Broadcasters collaborate on future of free-to-view TV

The BBC, ITV and Channel 4 have signed a new five-year deal to accelerate Freeview’s transition to a fully hybrid platform, providing free-to-view live and on-demand TV.

The collaboration between the four broadcasters 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, which is said to be the UK market leader in free-to-view connected TV.

It will help free-to-view TV to compete against streaming services such as Netflix and Amazon.

Alongside ongoing support for the Freeview platform, new developments will include a mobile app and improvements in content discoverability and navigation.

Since its launch in 2015, more than 3.5m Freeview Play products have been sold in the UK from brands including Panasonic, LG, Sony, and Toshiba, accounting for 60 per cent of smart TV sales.

The service gives UK viewers a combination of live and on-demand content all in one place, with no monthly subscription.

Digital UK will lead the way in 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 more than a million homes to 11.4m, cementing its position as the UK’s largest TV platform.

Around 19m 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, said Freeview.

Ofcom recently highlighted challenges created by new players, such as Netflix and Amazon, calling for more industry collaboration to maintain the prominence of Public Service Broadcasting (PSB) content on connected TV interfaces.

Said Jonathan Thompson, chief executive of Digital UK: “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.”