Freeview Plots Mass-Market Connected TV

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Freeview aims to do for connected television what it did for the UK's digital TV revolution.

The UK’s most-watched digital TV service is to launch a connected TV service branded Freeview Play later this year. It will take on the likes of Sky Now TV, YouView, and Virgin Media. Unlike those it will be subscription free.

“Freeview has been built on a vision to make television available to all free from subscription,” Freeview managing director Guy North said. “In the same way that we took the UK from analogue to digital, Freeview Play is the next step in that vision and it will put the viewer in control, without complexity, commitment or unnecessary cost—we want to keep television fair and open for everyone. That means giving consumers the freedom to choose the TV they want, the way they want it.”

Freeview Play combines catch-up TV from Freeview shareholders—BBC iPlayer, Channel 4's All 4, and ITV Player—with on-demand and live television. Channel 5's Demand 5 is another possibility. The service will feature a new backwards electronic programme guide.

Launched in 2002, Freeview is the free-to-air digital TV platform for 10.5 million households in the UK. It provides more than 60 TV channels, up to 12 HD channels, and more than 25 radio stations.

North said the new service‚ which sports a new logo, aims to simplify the transition for people yet to make the jump to on-demand.

The company is lining up TV and set-top-box manufacturing partners. Panasonic is the first TV maker to be publicly announced with a version of Viera incorporating Freeview Play. Humax said it will provide Freeview Play set-top boxes retailing around £200.

A year ago Freeview's shareholders—including Arqiva and Sky—agreed to a £100 million deal to secure the future of the service and develop plans for Freeview Play.

The BBC, ITV, and Channel 4 remain shareholders in the rival internet-connected TV service YouView, but have scaled back their investment.

Critics argue that YouView’s free-to-air founding principles have been hijacked by shareholders BT and TalkTalk, which have turned it into a pay-TV business, hence the major public service broadcasters’ decision to go back to basics and invest more in Freeview.

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