A seismic shift that could redefine the way we consume Freeview and television in the UK is on the horizon: Everyone.TV, the company behind Freeview and Freesat, has just released a new plan that could redefine our television experience.
This proposed plan is all about embracing the future of television, which is increasingly moving towards streaming services and away from traditional broadcasting.
The aim is to make television more accessible, more integrated, and more user-friendly.
For viewers, this means a more streamlined way to discover and enjoy your favourite shows. The traditional TV guide that you’re used to will get a major upgrade, making it easier to navigate through channels and find what you want to watch.
Plus, there will be closer integration with on-demand services, so you can effortlessly switch between live TV and catch-up content.
This is a big deal for all of us who love watching TV in the UK.
It’s not just about new technology – it’s about how this technology will change our viewing habits, our access to content, and even how we think about what television can be.
For now, Everyone.TV (formerly known as Digital UK – which now operates both Freeview AND Freesat) is looking to hear opinions from the public about these proposed changes – but the consultation (as first reported by seen.it), gives us a glimpse of Freeview and Freesat’s possible fate.
So, let’s dive into the details and explore what this could mean for the future of television.
The Next-Generation TV Platform
The NGP (Next Generation Platform) is a future-facing platform that’s set to redefine the delivery of free TV in the UK.
As we previously reported, the BBC announced back in May that it’s already working with Everyone.TV and the other Public Service Broadcasters on “the launch of the next generation of internet-enabled, free-to-air experiences across a wide range of television devices”.
With Everyone.TV’s consultation, we now get more details about the proposed next-generation platform.
The NGP is designed to be a sleek, modern interface that’s suitable for TV sets of all sizes. It will incorporate a traditional electronic programme guide (EPG) for accessing linear TV channels, but with a twist.
The NGP will also offer closer integration with broadcasters’ on-demand services, making it easier than ever to switch between live TV and catch-up content.
The NGP is expected to roll out initially on some smart TV and set-top box models with Digital Terrestrial Television (DTT) and Internet Protocol (IP) compatibility.
This means that it will work with both your traditional aerial connection and your internet connection, giving you the best of both worlds. Satellite (DSat) compatibility could follow at a later stage, further expanding the reach of the platform.
The Evolution of the Electronic Programme Guide
One of the key changes proposed in the consultation is the evolution of the EPG.
The EPG is the heart of your TV viewing experience – it’s the menu that lets you browse channels and select programmes to watch. But in the age of streaming and on-demand content, the traditional EPG is set for a major overhaul.
The proposed Next Generation EPG will be fundamentally different from the current Freeview and Freesat EPGs. There are two key reasons for this divergence:
1. Differences Between Freeview and Freesat
The first reason lies in the inherent differences between the existing Freeview and Freesat EPGs.
Both platforms have their unique listings and Logical Channel Number (LCN) policies. They differ in terms of genre categories used and the order of channels within each genre.
For instance, the Freesat EPG starts at Channel 101, while Freeview starts at Channel 1.
Moreover, due to its larger capacity, Freesat offers more channels in total than Freeview. The policies for allocating and reorganising channels also vary significantly between the two platforms.
These differences mean that there is no default status quo listing that could be used as a starting point for an NGP.
2. Integration Of Streaming Channels
The second reason for the totally new EPG is the need to integrate IP-delivered (streaming) channels.
The Next Generation Platform is designed to be future-proof and technology-neutral, meaning it will fully integrate NGP-approved channels that are streamed via broadband, within the EPG.
As a result, when the NGP first launches, its initial channel line-up will be different from the line-ups on Freeview and Freesat.
These differences will grow over time as more NGP-approved IP channels, delivered only via broadband, are launched.
In essence, the NGP is not just a continuation of the existing Freeview and Freesat platforms, but a whole new evolution in free TV.
It’s a platform designed to embrace the future of television, where IP-delivered content will play an increasingly prominent role – without the need for an aerial.
The new EPG will be set up with rules for its ongoing management post-launch – they are not set in stone but are intended to shape the launch version of the Next Generation EPG.
This means that it will be continually updated and refined to ensure it meets the needs of viewers.
The Future of Genre Categories in the EPG
The Next Generation Platform aims to enhance the viewer experience by introducing genre categories in the Electronic Programme Guide (EPG).
This decision is backed by audience research that showed a desire for genre groupings to help viewers find content, a feature that has become increasingly popular with the rise of on-demand services.
However, striking the right balance in genre categorisation is crucial. While the NGP will potentially offer more channels due to the capacity of IP-delivery, creating too many genre categories could hinder content discovery.
For instance, a separate Movies genre category could divide films between mixed-genre channels in the Entertainment section and film channels in the Movies section.
The analysis suggests that the optimal number of main TV genre categories on an NGP is more than currently available on the Freeview EPG but less than on Freesat.
Entertainment, being the largest category, will remain a single category in the new EPG. However, genres like Movies and Sports, which are predominantly pay services on pay-TV platforms, should not be broken out in a Next Generation EPG.
On the other hand, genres like Music, Shopping, and Faith and International channels, which are distinct from Entertainment channels, are seen as beneficial to be included as separate categories in an NGP EPG.
These changes aim to better organise content for audience navigability on the NGP, ensuring a more streamlined and user-friendly viewing experience.
The Future Of Time-Shift (+1) Channels
Time-shift channels, known as ‘+1’ versions of Entertainment channels, offer their parent channel’s schedule with a one-hour delay.
However, with the rise of catch-up streaming services, there are now more innovative ways of catching up on content, such as Freeview Play’s ability to “go back in time” 7 days on the EPG, allowing you to stream previously aired shows via the broadcasters streaming apps.
Despite advancements in catch-up services, some Time-shift channels will remain on the Next Generation Platform.
To streamline this, Everyone TV proposes a separate Time-shift genre category following the Entertainment section in the guide.
This arrangement will declutter the main Entertainment section, and channels will be allocated numbers in the same order as their parent channels, making navigation easier for viewers.
The Impact On TV Viewers In The UK
So, what does all this mean for you, the viewer? The new channel numbers policy for the Next Generation platform is designed with several key objectives in mind, all aimed at improving your TV viewing experience.
First, the policy aims to make it easy for viewers to discover content through simple navigation. This means less time spent scrolling through channels and more time enjoying your favourite shows.
Second, the policy ensures the ongoing prominence of public service channels. This means that channels like the BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5 will continue to be easy to find and access (something the BBC is also working on – for example with the proposal to add an iPlayer button to streaming devices).
Third, the new system aims to keep you and your family safe. Children’s content will be kept separate from adult content, ensuring a safe viewing environment for all ages.
Fourth, the system will be fair and efficient. As new channels are added, the TV guide will stay organised and easy to navigate.
Finally, the policy aims to make it easier for viewers to transition to streaming-based free TV channels in the years ahead.
This is a significant point as it acknowledges the growing trend towards streaming and on-demand content. The NGP is designed to provide a seamless viewing experience when viewers move between broadcast and IP-delivered channels.
The Future Of Freeview?
The consultation is open for responses until August 25, 2023. Everyone TV encourages responses from all stakeholders in free TV platforms.
This includes TV channel providers, radio service providers, DTT multiplex, satellite and other distribution technology operators, device manufacturers, consumer groups, and viewers and listeners.
While some fear that Freeview will disappear once streaming takes over, the future of Freeview (and Freesat) is looking bright with the possible introduction of the Next Generation Platform.
As viewers, we can look forward to a more streamlined, integrated, and user-friendly experience that takes streaming into consideration.
The NGP represents a significant step towards a future where TV is based more on streaming and less on traditional over-the-air broadcasts.
This is a future where viewers have more control over what they watch, when they watch it, and how they access it – and it’s all free.
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