It's time to Play

Picture of Ilse Howling

It's time to Play

by Ilse Howling, MD of Connected TV, Digital UK

posted on October 2nd, 2015

'I can only taste fear in my mouth right now', said the Bake Off contestant. I knew just what he meant. This was the first ever public demonstration of Freeview Play and I was showing last night's episode of Bake Off to an assembled audience of the great and the good of the TV industry. Oh yes, and the BBC's media and arts correspondent. No pressure. Of course, Freeview Played brilliantly. And now it's ready to play too in the tens of thousands of homes where people have already bought Panasonic Freeview Play TVs this year. Freeview's next chapter really has begun.

When Freeview launched 13 years ago, none of us realised how fast it would grow - even with the modest 30 channel line-up we had then. Yet today, it's the UK's biggest TV platform. In more homes than any other TV service. A trusted and valued brand. Universal. Plug and play. No strings attached. Free.

It would be easy to be complacent. But the landscape is changing. Freeview homes have always expected the service to keep pace with technology - and with Freeview Play, that's just what we're doing. Over a decade ago, our mission was to make digital TV, normal TV and we took millions of homes from the old world to the new. Now we're set to do the same again for connected TV with Freeview Play.

So Freeview Play is our offer for consumers in this new world where we know our viewers expect - and deserve - as much choice and control over their TV viewing as they have other media - be it books, news or music. What Freeview Play does is to give you great free broadcast TV blended with the best of catch up and on demand via BBC iPlayer, ITV Player, All 4 and Demand 5, with others to follow. The new part is our 'scroll back TV guide' which lets you move effortlessly between live TV and the last week's catch up programmes.

Freeview Play comes built into both TVs and set-top boxes. It's unbundled. And free from subscription. Everything together, all in one place. It's what consumers want. And importantly, it will meet the needs of the many people in the UK who want an easy, free way to move up into this world of choice, without being tied in to any one broadband provider or having to subscribe to a TV service. As our strapline says, Freeview Play leaves you 'free to choose'.

I've been watching Freeview Play at home for some time now and I love it. I knew I would but I wasn't prepared for just how much. It reminds me of when everyone first got PVRs and said they couldn't live without them. Until I got one myself, I couldn't work out why a PVR would be any better than a VCR - and then I discovered the series record button and it changed my life. OK, I know it's only telly. But these small things about being incredibly simple to use matter.

And Freeview Play's the same. In small, important, wonderful ways, it's so much better than just having access to the catch up players. Of course they're there if you want them. But what I love is the simplicity of pressing just one button and finding the whole week's schedule sitting there like a box of chocolates. The 'now' in 'what's on now' just got so much bigger. This isn't time shifting - it's time travel.

For me personally, it's been about rediscovering BBC TWO. I've gone from Venice to Istanbul with Rick Stein. I've watched a woman battling to save wildlife in Kenya. I've been transfixed by tales of India's railway. I've loved it all. But there's no way I'd have bothered to record any of these programmes, let alone watch them live. That's the joy of Freeview Play.

In Freeview's best tradition, the service is based on open standards. It's the world's first HbbTV 2.0 service. That means - in so far as anything can be nowadays - it's future proofed for consumers and a great platform that will allow manufacturers to innovate and keep their own look and feel.  And as with all Freeview new product launches, our partners across the horizontal market have been pivotal. It's their vision, hard work and sometimes sheer wizardry which has seen us launch in breakneck time - just 15 months from getting a greenlight on funding.

Special mention goes to the R&D teams at Panasonic, Arqiva, the BBC, ITV and Channel 4 for the part they've played. Support from the DTG, techUK and DTV Labs has also been critical. Panasonic's Freeview Play TVs are on sale now and Humax will be launching Freeview Play recorders in just a few weeks. Vestel too are well advanced with their white label TVs which will sell through many supermarkets and Manhattan, the set-top box manufacturer, is waiting in the wings. And my very special thanks go to the Freeview Play team at Digital UK. They've worked tirelessly to make this happen - and to keep our new service true to Freeview's values of being simple, high quality and easy to use.

So far, I'm not yet hooked on Bake Off. But I'm clearly missing something. So maybe now's my moment. And with Freeview Play, I know it's just sitting there waiting for me, whenever I want to watch it.

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