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Freely’s Live UK Broadband TV Stream Service Goes Live TODAY UPDATE



Major broadcasters including the BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5 will this morning come together to launch their new stream service called Freely, which has been in development for a while now and is designed to be an evolution of the existing broadband internet based Freeview (inc. Freeview Play and Freesat) TV service.

Freeview Play is today a rather dated platform and one that remains centred around on-demand content, while Freely viewers will be able to easily browse and watch live UK TV channels together with on-demand content streamed straight to their smart TV via the internet (IPTV) – without the need for an aerial connection or new set-top-box (depending upon device support).

NOTE: Freely is being developed by Everyone TV (formerly Digital UK), the runs free TV in the UK and is jointly owned by the BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5.

Freely will not be replacing the Freeview and Freesat platforms and should, at least for now, be seen as more of a complement – a different kind of service that helps to make broadcast TV more accessible. The change is important because the age of traditional TV signals, which came via the airwaves, is expected to gradually come to an end as gigabit-capable broadband nears almost universal UK coverage by 2030 (currently c.82%).

In fact, Everyone TV claims some 15% (around 4 million) of UK TV homes are already considered to be IP-only (broadband-only), fuelled in part by commercial streaming services like Netflix, Sky Glass, Amazon Prime and so forth – this figure is then forecast to reach more than half of UK homes by 2030 (c.15m). Put another way, Freely is about trying to “futureproof live TV for the streaming age“.

The launch of this service today means that it will be available through the “next generation of smart TVs now on sale in stores and online“, such as from manufacturers like Hisense and stores like Currys, Argos, AO and Very. In addition, TiVo (Xperi Inc.) will be offering Freely as part of its TiVo OS platform, starting with Vestel’s TiVo powered smart TVs (this is due to launch in the “coming weeks“).

Manufacturers make the TV hardware, whereas the TV OS partner run the software platform on the TV. Freely is partnering with both manufacturers and OS providers.

Kieran Clifton, Director, BBC Distribution & Business Development, said:

“The launch of Freely is a historic moment for UK television. Collaboration between the UK PSBs is critical to connecting and protecting all audiences as we transition towards the streaming era – and delivering live TV over broadband for free is a ground-breaking innovation that will futureproof public service broadcasting.”

Martin Goswami, ITV Group Strategic Partnerships Director, said:

“The success and impact of programmes like ITV’s Mr Bates vs the Post Office shows the importance of UK PSBs and ITV is proud to be part of this exciting new chapter for free TV in this country with Freely. Bringing live streamed channels and on demand content together in Freely gives viewers the opportunity to access the very best in British content as easily as possible, from live and recent programmes to a wealth of on-demand options.”

The first iterations of Freely may now be present in the UK market, although it still needs further development and to secure additional smart TV, operating system and content partners in order to be successful (some will follow over the next few weeks). Homes connected via IP-only and those using a hybrid IP and DTT (digital terrestrial TV) connection may also initially “experience varying channel offerings” as Freely continues to develop.

Freely’s technical specification claims to support the “latest technical video and audio coding technologies“. The combination of these newer standards with IP distribution should allow the efficient delivery of many more HD versions of the UK’s most popular channels than are currently available on existing (bandwidth constrained) broadcast platforms. But while Freely provides the option of distributing these at HD or UHD (4K) resolutions, the choice of video format is ultimately made by channel operators.

The new platform is due to receive additional features and software updates as it develops, which will also take place over the coming weeks, months and years. The official website also has a channel guide.

NOTE: Just to be clear. Freeview provides access to live TV over a DTT connection (Freesat uses satellite to achieve something similar), while Freeview Play is a separate app that can be used to access content on-demand.

UPDATE 10:48am

In regard to channel selection, specifically that mention of how homes connected via IP-only and those using a hybrid IP and DTT (digital terrestrial TV) connection may initially “experience varying channel offerings”, we’ve been given a bit more information.

According to Freely, the following link shows the channel line-up for if you connect Freely via IP and DTT (hybrid):

By comparison, this link shows the channel selection for a TV connected via IP only (this will of course continue to grow as more partners are added):

The current Freely website doesn’t make this distinction very clear, but we’ve been informed that a banner will shortly be added to help clarify this.

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