Freeview Play: a Likely Watershed Moment for the UK’s Connected TV Market


Freeview PlayWhile connected TV has been gathering meaningful momentum over the last few years, few of the services have looked worthy of challenging the mainstream TV platforms head on. Most – even the heavyweights like Netflix and Amazon – have looked like additive players, albeit ones that are capable of slicing of slithers of market share. But it’s fair to say that none of them have truly matched the offerings from the leading TV platforms. For the connected TV ecosystem to accelerate in the short to mid-term, it’s going to require investment by the current crop of TV platforms, which is why the official launch of Freeview’s ‘mass market’ connected TV service later this year (date unknown) will be something of a watershed moment.

Freeview is the UK’s most watched digital TV service (see Ofcom graph below) and since its launch in 2002 it has played a vital role in the adoption of digital TV in the UK . Users only pay for the set-top box, with no additional subscription costs. The new service, to be called ‘Freeview Play’ combines catch-up TV (BBC iPlayer, ITV Player and 4oD*), on demand and live television. All of the content will be IP-delivered, which will open up opportunities for broadcasters to combine the best of TV and the web via a single device.

UK TV Platforms by Market Share by Market Share

The launch will see Freeview Play go head-to-head with YouView, the service that was conceived by the BBC but is also backed by some of the leading British broadcasters and ISPs, including ITV, Channel 4, Channel 5, Arqiva and TalkTalk. However, earlier this year the BBC Trust urged a review of BBC investment in TV platforms, namely Freeview, Freesat and YouView, focusing particularly on its duty to promote the availability of services for free at the point of delivery. YouView is something of an outlier in this regard, as the boxes are often bundled with subscription services from BT and TalkTalk, making it a semi-commercial product. The service has also had limited success, with just one million homes signing up for YouView by July last year. YouView launched in July 2012.

Freeview, however, is run by Digital UK, a company that is jointly owned by BBC, ITV, Channel 4, Arqiva and BSkyB (the first four also being YouView shareholders), but isn’t bundled with subscription services, making it more closely aligned with the BBC’s public service mandate.

So adhering to the public service mandate is likely to pay dividends when it comes to BBC funding, as will Freeview’s positioning as the leading subscription-free TV service. Most British TV viewers already know what Freeview stands for, so moving them across from an already established service is likely to cause less friction than the introduction of a new brand like YouView.

These developments are likely to provide fertile ground for the growth of programmatic TV in the UK. In November of last year, Channel 4 announced that it was going to open up programmatic access to its VOD inventory via private marketplaces, through which buyers would also be able to benefit from the broadcaster’s first party data.

During the launch, Channel 4 also took a swipe at YouTube, which the broadcaster claimed offered an ‘inferior’ ad offering. Using a research methodology devised in partnership with Cog Research, including eye tracking which measures where viewers are looking when exposed to ads, and Skin Conductance Response (SCR) sensors (skin patches) to measure a viewer’s ‘electrodermal response’ (psychological arousal or pleasure) using the skin as a conductor of electricity. Channel 4 claimed the results found that:

  • Channel 4’s on-demand player (4oD) grabbed 80% of respondents’ attention versus YouTube’s 20 percent
  • YouTube’s cluttered visual environment increases the work a viewer’s brain has to do by 50 percent as they process what to watch next whilst the ads are playing, reducing their ability to concentrate
  • Five seconds of free YouTube airtime is unlikely to be of any significant benefit as viewers were impatient to skip the ad when given the option to do so and less inclined to engage and opt in

As other leading broadcasters are widely rumoured to be developing programmatic strategies, it’s going to be fascinating to see the TV world compete against companies like Google and Facebook in the video market, especially when broadcasters and operators properly develop their data strategies. The big question is will the scale-hungry brand buyers will become as data-dependent as their DR counterparts, or will mass reach continue to serve TV as well as it did in the past?


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