Can Freely Replace Freeview? 7 Upgrades It Needs First

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The highly anticipated recent launch of Freely, the new free-to-stream TV platform from Everyone TV, has been met with both excitement and some disappointment.

While Freely aims to eventually become the broadband-based successor to Freeview and Freesat, offering a seamless blend of over-the-air and streaming-based channels, its current state suggests there’s still room for improvement

Launched in early May 2024, Freely combines traditional over-the-air broadcast channels with IP-based streaming services, providing viewers with a unified Electronic Programmes Guide (EPG) and the convenience of accessing content through a single platform.

However, despite its ambitious goals, Freely’s initial limitations have left many wondering if it can truly replace Freeview and Freesat in the near future.

As a firm believer in the potential of free-to-stream services, I’m rooting for Freely.

So here’s my wishlist of features and improvements that Freely needs to implement to become a true Freeview / Freesat replacement and, ultimately, an even better viewing experience for users.

More Streaming Freeview Channels, Please!

One of Freely’s most glaring shortcomings at launch is its limited selection of streaming channels.

Currently, the platform only offers broadband-based channels from the five main broadcasters: BBC, ITV, Channel 4, Channel 5, and STV.

Freely on a TV

While these are undoubtedly important players in the UK’s TV market (and, according to Freely and BARB, “provide 95% of the UK’s most-watched shows”), they don’t fully represent the diverse range of content available on Freeview.

The whole point of Freely (at least in my eyes) was to provide viewers with access to the more unique Freeview and Freesat channels via streaming, eliminating the need for an aerial or satellite dish.

However, in its current state, users still need an aerial connection to access the full range of Freeview channels on Freely, which somewhat defeats the purpose of a broadband-based platform.

Beloved Freeview retro channels like Talking Pictures TV and That’s TV, music channels like the NOW selection – hey, even the shopping channels have their fans – and all of these, along with a long list of others, are currently absent from Freely’s streaming platform.

Freeview Guide TogetherTV

To truly become a viable Freeview replacement, Freely must prioritize expanding its streaming channel lineup. 

This means partnering with more broadcasters and content providers to bring a wider variety of channels to the platform, making it a one-stop shop for all your favourite Freeview content.

It’s also worth noting that the pay-TV platforms have already done this (up to a point) – Sky Stream / Sky Glass, Virgin Media Stream and EE TV all provide a selection of Freeview channels via broadband.

Compatibility with Freeview Play Set-Top Boxes

Another area where Freely falls short is its limited compatibility with existing hardware.

At present, the platform is only available on a handful of 2024 Hisense and Vestel (under the Bush brand) TV models, leaving owners of older TVs and set-top boxes out in the cold.

To make Freely more accessible and appealing to a broader audience, it’s important that the platform is made compatible with Freeview Play set-top boxes.

Ideally, Freely should work seamlessly with both new and older set-top boxes, allowing users to enjoy the benefits of the platform without having to invest in a brand new TV.

But at the very least, it should become available on new devices, like the Manhattan T4-R Freeview Recorder, which launched this month without any Freely support.

Manhattan T4-R in the box

By expanding its compatibility with Freeview Play set-top boxes, Freely can tap into an existing user base and provide a more cost-effective way for viewers to access the platform’s features and content.

Bring Freely to Streaming Sticks

In today’s cord-cutting world, many viewers rely on streaming sticks like Amazon Fire TV and Roku to access their TV content.

While these devices already offer apps for individual broadcasters like BBC iPlayer, ITVX, Channel 4, and My5, the experience is fragmented, and users miss out on the benefits of a unified EPG.

Furthermore, there’s currently no way to watch all the “other” Freeview channels – those without an app or streaming service – via a streaming stick.

Yet more and more people don’t even look at the old-school TV guide, let alone connect an aerial – and instead, they jump straight into their streaming stick’s menu.

Streaming sticks comparison 2024 fire tv roku chromecast

For Freely to truly compete in the streaming market, it should develop standalone apps for popular streaming sticks.

This would allow users to access the platform’s features and content without a compatible TV or set-top box, making it more accessible to a much wider audience.

Of course, it’s a chicken and egg thing – this step only makes sense once Freely has expanded its channel lineup, as the current selection of IP-based channels is already available through individual apps on streaming sticks (and we don’t really need a new app just so we could jump from it to BBC iPlayer or ITVX).

Wider TV Compatibility and Support for Older Models

As mentioned earlier, Freely’s TV compatibility is currently limited to select 2024 Hisense and Vestel models. To become a true Freeview replacement, the platform needs to work with a wider range of TV brands and, more importantly, support older TV models as well.

This is admittedly a challenging task, as Freely is currently “baked” into the TV’s operating system, making it difficult for manufacturers to update older models with the necessary software.

However, if Freely can be developed as a standalone app, it would be easier to bring the platform to a broader range of TVs, including older models.

Cloud Recording

Although the ability to record TV is slowly disappearing, it remains important for many viewers who wish to have more control over what they can watch and, importantly, keep.

Video VCR VHS cassette
Remember these? (Photo: Deposit Photos / Darksoul72)

Unfortunately, Freely currently lacks a local or cloud recording option, which means users can only watch live content or rely on catch-up streaming services for the channels that offer them.

Introducing a cloud recording feature would be a game-changer for some Freely viewers, particularly for channels that don’t have a catch-up service.

Additionally, cloud recording would enable viewers to fast-forward through adverts, a feature that many have come to expect from their Freeview boxes (at least the recording ones).

While broadcasters may be hesitant to allow ad-skipping (at least without paying extra), some viewers are likely to cling to their old Freeview / Freesat recorders, and not move on to Freely – as long as that option doesn’t exist.

A Global Watchlist and Personalized Recommendations

Another area where Freely can improve is in its content discovery and recommendation features.

Freely recommendations

Currently, the platform lacks a global save list or watchlist, which means users can’t even set reminders for upcoming shows they want to watch (something that’s long been available on Freeview devices).

Introducing a universal watchlist that works across all available channels would greatly enhance the user experience, making it easier for viewers to keep track of their favourite content and never miss an episode.

Furthermore, a personalized recommendation system would do well, as we’re familiar with it from all the major streaming services like Netflix and Disney+.

At present, the platform’s content suggestions are editorial, which means they may not always align with individual viewers’ tastes and preferences.

By leveraging user data and viewing habits, Freely can create tailored content recommendations that help users discover new shows and movies they’re more likely to enjoy.

I’m told Freely is currently working on a future implementation of this, so hopefully, it will come soon.

Longer Live Pause for Enhanced Flexibility

Lastly, Freely should consider extending its live pause feature to offer greater flexibility to viewers.

Live Pause on Freely

Currently, users can pause live TV on most channels when streaming over broadband for up to 15 minutes. However, this feature is not available for channels watched through an aerial connection.

In comparison, the new Manhattan T4 Freeview Play set-top box offers 90 minutes of live pause (even though it’s not a recording box), demonstrating that longer pause times are technically feasible. And, it offers this for all the channels.

If Freely can improve its live pause feature, it would provide users with more control over their viewing experience and make the platform a more attractive alternative to traditional Freeview.

Freely’s Future: The Bottom Line

I know, these are very early days for Freely – and some of the items on this list are already being worked on (while others are unlikely to ever see the light of day, unfortunately).

But first impressions count – and for viewers to be willing to make the big leap from Freeview to Freely – they need to see Freely as an improved alternative.

Freely has the potential to revolutionize the UK’s free-to-watch TV landscape, and it shows a lot of promise –  but it still has a long way to go before it can truly replace Freeview and Freesat.

Here’s hoping that as the platform matures and expands – it’ll take Freeview with it into the future.

19 thoughts on “Can Freely Replace Freeview? 7 Upgrades It Needs First”

  1. I think this is exactly the shot in the arm DTT needs, it forces us to have a conversation about the long term needs of “free to view” TV services – its also worth reminding ourselves that not all countries are equal when it comes to “free to view” TV or national broadcasters. Putting the current BBC challenges to one side (along with the other commercial broadcasters) we need to agree the viable future for TV in the UK.

    Freely is not perfect (what is ever perfect on v1? I’m sure we’re onto v100+ of the lightbulb and still iterating) and that’s good. If it were perfect on launch it would be out of date almost instantly – this has all the hallmarks of a normal MVP software program… the key is the future roadmap.

    I’d imagine Everyone TV own the relevant rights etc. to ensure parity of content/quality as they own and operate the other platforms, so I’d reckon the initial challenges are all driven by hardware adoption as opposed to software/technical capability.

    Ultimately broadband access is key to freely in the same way a DTT aerial is to traditional “free to view” content, and neither is a guarantee for all households in the UK.

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  2. I agree mostly agree with the points raised in this article. The real sticking points for me are, as already mentioned by others, the limted hardware available, the need to have an Internet connection and lack of the facility to record programmes.
    With the launch of freeview the plethora of readily available, affordable compatible hardware made the transition pretty straight forward hopefully this will improve with Freely. Having to have an Internet connection is adding another bill to households that some will not be able to afford or want leaving what could be a substantial number of viewers without access to TV at all, something which can hardly be acceptable as it could lead to further social isolation.
    Lastly the big one for me at least is the lack of a recording function as not all programmes are available through catch up. A cloud option is mentioned
    In the article but I’d still prefer to have an actual physical recording device as this usually allows for personal editing and archiving of programmes to other media such as dvd.

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  3. After reading all the negative comments about freely, I think I’ll stick to my humax aura box, by the sound of it, this so called NEW service needs to go completely back to the Drawing board and stay there imho!

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  4. With the streams being feed from the broadcasters’ apps/websites themselves, you get the same quality as what is on ITVX or BBC iPlayer…
    Meaning you’re getting 1080p25 on one, 720p50 on another, and not even SD on the remaining ones.
    My stepson got a new Hisense telly a week back and it had Freely on it so i was able to have a play; my god it is as bad i hoped it wasn’t. The Channel 5 stream was shambolic. Ironically above, you have a pic of a VHS tape – The C5 quality was about that level.
    ITV1 is crisp but the lack of 50fps is noticeable for the live shows that are produced in that, and sport too. C4 also need to get their finger out and provide HD streams but the total lack of consistant quality, together with acceptable audio is appalling.
    2.0 AAC audio at 96 – 128 Kb/s is not acceptable at all – frankly its criminal yet thats the standard you’re getting.
    As a concept, Freely is good. The execution itself needs to be executed, because its a disgrace, failing in every possible way because we just can’t help but be useless when it comes to this sort of stuff in the UK!

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  5. One significant mistake: Freeview TVs can pause live TV. You just need to put a USB stick in the back. Not only new TVs, my 12 year old Toshiba does it fine, so does my much newer Thomson. I don’t know how long they can pause, but it’s over an hour. It also lets you backtrack and fast forward through adds – maybe that’s why Freely limits to 15 minutes.

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  6. What about quality? If Freely is going to supplant Freeview and Freesat then the broadcasters need to improve the quality of their live and on demand streaming offerings. Linear HD TV offers a 1080i/1080p resolution, and for many broadcasts on the BBC HD channels, and occasionally C4 HD, 5.1 audio is available. That’s not the case with the low rent, low resolution, low quality services that we’re offered at present. Why on earth would I want to stream something in a lower quality than I can get via linear HD TV?

    As for the lack of channels, I can’t see that changing much in the near to mid term. It’s just another cost to bear to support for what is in effect, just a glorified EPG.

    Freely is a solution waiting for a problem to come along. It currently offers nothing that I can’t get elsewhere. It will only be of value to me once I know that I can stream in the same or better quality than I get now. Then an EPG such as that which is offered by Freely will be of any value.

    Whilst other countries, notably France, Spain and the US have embryonic 4K DTT services available, here in the UK it’s same old story: fudge, bodge, obfuscation and an easy race to the bottom. We excel at snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. One of the things that Freely should have mandated was a requirement to stream at least the same quality, both picture and audio, as current HD standards. As it is, we’ll still be using the same old rubbish next decade. Major streaming platforms from elsewhere, notably the US, offer full HD and 5.1 audio as a default. Why not here in the UK?

    Reply
    • Not everyone has – or can have – either an aerial or a dish. This is particularly true for those living in flats. If your fiat has no aerial or dish then up to now you’ve been limited to cable TV – if available in your area – pay IPTV services such as Sky Stream or EE TV – or just watching within the individual streaming apps

      For people who can’t get Freeview or Freesat, and don’t wish to paya monthly subscription for TV, it seems to be that Freely has the potential to be a game changer.

      Reply
  7. What about the thousands of pensioners who can’t afford broadband for a start,my mam is 82 years old and is not interested in broadband,so does mean she would not have a TV service,it’s disgraceful that you are made too have new technology and scrap the previous system when it works perfectly fine

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  8. I have been trying to find out more about freely and this article has answered my questions. I will stick to my Internet connected EE (ex BT) box which seems to do all the wishlist here

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  9. I was a little excited about this when it launched but my feeling is this isn’t ready and won’t be for many years I expected all the Freeview channels to be available from launch. I really don’t understand why this is not just an expansion of Freeview ie Freeview next gen and just no longer having the requirements for dish or aerial. Surely the broadcasters want and need this service to remain viable?
    Not having native apps for streaming sticks seems a massive miss. Most being Android based it should be easy and again available from launch. Having apps available for the large TV manufacturers again seems like a miss any tv from the last 5 years should be able to play the content or have they gone with a new codec?
    If you can record Freeview you should be able to record this content.
    In all this feels like a soft launch for a product that isn’t ready with too many restrictions placed on it by the developer and broadcasters. A true Freeview replacement needs the exact same experience.

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  10. I’m not surprised some broadcasters are resisting going on Freely, again garden shed operators like Rewind TV and Talking Pictures TV only have small budgets, and for this to be truly successful, the spread and speeds of decent broadband are painfully slow to get to everybody and may never get to rural areas either. Linear and streaming format delivered services need to co-exist for quite sometime due to these hiccups.

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  11. I just wish the whole industry would be more rational. For the whole system to work the actual delivery of a decent broadband system needs to have been implemented to the whole country. Until this time it will never work. Firstly fibre connections are still limited. Secondly unless capacity is built into the system it will again fail. And thirdly we can’t expect much in this country as any infrastructure programme has been proven to be beyond the UK. Build the basics and then try to sell us on this area. When will people learn. Just watch the current political situation ongoing now. Then work backwards and then you see the outcome.

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  12. If Freely is as bad as ITVX is they should give up. ITV had a great product prior to becoming ITVX which is clunky and slow by comparison. Freely looks like being just as bad unless they get their finger out and give viewers what they need and deserve.

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  13. I’ve not used Freely. If I understand it correctly, when you switch from, for example, bbc 1 to itv 1 for your dose of Coronation Street you will have to wait while the programme loads. That seems a backward step, IMHO. I realise if you have an antenna connected you’ll be able to pick up a live feed.
    Linear TV is pretty much instant.
    I have a sluggish Humax 5000t and it takes up to 45 seconds for the app to load, then I’ve got to wait for a promo, or skip it, then wait for the programme to start. Freely has to be way better than that, and more readily available on existing TVs and devices.

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    • The live streaming channels on Freely are not bad in terms of speed – but it’s not as instant as over-the-air, and flipping channels does take 2-3 seconds between the channels

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  14. A lot of the missing streaming features could be made available if Freeview allowed its IOS app onto Apple TVs. Big channel list and ability to scroll back in time in the guide. It can be air played from an iPhone so why not make it a proper solution?

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  15. When Freeview launched it wasn’t locked behind a small selection of TVs and people could pick up one of the many early set top boxes that flooded the market at the time. Freely has also launched with zero fanfare and most people don’t even know it exists simply because they knew that telling people they had to by specific TVs to be able to access it probably wouldn’t have went down well.

    Why they couldn’t have released some kind of streaming puck or set top box is beyond me. They also really need to integrate all of the channels on both Freeview and Freesat at a minimum because I am pretty sure most people would be more interested in switching if it was actually easy to access. I know I would but it seems like they have rushed it to market without a product or even partners outside of the four main broadcasters.

    Reply

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