Ed Vaizey has revealed three possible outcomes for the future of Freeview at the DTG Summit in London today.
Before 5G mobile services arrive, space will be made on the 700MHz band by moving Freeview signals down into the 600MHz band cleared by Digital Switchover last year.
This means that a second switchover is on the cards, which will mean new aerials for some people, as well as making some old Freeview gear redundant. As with the 4G Freeview Fail, it’s likely the mobile operators will have to pay the bill, not the taxpayer or TV Licence.
- The first is that Freeview would continue to exist as it does now, but in a limited offering with less channels.
- The second is that Freeview and would develop alongside the rollout of superfast broadband services and deliver more paid and on-demand content over the internet.
- A third option would be that Freeview would continue to exist in its current form with minimal change; in other words, a standard definition service would be retained to deliver a ‘minimal PSB service’ retained for those with old SD equipment.
Vaizey is not in support of the first option, which he believes will harm competition.
Isle Howling, managing director of Freeview, took to the stage afterwards and effectively ruled out support for the first and third option, arguing that demand for HD channels was strong.
HD was a priority for Freeview customers after initial cost and brand loyalty, said Howling, revealing that Freeview HD take up grew by a million last year, when the Digital Switchover finally finished.
“If you look at what consumers want when choosing a TV platform, consumers want to get something that’s free. Then brand matters. After that, customers want high definition and then VoD [Video on Demand],” Howling said.
Wendy McMillan, group strategy and business development director for Arqiva was also critical, adding: “If we went to a model where it was just the core BBC channels, it makes the basic channels available, but it’s not competitive.”
Arqiva operates the entire UK TV and radio transmitter network, and owns and operates the three commercial multiplexes on Freeview.
It’s likely that the second option, where more content will be delivered over broadband connections, will form the shape of Freeview to come.
With the specification for Freeview HD TVs and recorders requiring there to be an Ethernet port to support any future on-demand services, Howling argued that the platform was already heading in this direction.
In a sense, YouView has lead the charge in this direction, streamlining access to services like BBC iPlayer and 4oD alongside digital terrestrial channels. It remains to be seen if and when the next generation of Freeview adopts this look and feel.