Now it’s official: The BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5 are working together on a united, broadband-based streaming service that will bring together content from all the major UK broadcasters.
The new service will mark a new evolution for Freeview, giving audiences free access to public broadcasters’ content as well as commercial providers that might join in.
Last month, we reported on early discussions that were being held between the major broadcasters and Freeview regarding this all-in-one UK streaming app.
Yesterday, the BBC officially addressed the ongoing work that’s being done to create this service, in its response to an Ofcom consultation on the future of public service media in the UK.
The Ofcom consultation, named “Small Screen: Big Debate”, launched in December 2020, and is looking at “how to strengthen and maintain public service media in the UK for the next decade and beyond”.
In its response, the BBC addresses several issues, including its funding and the TV licence, proposed fines on streaming device manufacturers that don’t feature UK broadcasters’ apps – and the work that’s being done on the united streaming app that will potentially bring together the major Freeview (and Freesat) broadcasters.
Freeview, first established in 2002, is the United Kingdom’s digital terrestrial television platform. It is operated by a joint venture of the BBC, Sky, ITV and Channel 4 (Arqiva is stepping down this month).
Freeview provides free-to-air TV channels and radio stations. For now, some of the channels can only be watched via a Freeview aerial (see the ones we recommend), and a Freeview box (see our recommendations) connected to that aerial and to your TV.
In addition, there’s the similar Freesat service, which operates via satellite and is owned by ITV and the BBC. To watch Freesat, you need a dish on your roof and a Freesat receiver (see our recommended Freesat boxes here).
In another big TV shakeup, Freesat is expected to merge with Digital UK, the body behind Freeview – which might also have implications for the united streaming app.
All-In-One UK Streaming Service
At the moment, all the major broadcasters have their own streaming apps, where you can watch live TV and on-demand content via broadband.
These apps (like BBC iPlayer and ITV Hub) are available on most streaming devices, Smart TVs and mobile phones, but they work separately, each with its own user interface and content recommendations.
Users also have to register and sign in with separate credentials to each of these streaming apps, with some of the apps also offering an ad-free paid tier, such as ITV Hub+ and All4+.
Now, however, the BBC “Has been working in partnership with ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5 on an evolution of Freeview”.
According to the BBC, this cooperation is necessary in light of global players (like Amazon’s Fire TV, the Roku Players and Smart TV manufacturers) who “control operating systems and intermediate our services.”
The united streaming service “will enable all audiences to access for free all PSB/PSM content, as well as discover content from commercial providers – all in one place.
“This will build on Freeview used in 17 million homes and update the offer from today’s PSBs for free-to-air audiences.
It will deploy the benefits of internet technology, be open to all content providers on a fair, reasonable and nondiscriminatory basis, and support a range of business models enabling PSBs, ad-funded broadcasters, subscription services and purely commercial providers to sit alongside each other”
In other words, the united UK streaming service will not only include the major public broadcasters – but will potentially also include additional commercial channels that currently operate their own stand-alone streaming app (or don’t have one at all, and can only be watched via other platforms like Freeview).
It’s worth mentioning that Freeview already offers its own mobile streaming app (of sorts), which brings the major broadcasters together – but only as a mobile TV guide. When users want to actually watch something, they are currently transferred to the broadcaster’s own app.
The new, united streaming service will potentially not only have a single interface and sign-on, but will also bring content recommendations and navigation from the various broadcasters into one place. And – it won’t require an aerial or a dish – just a broadband connection.
“Research shows that while PSB services are popular with young people”, the BBC adds, “navigating between them is currently difficult.
“The proposed platform will improve the search and navigation functions offering a high-quality user experience for PSB/PSM and commercial content alike; audiences will have access to the platform free-to-view, universally without subscription”.
This means that viewers will potentially see content recommendations from all the media participants, on a single screen – similar to how the Amazon Fire TV stick or Google’s new Chromecast surface programmes and films from a variety of streaming services.
However, the new service will provide prominence for the major public broadcasters, “maintain a high level of editorial control, maintain fair levels of branding and attribution (so that content providers are credited for their content) and ensure that data is shared fairly by the platform with services.”
As part of this, “with the consent of audiences”, the new app (or service) will also be used “to capture data to improve recommendations and make content more relevant for all free-to-air broadcasters on the platform. It would mean a better experience for users and better insights for the broadcasters.”
Finally, the BBC notes that since content is increasingly distributed over the internet, it’s important to maintain “the UK’s Open Internet rules”, and prevent Internet Service Providers from discriminating against certain content providers.
This is otherwise known as net neutrality – where an ISP might give a certain streaming service better terms, or give users better benefits, such as no data charges when they use that specific streaming service.
It’s worth mentioning that ITV and the BBC already have their own combined streaming service, BritBox (where ITV owns 90% and the BBC owns 10%), which offers content from ITV, BBC, Channel 4 and Channel 5.
But most of the programmes and films are older “library” shows from the broadcasters’ archives, and not new catch-up programmes.
Is This The Future Of UK Television?
With the US streaming giants like Netflix and Disney+ taking over the UK (and global) TV markets, the local broadcasters certainly have their work cut out for them.
While content from the BBC, ITV and the rest is still very popular (Over 90% of UK adults and 80% of younger people use the BBC on average per week, according to the BBC), most viewers know they’re likely to find a bigger library if they just go to Netflix or one of its competitors.
If, however, viewers don’t have to hop between separate apps and accounts, and a single app/service offers them content from the entire vast library that the British broadcasters are creating – it could be a major step up for user convenience and content discovery.
Imagine signing on to a single free app (so you don’t need an aerial, or a Sky subscription, or a satellite dish – just broadband), and being able to watch Strictly, and then right after get a recommendation on the relevant Gogglebox.
Or telling the service that you like certain UK dramas – and getting recommendations for similar programmes from ALL the major broadcasters, without the need to switch to a different app (Though this may also eventually turn out to be more similar to the current Freeview Play, where you have a single interface with separate apps).
This idea has great potential – as long as it doesn’t come too late.
ITV and Channel 4 have declined to comment at this time. We will update this article if comments arrive from the other broadcasters.
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