In a groundbreaking move that promises to redefine the way British viewers consume television, the UK’s leading broadcasters have announced a new free TV service called Freely.
This service aims to deliver live TV over broadband, merging the traditional TV experience with the modern streaming era.
In other words, it will be the streaming replacement of Freeview and Freesat, although those aren’t going anywhere – for now (see more details below).
Set to launch in 2024, Freely is being developed by Everyone TV (formerly known as Digital UK), an organisation jointly owned by the BBC, ITV, Channel 4, and Channel 5 – which is currently responsible for operating both Freeview and Freesat.
This development comes at a pivotal time when the lines between traditional broadcasting and online streaming are increasingly blurring.
As we previously reported, the UK has been anticipating an all-in-one UK streaming app that could serve as a one-stop-shop for viewers – without needing an aerial or a satellite dish.
Freely appears to be a significant step in that direction, offering a single, consistent experience for live free TV over the internet.
The Evolution Of Freeview In The Streaming Age
According to the announcement made today by all the public broadcasters, Freely will provide millions of homes with easy access to live TV channels and on-demand content, all streamed directly to their smart TVs.
This is a significant shift from the traditional terrestrial TV model, which required a separate set-top box and an aerial/satellite connection.
Freely seems to be the next logical step, building on the heritage and popularity of the Freeview platform, which is currently used in 16 million homes across the UK.
The service will feature a modern and intuitive programme guide, along with innovative functionalities designed to make it easier for viewers to discover and explore new shows directly from live TV.
Technical details are still scarce – the announcement mentions that Freely will be available on the “next generation of Smart TVs” – but it’s still unclear whether it will be available as an app on streaming devices such as Amazon’s Fire TV and Roku.
The move is also in line with the draft Media Bill, which aims to modernise broadcasting legislation and introduce reforms for public service broadcasters (PSBs) and video-on-demand services.
Part of the Media Bill deals with the prominence of the UK’s public broadcasters on Smart TVs and streaming devices – and it remains to be seen how Freely will be a part of that.
For example, TV manufacturers (and even streaming sticks) could be required to add a dedicated “Freely” button on their remote.
What Will I Be Able To Watch On Freely?
One of the most pressing questions for viewers is undoubtedly what kind of content will be available on Freely.
While today’s announcement did not delve into specifics, it did mention that the service would feature a line-up of public service broadcaster content and other free-to-air channels.
With the public broadcasters all involved, it’s safe to assume Freely will include all of their live streams – BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5.
But given the involvement of Everyone TV, which runs Freeview and Freesat, it’s also likely that Freely will include most (if not all) of the channels that are currently available on Freeview and Freesat.
This could range from news channels to more niche offerings. The service might also include children’s channels, thereby catering to a younger audience, as well as cultural and educational channels.
The announcement also highlighted the service’s focus on on-demand content, which suggests that Freely will offer more than just live TV.
This could mean integration with existing on-demand services like BBC iPlayer, ITVX, Channel 4, and My5, which already exists on Freeview Play today.
But – hopefully – on-demand content will be available from the more niche Freeview channels as well.
The Technology Behind Freely
One of the most exciting aspects of Freely is its technological infrastructure. The service will be built into the next generation of smart TVs, eliminating the need for additional hardware or subscriptions.
This is a significant development, as 15% of UK TV homes are currently broadband-only, according to BARB Establishment Survey data – and this number will likely grow in the future.
As we previously reported, Freeview had already started streaming BBC channels digitally, indicating a shift towards IP-based distribution.
Freely seems to be taking this to the next level by offering an aggregated live TV experience over broadband.
The TV guide, which remains the most common navigation tool for UK audiences, will also get a modern makeover, making it easier for viewers to find and watch their favourite shows.
It remains unclear how Freely will live alongside the broadcasters’ apps – BBC iPlayer, ITVX, Channel 5 and My5 -with those already providing live and on-demand streaming versions of the broadcasters’ channels.
However, these boxes only carry a selection of Freeview channels – and, crucially, you have to pay a monthly subscription fee in order to use them. Freely, like Freeview, will be free (aside from the TV Licence).
Freely is set to launch sometime in 2024, but for now, it’s important to remember that even then, Freeview and Freesat won’t be disappearing – especially when many homes in the UK still don’t have access to fast broadband.
But, in the future, it’s safe to assume Freely – and internet-based TV – will eventually replace both Freeview and Freesat.
Jonathan Thompson, Everyone TV chief executive, said today: “We are delighted to be working with the public service broadcasters on the next phase of free TV’s evolution.
“This new development is a reflection of the fact that a growing number of UK viewers are watching content online, but still want easy access to the shared experience of live TV.
“Our aim is to ensure that all viewers have access to a free, aggregated live TV experience that champions British content and is delivered in a way that suits audience needs and preferences.
“Every one of us should be able to share in the best of British ideas and creativity on TV.”
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