The Freeview-branded service will launch in partnership with Digital UK – an organisation owned by the BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and Arqiva – and is designed to make “the best of broadcast and on-demand TV available free for everyone.”
The connected TV proposition will be developed and marketed as part of a five-year plan that will see Freeview offer broadcast and on-demand TV, along with “a range of popular catch-up players”.
“The aim will be for manufacturers to launch a new range of connected Freeview HD televisions and boxes which consumers will be able to buy in store. People will be able to watch the service via their TV aerial and current broadband provider without being tied to a contract,” said Freeview and Digital UK.
With the announcement, Freeview managing director Ilse Howling has been appointed as managing director of connected TV at Digital UK and will lead a new team dedicated to developing the product specification for the new service – in cooperation with manufacturers and industry bodies.
At the same time, Freeview’s marketing communications director, Guy North, has taken over as managing director of Freeview. He will lead the team responsible for TV advertising and marketing campaigns for the Freeview brand and product portfolio.
“I’m delighted to be joining Digital UK to lead development of the new connected service. The company is well placed to develop the next generation specification and work with the supply chain to support a new, mass market service to make connected TV available free, for everyone,” said Howling.
Jonathan Thompson, Chief Executive of Digital UK, added: “This announcement marks a critical step in the next stage of the platform’s development, ensuring that it will remain as relevant, important and valued by viewers in the future as it is today.”
Some industry watchers will see the move as a direct shot at YouView, which was originally conceived as a ‘next generation Freeview,’ but has had most of its uptake driven by the pay TV offerings of its two ISP partners, BT and TalkTalk – not from high street set-top sales.
Though YouView’s seven shareholders – the BBC, ITV, Channel 4, Channel 5, BT, TalkTalk and Arqiva – recently agreed to support the platform for at least five more years, the BBC Trust also called for the introduction of new specifications to loosen BT and TalkTalk’s grip on the platform.
The BBC’s governing body said last month that YouView was still complying with the terms of its approval for the BBC’s involvement in the project, but said that “some areas of improvement” needed to be delivered as a condition for its continued support for the UK internet-connected TV service. The main condition was that YouView must “promptly” introduce new specifications to allow content providers to deliver content without being required to use BT or TalkTalk’s delivery network.