Towards a connected TV nation

Towards a connected TV nation

by Jonathan Thompson, Chief Executive, Digital UK

posted on November 28th, 2016

It was somewhat fitting that in the same month that UK television celebrated its 80th anniversary and DTT turned 18, Digital UK hosted an industry event to ask what the future holds for free-to-view TV.

It is, of course, a difficult question to answer, partly because of the increasingly complex market but also because of the amount of misinformation, hype and occasional naked self-interest which lies behind supposedly authoritative pronouncements on the future of TV. My favourite recent example was the online executive who asserted that: ‘Nobody in North London watches live TV any more.’

So when I stood up to speak at our event, I deliberately tried not to predict the future but to ground my thoughts in what we know to be true and what audiences are actually doing. In essence it came down to three things:

First, that the growth of new ways to pay for TV is an opportunity rather than a threat for a free TV service like Freeview. As more people opt for the flexibility and lower cost of SVoD services over a traditional ‘full fat’ subscription, the demand for a compelling free core channel offer is likely to grow.

Secondly, that the linear schedule will remain the cornerstone of content discovery in an on-demand world. Those who see channels as somehow old fashioned have missed the point - they are more than a list of programmes. They have a perspective, a position, a personality even and remain a remarkably effective way of curating TV content and building a relationship with an audience.

And finally, that the future of TV must be about greater choice, not a narrowing of range. The recent emergence of players with global production and distribution models might imply a market dominated by a few world players – Netflix, Amazon and maybe one more – Google, or Apple perhaps. However, I’ve yet to see any evidence that this is what viewers want, or where the market is heading. And while we ought not to be complacent, we should remember that one of the most important consequences of technological revolution has been the end of broadcasting monopolies and the proliferation of choice for viewers.

I set these observations out as the backdrop to our plans to ensure Freeview remains one of the world’s most popular and successful broadcast television services and our work developing Freeview Play.

While I would be the first to admit we were a little late to the party with a catch-up TV service, Freeview Play has created the opportunity for something new; an easy-to-use service – offering the best of broadcast and on-demand content – which simply comes free with your telly.

And just as Freeview helped to democratise digital TV, Freeview Play has the potential to open the door to connected viewing for millions of viewers, including many who’ve so far resisted getting a broadband connection.

One year in and with a raft of new partners coming on board, including Blaupunkt, Hisense, Sharp AQUOS and Toshiba, Freeview Play is now the UK’s most widely supported catch-up TV platform.

But it’s still early days and we’ve plenty more to do. Our priorities include continuing to expand our network of partners, building on our existing content offer, developing new features and providing the best support possible for our viewers.

If we can get this right, Freeview will not only enjoy a vibrant future but can democratise the connected experience, just as the arrival of Freeview opened up digital TV to sections of the audience put off by subscription.

So while resisting the urge to make bold claims about the future of TV, I’m confident that the spirit of collaboration and partnership which has been the hallmark of Freeview since its launch will be the key to playing our part in creating a fully connected TV nation.

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