UK Broadcasters Put Free TV at the Centre of the Streaming Age

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Britain’s major free to air public broadcasters BBC, ITV, Channel 4, and Channel 5 have given more details of their collaborative new free TV service that will deliver live TV over broadband. Announced last year and due to launch in Q2, the new platform is an evolution of their joint mission to protect and preserve the universality of public-service television in the UK.

As viewers increasingly consume content online, this next phase for free TV is about the distribution and availability of the PSBs’ live channels for a streaming age. Around 4m (15%) of UK TV homes are currently IP-only (BARB figures), and more than half of homes are expected to watch TV exclusively via broadband by 2030, according to market researcher 3 Reasons.

Live television has been accessible online for quite some time through individual channel apps such as BBC iPlayer and ITVX, but Freely will be the first to aggregate content from different broadcasters and bring them into one space.

Freely will be built-in to the next generation of smart TVs (including from Vestel and Hisense) and feature a line-up of PSB content and other free-to-air channels. It will replicate the terrestrial TV experience, building on the heritage of the Freeview TV platform, currently used in 16m UK homes.

It will also help ensure the availability of PSB services into the future and complement the new provisions for on demand and streaming prominence, set out in the Media Bill winding its way through Parliament.

Currently in draft form, the Media Bill aims to modernise broadcasting legislation and introduce wide-ranging reforms to the regulatory environment for PSBs and VOD services. It includes proposals to update the prominence for PSB services such as iPlayer and ITVX on digital platforms including smart TVs and STBs.

Freely is being developed by Everyone TV, the organisation which runs free TV in the UK and is jointly owned by the BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5. In a statement it said Freely "will replace the terrestrial TV experience” and will place “the distribution of free TV at the centre of the streaming age.”

The organisation also released first-look images of Freely’s user interface. Features include a MiniGuide, a pop-up interface that appears each time users switch channels; a Browse option activated by the Freely button on the remote; and a seven-day TV Guide that is accessed via the Guide button on the remote.

Everyone TV is also working with UKTV to bring the broadcaster’s portfolio of free channels that include Dave, and Yesterday to Freely. Tim Davie, Director General of the BBC, said, "Ensuring the universality of public-service television is sustained into the future is of paramount importance to the UK and all its public service broadcasters.

Jonathan Thompson, Everyone TV CEO, added, “This new development is a reflection of the fact that a growing number of UK viewers are watching content online, but still want easy access to the shared experience of live TV. Our aim is to ensure that all viewers have access to a free, aggregated live TV experience that champions British content and is delivered in a way that suits audience needs and preferences.”

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