In 2024, Freeview is about to undergo one of its biggest changes ever, with the upcoming launch of Freely. Today, more details have been announced regarding the Freeview-over-broadband platform, including a new logo and the first line of supported TVs.
The announcement highlighted Freely’s strategic partnership with Hisense, making it the first TV brand to integrate the upcoming streaming service into its Smart TVs.
Additionally, Freely unveiled its new brand identity, featuring a distinctive logo and the introduction of ‘Freemoji’, a character embodying the service’s modern and expressive ethos.
Freely is set to merge traditional broadcasting with modern streaming, aiming to bring live TV over broadband to the next generation of Smart TVs.
However, its upcoming launch brings with it significant compatibility issues, diverging from the current Freeview model’s universal accessibility.
Unlike Freeview’s wide availability on all UK TVs and a few set-top boxes, Freely will only be accessible on new, connected TVs released from 2024 onwards, raising questions about its reach and impact on viewers not equipped with the latest technology.
Freeview Via Broadband: What’s Freely?
Freely, which was announced in September 2023, represents a landmark in the evolution of UK television, merging the traditional broadcasting format with the convenience and flexibility of modern streaming and broadband.
Developed by Everyone TV (previously known as Digital UK, the company behind Freeview and Freesat), Freely is a collaborative effort involving the UK’s major broadcasters – BBC, ITV, Channel 4, and Channel 5.
At its core, Freely aims to provide live TV over broadband. This approach is a significant shift from the traditional model that relied heavily on aerial (Freeview) or satellite (Freesat) connections.
Currently, Freeview offers its ‘Freeview Play‘ platform, which is mainly a hub that brings together a few standalone streaming apps such as BBC iPlayer, Channel 4, UKTV Play and others.
By leveraging broadband for all of its channels, Freely is set to offer an integrated platform where viewers can access both live and on-demand content directly through their smart TVs.
The service is expected to feature a range of channels, likely including all offerings from the public service broadcasters, along with other free-to-air channels that are currently available on Freeview and Freesat (though not necessarily all of them).
Freely’s user interface is designed to be modern and intuitive, addressing the evolving needs of today’s viewers. It is expected to feature an advanced programme guide, enhancing the ease of discovering and exploring new content.
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).
Unveiling Freely’s Brand and Character
While a lot is still unknown about Freely, today’s announcement regarding Freely has unveiled its distinct brand identity.
Central to this identity is the ‘Freemoji’ (yes), a character that encapsulates the “cheeky, modern” essence of Freely.
Amy Rowcliffe, Marketing Director at Everyone TV, describes ‘Freemoji’ as a representation of the varied emotions evoked by quality TV content:
“The name Freely represents the ability to watch for free but also the freedom to choose how and what you watch.
“We have a cheeky, modern, and expressive character – which we have dubbed ‘Freemoji’ – that brings the brand to life as the viewer’s welcoming and inquisitive companion.
“Happy, sad, excited, scared, great free TV has the power to make us feel every emotion and we wanted a character to represent this.”
Hisense: The First TV With Freely
In today’s announcement, a significant development for Freely was revealed: a strategic partnership with Hisense, the rapidly advancing smart TV brand in the UK.
This long-term collaboration, spanning five years, marks the first line of devices that will support the upcoming service.
Hisense will incorporate the new Freely brand across their 2024 TVs, remotes, packaging, and retail environments.
The collaboration signifies a mutual benefit: for Hisense, it adds significant value to its product offerings, and for Freely, it provides an established platform to reach a broader audience.
Howard Grindrod, Vice President of Hisense UK, highlighted the partnership as a testament to their dedication to enriching consumer experience:
“We’re proud to be leading the way and becoming the first TV manufacturers to bring Freely to the UK market.
“We’re always looking to enhance our product offering and find new ways to add value to our consumers, and this partnership with Freely does just that.”
Freely: Only On Smart TVs
The launch of Freely brings to the fore significant compatibility issues that could impact its widespread adoption.
Everyone.TV has confirmed to us Freely will be exclusive to “the next generation” of connected TVs slated for release in 2024.
This limitation indicates that older Smart TVs, along with existing streaming devices and Freeview boxes, will not support Freely at its outset.
This compatibility constraint presents a notable departure from the current Freeview model, which is universally available on all TVs sold in the UK, as well as a few set-top Freeview boxes.
In other words – viewers who want to watch Freely and stream Freeview via broadband for free, will have to buy a whole new TV.
The requirement for newer TV models to access Freely could potentially create a barrier for a substantial portion of the audience, especially those who are not in a position to upgrade their existing television sets.
Even new Freeview recorders – like the upcoming Manhattan T4-R – will not be able to support Freely, at least at this stage.
This is a peculiar decision – as one would think the purpose of Freely is to make it more widely available, while eliminating the need for an aerial or a satellite dish.
As Freely prepares for its launch, addressing these compatibility challenges will be crucial in ensuring that it does not exclude a significant segment of viewers who have been accustomed to the universal availability of Freeview.
The Future of Freeview: Transitioning To Freely
Freely’s emergence coincides with significant changes in the UK’s TV landscape.
Ofcom’s recent consultation, a process seeking opinions from the public and industry stakeholders, has stirred discussions about the future of traditional TV platforms like Freeview.
The consultation focuses on the financial sustainability and long-term relevance of these platforms, particularly as viewers increasingly shift to internet-based services.
This raises questions about whether Freeview, in its current terrestrial form, can remain economically viable in the long term, especially against the backdrop of rising streaming services and the costs of maintaining terrestrial broadcasting infrastructure.
Ofcom’s consultation hints at a future where Freeview might evolve into a more internet-centric service, incorporating elements of traditional broadcasting and new services like Freely.
This transition could ensure the financial sustainability of TV distribution platforms in a streaming-dominated landscape. However, this shift raises concerns about smaller channels currently thriving on Freeview and Freesat.
Their survival in a streaming-centric world, where they compete with hundreds of free, ad-based streaming channels, remains uncertain – even if they’re a part of Freely.
For now, Freeview is set to continue as a significant player in the UK’s TV landscape.
However, the big shift in television consumption, with Ofcom’s consultation and the evolution of services like Freely, suggests a future where traditional broadcasting might gradually give way to internet-based platforms.
But with Freely’s limited compatibility (for now), and each public broadcaster heavily pushing its own app (BBC iPlayer, ITVX, etc.) – it remains to be seen whether Freely can carry Freeview and Freesat into the future.
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