London Centre event report by Matthew Bell: Preview of Freeview Play
The people behind a new connected-TV service, Freeview Play, told an RTS London audience that "we’re going fast", but committed themselves only to a launch later "this year".
Digital UK Managing Director of Connected TV Ilse Howling and Commercial Director of Connected TV Richard Knight were speaking at "Freeview Play: the natural next step", which was held at ITV London Studios in mid-May.
The subscription-free service will offer live, catch-up and on-demand TV, either built into a TV or via a set-top box, using a broadband connection.
In June 2014, the shareholders of Freeview – the BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and transmission company Arqiva –and Digital UK (the company that supports Freeview viewers and channels) agreed a five-year, £100m-plus investment to develop the new service.
Freeview Play will compete with Sky’s Now TV and YouView. Howling said Freeview Play was "complementary" to YouView, which shares several backers (the BBC, ITV and C4) but which also includesChannel 5, BT and TalkTalk.
"YouView has an excellent product but it is seen as a service bundled with a broadband service, whether that’s BT or TalkTalk," she said. "Our service is unbundled, which means customers are free to choose the broadband provider they want."
Technology can be confusing, argued Howling. She said that Freeview Play would help viewers to navigate the TV landscape: "People want their TV to help them watch the programmes they love, find more to love and watch them when they want to."
The Freeview catch-up services BBC iPlayer, ITV Player, All 4 and Demand 5 are signed up for the launch and "we expect more to follow", added Howling.
Freeview Play’s technical specification was developed with TV manufacturers and will allow users to search for programmes using a "scroll-back" EPG.
As it is an open internet-connected service, manufacturers will be able to operate it, within certain limits, as they see fit.
Panasonic, Humax and Vestel have signed up as partners and will be producing TV sets and set-top boxes with the service. "It is being adopted by manufacturers across Europe and does all the smart things to make the TV work in the right ways," said Knight.
Howling claimed that Freeview Play would boost the consumer electronics industry, citing the success of Freeview, which is now in almost 20 million homes.
Since its 2002 launch, more than 100 million digital terrestrial TVs and boxes have been sold, which Howling claimed was worth £30bn to the manufacturers.
In a fast-changing world, it was important to have "an organisation such as Freeview, which lets people know that there is a simple way of getting great programming free," said Howling. Only 12% of Freeview homes have smart TVs, which means that there is room for Freeview Play to grow: "For these homes, it’s a natural next step to use a connected service."
Knight said: "Our objective is [to get] scale. We’d like Freeview Play to be normal TV in a few years."