If you’re a fan of 4Music, QVC, or Russia Today on Freeview HD, you’ve probably noticed that they now offer extra channels and programmes via the red button.
These BBC-style extras are courtesy of Connect TV, which also operates the mysterious Connect TV 2 on Freeview channel 229.
Connect TV is a way for TV channels to launch extras using the broadband connection built into every Freeview HD TV and set-top box.
It’s owned by Arqiva, which is now expanding it for broadcasters to offer subscription channels or pay-as-you-go on-demand videos behind a simple Freeview channel.
Andy Webb, Arqiva’s head of product for digital platforms, said: “Our approach has very much been in continuing our delivery down through Freeview and YouView, and to start to deliver new interactive digital services to them.
“We’re launching services directly from the Freeview programme guide, to really aid the discoverability across the platform.
“The portals we build can offer three to nine channels of linear TV, and they can be any combination of digital terrestrial TV [Freeview] and IPTV [channels via broadband].
“In mid-December we’ll start offering full support for subscription pay services. If you want to subscribe it will generate a PIN number which you can put into a website, which will pair with your TV and generate another PIN number which you can use to access the service.
“The next time you select the channel it will remember you. There’s already a significant amount of interest from channel operators.”
Arqiva isn’t a household name, but it’s the company which operates all of the Freeview TV transmitters around the UK, and most of the analogue and digital radio transmitters.
They’re also a founding partner of YouView, the next-generation TV service which combines broadcast with broadband, so Connect TV is part of that expansion into providing TV over your internet connection.
They’re not the only ones taking advantage of Freeview HD’s
internet-connection capabilities to offer new ways onto Freeview, which is notoriously expensive for broadcasters.
Vision TV on channels 225 and 230 and the forthcoming VuTV on channel 238 are both gateways into a variety of free and subscription TV channels.
The four broadcasters currently using Connect TV have all taken different approaches.
Russia Today simply streams the Russia Today Documentaries channel in the background, which pops up when you press the red button on channel 85.
Box TV – a partnership between Channel 4 and Bauer Music – has a portal on 4Music at channel 18 which includes Kerrang, Kiss and Magic, offering much more variety.
QVC’s portal lets you watch both the main QVC Beauty channel on channel 35, or stream QVC Style and QVC Extra. The extra benefit for QVC is that its channels can be on air 24 hours per day, instead of the current five hours when QVC Beauty is live on Freeview.
That’s because even though QVC has its own channel number on Freeview, it shares the airwaves – and the cost of transmitting – with another broadcaster which isn’t on air at the same time.
The final broadcaster is Racing UK, the subscription service for bookies, which is a pure internet service that only uses Freeview HD for a placeholder channel.
Alongside live video from horse races, there are guides to runners and riders in every race, and results from races which have run already.
Connect TV 2 is a placeholder where Arqiva can test out its technology, although they are planning to launch something towards consumers in 2014.
The standard-definition video streams for Connect TV channels need about 1.5Mbps, which is about the same as BBC iPlayer, although it’s capable of HD if anyone asks for it.
There are currently about 2.5 million Freeview HD boxes and TVs connected around the UK, and that’s growing all the time, with Arqiva also keen to integrate Connect TV into YouView.
Arqiva’s pay-TV system can create a unique ID for every TV and set-top box, while broadcasters will be able to offer both free and pay-TV on-demand libraries to suit their size.