DTT platform Freeview has come of age. After five years it has evolved from a basic digital offer into an increasingly sophisticated offer, writes Julian Clover
There has been a run on sticks of rock in Whitehaven. The purchaser is Ilse Howling, the general manager of DTT platform Freeview, who is making presents of the confectionary to stakeholders, manufacturers and in this case a sweet-toothed journalist. The heavy duty candy is smaller than I remember it as a child, perhaps Whitehaven is conscious of the effects on teeth, or maybe a reflection that the first all digital area of the UK only gets half the multiplexes. “We had an awayday with Freeview’s board recently and we started handing them round so that everyone had one.” says Howling. “It was actually a really an exciting day because that rather traditional looking sweet is actually an emblem of the future because if you stand in Whitehaven and look around at the houses and think they don’t have analogue TV anymore. It is important to look at the future and 2012, and across the UK, come January there will only be two and a half million analogue homes left.”
It is five years since Freeview’s proposals won the day and replaced the failed pay-TV platform ITV Digital. The system has won plaudits from other European countries that admire the model that Freeview has established. But, as is also the case in Europe, pay is emerging again through Top Up TV and Sky’s Picnic proposals. Research from Ofcom, supported by Howling, is that what ‘Freeviewers’ really want is more channels. Howling says that customer satisfaction is high, enabling the platform to evolve from the original platform designed to convert people from analogue, into something more sophisticated. All the time the basic premise of a free offer remains.
Freeviewers will certainly get HD, according to where they live, from 2009 following Ofcom’s proposals to rejig the available capacity to squeeze in up to four HD channels from the four major broadcasters. “We know that in terms of HD Ready sets and the number of people that have Freeview there is clearly a migration path.”
In the short term Howling is looking to the introduction of on demand services. Details of what she calls “The Best of Freeview” will be announced in the New Year, but in essence it will be a catch-up TV service delivered to the growing inventory of Freeview Playback PVRs, or Digital TV Recorders as Freeview has rechristened them. 225,000 units have so far been sold, though it is not certain that all of them will be suitable for the new as yet unnamed service. The Freeview receiver has become a commodity product, sold in the supermarket alongside milk, cheese and eggs, and mass merchandisers that also include “catalogue shop” Argos have been responsible for 84% of Playback sales. If anything the 225,000 is an underestimate as it only accounts for sales registered by the retail auditor GfK.