers. So we will already be down to about 110 channels within four years.

No doubt I would I have to pay not only my TV licence fee of 150.05 AND Netflix, Amazon, Apple, Google / Youtube, SKY, BT, ITV subscriptions totalling up to 500 per year to watch my 'skinny' bundle of, say, only fifty - seventy channels?

After all, the bloated BBC that pays its presenters and senior management high six figure salaries, and some 'talent' even seven figure salaries would take umbrage to a cut or elimination of the licence fee wouldn't it? While at the same time the BBC is apparently supporting the DigitalUK move to online and subscription services!

Letters to MPs are required to 'save our FREE UHF TV specturn'.

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Colin R's 5 posts US flag
Friday, 15 June 2018
Trevor Harris

5:26 PM

First Freeview is not free it reqires a subscription. I recently spent a week in a guest house in Weymouth that only had Freeview. I was shocked to discover that only 21 channels were available from the Weymouth transmitter. That experience alone was enough to convince me that there was no future for Freeview. There is also the issue of UHD which is never going to be available on Freeview.

A combined Freeview app sounds sounds good but will it require a TV licence. At the moment only the Iplayer needs a tv licence. If a combined app was produced I suspect the law will be changed and a licence fee will be required. This will only drive more and more viewers to other cheaper services such a Netflix.

Amazon has got the rights to 20 premiership games making it's service even more attractive.

For me the big issue is UHD. The BBC's pathetic attemtps to provide some of the World Cup games in UHD. This year I have been able to watch Premiereship Football and the Royal Wedding in UDH with Dolby Atmos sound. I watch Test Cricket, F1 and the French Open in UHD. Then I find I can only watch the World Cup in HD with ITV in the dark ages only using stereo. These companies should not be allowed to have exclusive rights if they cannot deliver tv at it's best.

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Trevor Harris's 367 posts GB flag
Saturday, 16 June 2018

3:39 PM

Trevor Harris:

No subscription is required for use of Freeview or Freesat. What is required is a Broadcast Receiving Licence - which is NOT a subscription.

That licence allows reception and viewing of all 'live' broadcasts as well as whatever is available on the iPlayer. If a combined 'catch-up' service is made available it may also need a licence to use.

The issue of broadcasting rights is a matter for commercial negotiation, as is the availab lility of non-PSB services.

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MikeP's 3,056 posts GB flag
Sunday, 17 June 2018
11:36 AM

Back in 1985 at the age of 16,, I attended, with 150 other teenagers from across Europe, a conference in Turin called "Young People, New Technologies". One of the things we were shown was IBC, or Integrated Broadband Communications, whereby it was predicted that the current TV aerial, phone line, computer communications would all be replaced by a single fibre to each home and all of these would come via this. BT are stopping selling the POTS telephone service in the next 5-7 years as we are increasingly using mobiles or VOIP. I'm only surprised that it has taken this long to get here. The broadcast network has only just managed to include HD and is already being overtaken by online 4K/UHD offerings.

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IanF's 7 posts GB flag

4:39 PM


But still many people do not get to use mobile phones at home because of poor signal coverage away from towns. Many rural communities only get very slow broadband, often too slow for streaming SD programmes, let alone get HD or UHD. Even in some urban areas the mobile signal is so poor it is hard or impossible to use. Where I live, on the edge of a county town, a mobile is unusable except in one room upstairs! Such is the lack of good signal coverage by the mobile providers.

Further, many people prefer to use a 'traditional' phone service rather than a mobile and BT are planning to continue providing such a service, but using VoIP rather than copper/aluminium wires as at present.

It is always the case that some pundits predict things will happen, but they are always over optimistic with whether it is viable or with the timing.

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MikeP's 3,056 posts GB flag
Monday, 18 June 2018
10:51 PM


Strangely, back in '85, IBC stood for International Broadcast Convention, held every year at Montreux (now held in Amsterdam), way before optical fibre even got talked about!

I concur completely with MikeP's comments. There is much the same talk about a cashless society, but it cannot happen until it's replacement is available to everyone, at a cost that everyone can afford. Very patchy mobile coverage and poor design of broadband network rollout has resulted in a very divided nation of users, the lucky ones having excellent services, and the forgotten many with either no services at all or unreliable, restricted or costly service. The lottery of life is showing up in some very strange places these days!

The general trend in content delivery has been obvious for some time, but practicalities and cost limitations will always mitigate the rate of implemention.

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PaulB's 2 posts GB flag
Wednesday, 20 June 2018

6:06 PM

In discussing the government attitude towards free over-the-air radio and TV, from either satellite or terrestrial transmissions, people always overlook one very important factor.

The government receives zero income from viewers who use these free services.

However, those users who receive these services via a subscription service eg cable or BSkyB or IPTV or via cellphone service pay VAT on their subscription.

Therefore it is in the self interest of the government to force people to subscribe to some commercial service in order to provide additional funding from VAT for the government, who can then reduce top level income tax and corporation tax to benefit their friends and financial supporters.

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Corin's 91 posts LU flag
Thursday, 28 June 2018
John Martin

4:23 PM

Freeview for me please. Keep your sky, bt virgin etc

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John Martin's 103 posts GB flag
Sunday, 1 July 2018
9:32 PM

I suggested a while ago that the government's intention was to turn off all the free view transmitters.
The response I received was ridicule, with me being told that it was unlikely to happen for years and years.
Well it appears to be happening much sooner than most expected.
I suspect the drive for faster broad band is largely driven by the intention to broadcast tv over the internet.
Such an arrangement lays the ground to do away with the tv licence and switch to pay per view. Is it a coincidence that net neutrality is being replaced in the US or that telcos are buying up media production companies, I think not. In some ways switching to internet distribution of TV makes some technical sense, as this is really the only way to send super high definition (high bandwidth) television. The radio spectrum lacks the bandwidth.
The question is who is going to buy all this free spectrum. Not sure why the mobile companies would want it, given the carrier frequency requirements for gsm 4/5 LTE is in the microwave part of the spectrum. I suppose it might be of use in rural areas, but even that is questionable. It would be ironic if the freeview spectrum is being given to mobile phone operators, so phone users can watch tv on tiny screen devices, that are really unsuitable for the task. One the questions to be answered is does the internet backbone have the bandwidth capacity to distribute all those super high definition channels in real time? Ultermatly the target must be to distribute the bandwidth gobbling high definition 3D content media. We may end up watching tv using 3d goggles rather than wide screen SHD TVs.
One thing the government may have over looked in its rush for cash, is the social aspect of broadcast tv. The government may find they have lost the ability to communicate with the electorate. With so many channels on offer who is going to strive to tune into the latest political comment/news, or worse still pay to receive it.
The future of freeview tv was in doubt, when the advert revenue was split over so many channels. A further warning was when the adverts started to last longer than the programs, although this might be an illusion. Clearly the freeview tv companies are having real problems competing with the likes of Amazon and Netflix. One only needs to look At the number of repeats and the way repeats are being repackaged in seasons to know they are short of cash for program making. Sky have been holding on to program IP with rather than selling it on, presumably with the intention of putting the freeview competition out of business. While freeview exists the cost of streaming services is limited, as the customer can always fall back to watching the free to air channels.
As with everything government does, more choice is used to justify charging the consumer more for a poorer grade of service. The long term result of all these changes to the way tv is delivered is that the consumer just loses all interest and goes and does something more interesting with their life's.

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NJ's 16 posts US flag
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