With live and catch-up TV accessible from the same electronic programme guide (EPG), Freeview Play makes it easy for everyone to enjoy the benefits of connected TV. The past year has seen Freeview Play established as a mainstream service with widespread support from manufacturers. Our focus has now shifted from the initial launch phase to enhancing Freeview Play, both as a service for viewers and a platform for broadcasters.
The number of channels available via Freeview and Freeview Play continues to grow. New channel launches have increased not only the quantity but also the breadth of content on offer.
Since the start of 2017, 12 new channels have been added, including PBS America, carrying high-quality factual programming, and Freeview’s first dedicated sports channels – FreeSports and Sports Channel Network.
Making it easy for viewers to access our channel partners’ content is what Freeview Play is all about. This year, aiding content discovery has been a major focus. Significant investment in developing the platform’s metadata delivery system (MDS) has allowed Freeview Play to display richer information about both live and on-demand content. We’ve also introduced enhanced search functionality, meaning it’s now possible to search everything available on demand from the BBC, ITV, Channel 4, Channel 5 and UKTV – around 17,000 programmes in total – all in one place.
Meanwhile, Freeview Channel 100 has been transformed, seamlessly integrating the on-demand experience as part of the linear channel line-up. From Channel 100, Freeview Play viewers can access all the on-demand apps, search everything and browse through a curated selection of programme recommendations designed to highlight new and notable content.
Sony, Sharp, Philips and TCL have joined the long list of manufacturers offering Freeview Play devices. Sony’s decision is particularly significant as it means that 19 out of the top 20 UK television brands are now producing Freeview Play devices. The support of these manufacturers – who together account for close to 60 per cent of the UK market – means consumers can choose from a wide array of devices at different price points. They all benefit from the recognisable Freeview Play brand and offer the same comprehensive selection of on-demand players. This summer an estimated four million new Freeview Play TVs and boxes will have been sold since launch.
A key consideration for manufacturers is the ability to differentiate their products. We continue to develop Freeview Play as a platform that supports their desire to innovate and add value. This year’s MDS enhancements have enabled a range of richer features, including Sony’s new-look, image-based EPG and Panasonic’s Quick Look Guide, which lets viewers scroll through live TV, catch-up content and on-demand recommendations all on one screen.
We have ambitious plans for the future of Freeview Play. This summer saw viewers able to watch the World Cup and Wimbledon in stunning clarity with Ultra HD (UHD) pictures as part of an ongoing BBC iPlayer trial. Later this year we will also launch a mobile app that will allow viewers live and on-demand content on their smartphones and tablets.
Restart functionality is also planned, giving viewers switching on half-way through a programme the option to start again from the beginning, directly from the EPG. We have already been supporting the BBC in rolling out this feature and expect to see it spread to other channels soon.
Every year, we work with a growing number of global manufacturers who want to build Freeview Play into their TVs and set-top boxes. Our processes are designed to fit with the annual TV production cycle as new features and functionality are added.