by Jonathan Thompson, Chief Executive, Digital UK
posted on 31 January, 2018
With a year of continuing and profound change ahead for UK television, this feels like a good moment to provide an update on how DTT and Freeview are adapting to the changing TV landscape and expanding choice for viewers.
This year’s CES in Las Vegas provided a potent reminder not just of the pace of change in broadcasting but also that even greater shifts in what and how we watch television are on the horizon. Whilst no single theme dominated CES this year as Amazon’s Alexa did in 2017, some clear themes emerged. Voice control is now being embraced across the entire consumer electronics sector, with a strong presence from Google Assistant, perhaps seeking to reclaim lost ground. Alongside voice control, the drive to deliver the connected home and the rise of Artificial Intelligence were the major themes. But no single innovation stood out to most of the attendees and media commentators.
Closer to home, the UK television sector continues to thrive but beneath the surface tectonic change is profoundly and permanently altering our sector. During 2018, consolidation amongst the major players, the onslaught of competition in content and distribution from Silicon Valley and the growing personalisation of viewing are just some of the forces to contend with.
For ‘traditional’ platforms such as DTT this environment can seem pretty daunting. But I’m pleased to say that far from shrinking from the challenges we are growing in both the scale and ambition of what we can offer viewers.
Freeview Play is central to our vision for a new hybrid standard for UK televisions and set-top boxes. It combines live television with catch-up and on-demand TV from the UK’s leading broadcasters in a single easy-to-use EPG. It enables viewers to navigate seamlessly between linear and on-demand and ensures prominence for PSB and free-to-view content.
Just over two years on from launch, Freeview Play is now being built into the majority of smart TVs and set-top boxes sold in the UK with three of the top four brands offering it to their customers. Around three million Freeview Play devices have been sold since launch in 2015.
In 2018, we expect to see Freeview Play achieve real scale, bringing with it the potential to boost significantly the number of viewers accessing TV on demand, including those who have so far failed to engage with other connected technologies. Our ambition is that every home in the UK should enjoy the choice and flexibility of on-demand TV in the years ahead and believe Freeview is uniquely positioned to play a pivotal role in making that a reality.
Of course, the growth of Freeview Play is being built on the back of DTT which provides the broadcast core not just for Freeview but also related services, such as BT TV, YouView and Now TV. We continue to welcome new channels to the line-up and have expanded the Freeview EPG to meet demand for new slots.
We are also adapting to the new TV environment by freeing up spectrum to help meet demand for delivery of video and other data services to mobile devices. Over the next two years, Freeview will vacate the 700MHz band and reduce the amount of spectrum it uses by one-third. Making these changes is challenging with major engineering works at transmission sites around the country and up to 20 million homes required to retune their television equipment. Digital UK has worked closely with Arqiva, the broadcasters and Government and Ofcom to prepare for these changes and has been asked, along with our partners at Digital Mobile Spectrum Ltd, to deliver viewer information and support services.
Looking further ahead and beyond the UK, global debate is gearing up again to review how UHF spectrum is divided between mobile and broadcasting. While formal discussion is due to take place at the World Radio Communications (WRC) conference in 2023, some early thinking about the terms of that debate is already underway ahead of WRC-19. All current evidence points to DTT remaining an essential and widely used means of distributing television throughout the 2020s and beyond, not just in the UK but also across Europe and in many other regions of the world. Digital UK is an active participant in these debates and recently published research exploring potential efficiencies in how mobile operators use their existing spectrum as an alternative to taking another slice of broadcasting capacity. During 2018 we will engage with industry and policy makers to ensure we retain access to the airwaves necessary to sustain a strong free-to-view TV service for UK viewers.
So, plenty to think about as 2018 gets underway. I hope this update serves as a useful snapshot of our priorities and look forward to updating you on our progress in the months ahead.
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