UK television is on the cusp of a transformative era, and Freeview, the service that brings free channels to millions, finds itself at the heart of this change.
A consultation published this week by Ofcom, the UK’s communications regulator, raises the bar, asking probing questions about the financial sustainability and long-term importance of traditional TV platforms like Freeview.
Could this be a sign that Freeview’s days are numbered, or is it an opportunity to grow the service?
Adding to the excitement is the upcoming launch of “Freely”, a broadband-based live TV service set to debut in 2024. This new service is developed by Each TV, the same consortium behind Freeview and Freesat, and could be This new service serves as a blueprint for free TV. The future of TV is on the air.
Meanwhile, the disappearance of popular Freeview recorders from the market raises questions about what features consumers may have to sacrifice as we move towards a more internet-focused model of TV consumption.
The answers could reshape the way we watch TV – so let’s take a closer look at the questions.
Ofcom consultation explained
When we talk about Ofcom’s role in the future of Freeview (and Freesat), it’s important to understand what a “consultation” actually is.
In simple terms, consultation is a process in which Ofcom seeks views from the public and industry stakeholders about potential changes to regulations or services.
It is a way for the regulatory body to gather evidence and views that can guide its decisions.
So, when Ofcom releases a document like “This Week”Call for evidence on the future of television distribution“, it basically asks for input on how TV is consumed today and how it might be consumed in the future.
Typically, those who respond to these types of consultations are public broadcasters, pay-TV companies, advertisers, various stakeholders and even ordinary citizens.
The consultation document is quite comprehensive, covering a range of topics that could have a direct impact on Freeview’s future.
A key focus area is the financial sustainability of TV distribution platforms e.g Free offer.
Ofcom is keen to understand whether current models are economically viable in the long term, especially as more people turn towards internet-based platforms for their viewing needs.
Another important point raised in the document is the possibility of providing “hybrid” services that combine terrestrial television and Internet-based television.
Ofcom is exploring whether such services could provide a middle ground, offering the benefits of traditional and online platforms.
This may be particularly relevant for consumers who are not yet ready to fully transition to Internet-based television (either because their broadband is not fast enough, or due to technical understanding) but are looking for more flexibility in how they consume content.
The future of Freeview: reading between the lines
Although Ofcom’s consultation document is not a final statement of policy, it provides several pieces of evidence that could be interpreted as hints about the possible future of Freeview and Freesat.
The fact that Ofcom is seeking evidence about the long-term role of digital terrestrial TV suggests that its future is not set in stone.
The consultation specifically requests input on what role DTT technology should play after 2034, when current national multiplex licenses expire.
This could mean Ofcom is considering whether Freeview, in its current form, will remain relevant in the coming years.
Another important point is the focus on the financial sustainability of TV distribution platforms such as Freeview.
With the rise of streaming services and the increasing costs of maintaining terrestrial broadcast infrastructure, Ofcom appears to be questioning whether the traditional Freeview model is economically viable in the long term.
This could be an important signal that changes may be on the horizon, especially if the consultation reveals that Freeview is struggling to compete financially with existing internet platforms (many of which are owned by huge US companies).
It may hint at a future where public broadcasters (Like BBC ITV) is still very much with us – but it uses other platforms (mainly broadband) to reach our homes, rather than antennas and satellites.
The consultation is also exploring the possibility of providing “hybrid” services that combine terrestrial television and Internet-based television.
This suggests that Ofcom is open to the idea of a more flexible TV distribution model that includes elements of traditional and online platforms – perhaps as an intermediate stage.
For Freeview, this could mean a move towards a more internet-focused service, perhaps something along the lines of the upcoming ‘Freely’ service, which aims to offer live TV over broadband.
Finally, the involvement of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) suggests that the government also takes an active interest in the future of Freeview.
DCMS has asked Ofcom to review market changes affecting DTT and other platforms, which could lead to significant policy changes in the future.
The rise of “freedom”
Upcoming launch of “Freely” In 2024, and Dwindling availability of Freeview recorders In the UK, there are two apparently disparate events that could in fact be interconnected, especially when viewed through the lens of Ofcom’s recent consultation.
“Freely”, as mentioned earlier, is a new service being developed by Each TV (the body that operates Freeview and Freesat).
It aims to offer live TV over broadband, essentially bringing the Freeview experience to the internet. This is an important development, as it could serve as a blueprint for how Freeview will evolve in the future.
These devices were best known for their ability to record live TV, a feature currently missing from most streaming services, including the proposed “Freely” service.
The scarcity of these devices inflates the prices of remaining inventory (while many are eagerly waiting to get their hands on them). The launch of the Manhattan T4-R was delayed), could be an indicator that the market is going through a transition.
This could be a sign that manufacturers and broadcasters are shifting their focus towards internet-based platforms, which is in line with some of the questions raised in the Ofcom consultation.
Ofcom’s exploration of ‘hybrid’ services that combine terrestrial and Internet-based television may be of particular interest here.
If Freeview develops into a more internet-centric service, it will likely include features from both traditional Freeview and upcoming services such as ‘Freely’.
This would be in line with Ofcom’s interest in understanding the financial sustainability of TV distribution platforms.
If Freeview can successfully transition to a more internet-based model, it could find a new lease on life in a landscape increasingly dominated by streaming services.
But while major broadcasters like the BBC and ITV focus on their own massive streaming services (iPlayer and ITVX), where does that leave the smaller channels that only thrive on Freeview and Freesat these days?
Will they be able to afford to switch to streaming – since they are just one channel among hundreds and even thousands of free, ad-based streaming channels?
I look forward
For now, and for the next few years at the very least, Freeview is here to stay, and its fans shouldn’t immediately worry.
However, as the UK TV consumption landscape undergoes a seismic shift, Freeview and Freesat find themselves at the heart of this shift.
The recent Ofcom consultation, the dwindling availability of Freeview recorders, and the upcoming launch of the ‘Freely’ service point to a future in which traditional broadcasting may give way to internet-based platforms.
This raises critical questions: Will Freeview adapt to become a more online-focused service, and what will happen to smaller channels that currently rely on the platform?
While we await the outcome of Ofcom’s consultation and the launch of ‘Freely’, the future of Freeview hangs in the balance.
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