BBC, ITV and Channel 4 have all pledged to contribute £19.1 million each to Freeview in the next three years. For those who don’t know, Freeview Play brings together some 70 channels and radio stations into a single interface alongside some 30,000 hours of on-demand content from catch-up services. Everything is free to stream and offers an alternative to paid-for services like Virgin Media and Sky Q.
The latest round of investment, detailed by Morning Star, courtesy of the BBC, ITV and Channel 4 arrive less than six months after broadcast transmission company Arqiva decided to pull its investment from Freeview. Standing down as a shareholder in Digital UK, which is the parent company behind Freeview, from March 2021, it was seen as a sign of the industry shifting away from traditional transmission towards streaming.
While it will no longer be involved at a high-level, Arqiva will still supply the Electronic Program Guide, EPG, for Freeview viewers nationwide.
The latest round of investment from the other brands involved in the Digital UK venture should help Freeview continue to expand in the coming years. And the service will need those funds as it has some big plans. Earlier this year, Digital UK confirmed plans to integrate with free-to-air satellite brand Freesat.
For those who don’t know, Freesat offers access to a number of the same channels, but uses a satellite dish to connect viewers to their favourite shows. So, if you’ve decided to leave Sky Q but still have a dish strapped to your roof and don’t fancy a weekend of DIY – you can plug in a Freesat compatible set-top box to access free-to-air channels using your existing receiver. There are a few advantages to Freesat over Freeview, most notably, that the service leverages the additional capacity available when broadcasting via satellite to offer a selection of 24 high-definition channels, including those from BBC, ITV, Channel 5, Discovery Networks, France 24, Paramount Network, Bloomberg, RT UK and TRT World.
According to Digital UK, merging Freeview and Freesat will ensure both approaches to free-to-watch content benefit from innovations developed by one another.
For example, Freeview Play merges live and catch-up services into a single TV Guide, where scrolling to the left lets viewers “travel back in time” and jump into previously-aired shows still available from BBC iPlayer, My5, ITV Hub, All4 and others. In total, it pulls content from 10 on-demand catch-up services now, following the launch of POP Player at the end of last year. While this is possible with Freesat, the service doesn't currently include any shows from All4, although that could change as the two firms share ideas and technologies.
Jonathan Thompson, CEO of Digital UK, said: “We welcome this opportunity to work more closely with Freesat whilst continuing to deliver our mission of ensuring everyone in the UK can access a high-quality TV service for free. The combined entity will promote the very best of free-to-view content whilst reflecting the changing nature of consumer consumption.”
Of course, the merger between Freesat and Freeview is conditional on regulatory approvals, although the green light is expected in the coming months.
With investment agreed, fingers crossed we’ll also see some exciting new features coming to Freeview Play. For example, while the service does offer a companion app for smartphones and tablets, there’s currently no communication between Freeview Play on your Smart TV or set-top box and the same service running on your smartphone. It would be great to see some of the features that Sky Q customers are familiar with – like the ability to schedule a recording on your set-top box when out-and-about using the smartphone app of the same name.
Either way, Freeview isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.
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