Welcome to Digital UK's annual update. Here we provide a snapshot of the many changes and challenges confronting UK television but also the opportunities we have to provide audiences with more choice and flexibility in how they watch TV. It's been another extremely successful year, capped with the signing of a new shareholder agreement paving the way to build on the success of Freeview Play.
Digital UK is now well positioned to push ahead with broadening the Freeview offer into mobile and other new areas while continuing to drive growth in the core broadcast service, which is now the main set choice watched in more than 11 million homes. In doing so we can ensure that free-to-view TV, however people choose to access it, remains at the heart of our rapidly changing media landscape.
It’s been another tumultuous year for the media, with truth and trust called into question and the influence of social media and the internet placed firmly in the political spotlight. Free-to-view public service broadcasting, with its core values of independence, accountability and universal access, feels more important than ever.
Against this backdrop, the new five-year funding agreement for Digital UK and our sister company Freeview, takes on additional significance. It’s hugely encouraging to see the key players in digital terrestrial TV (DTT) – Arqiva, the BBC, Channel 4 and ITV – coming together to support our ambitious plans for the future of free-to-view TV.
We have good reasons to be optimistic about the future. Unlike most other established platforms which are struggling to maintain their share of the market and in some cases shrinking, the number of homes watching Freeview is growing. We are also boosting our channel line-up and investing in Freeview Play which offers an expanding menu of catch-up and streamed content, including events such as this summer’s Wimbledon in Ultra HD via the BBC iPlayer.
But there’s no question that we face significant challenges. The giants of Silicon Valley are aggressively targeting TV, traditional business models are being disrupted and viewing habits are changing. So how do we make sure that free-to-view TV will continue to thrive?
Collaboration is key. We need to work together and focus on our strengths. We also need to take some lessons from the competition, becoming smarter in our use of technology and data. Most importantly, we must give viewers what they have come to expect – a wide choice of quality content, available whenever they want.
Digital UK has a central role to play in bringing together our stakeholders and partners to rise to the challenges ahead. Now more than ever, we need to articulate a clear vision of Freeview's role in the future of UK television and the government policies which will be needed to safeguard its future. In doing so we can achieve our goal of delivering the world’s best free TV service – easily accessible and available to all, with high-quality British programming front and centre.
I would like to thank everyone at Digital UK for their dedication and hard work throughout the year. My thanks also go to our many partner organisations and, of course, to our chair, Caroline Thomson, and all the members of the Digital UK board.
Summer 2018 looks set to see four million Freeview Play TVs and set-top boxes sold since launch. With support from mass-market brands including Sony, Panasonic, LG and Toshiba, Freeview Play is fast becoming the UK standard for connected TV. The past year has seen the addition of a number of new features and paved the way for a further wave of developments, including a mobile app, in the months ahead.
While Freeview Play is a key area of focus, maintaining and improving the core Freeview service remains a priority. This year, yet more channels have been added to the line-up, extending the breadth of content on offer. The electronic programme guide (EPG) has been reorganised accordingly, also making room for future channel launches.
Behind the scenes, the centralised service information (CSI) system that powers Freeview’s EPG has been completely redesigned. This significant investment in the platform ensures that Freeview will continue to serve the needs of broadcasters as well as viewers.
The large-scale programme to reallocate some of the airwaves used by Freeview continues. We’ve been working closely with all the organisations involved to coordinate the engineering work and provide assistance to viewers. It’s a complex and challenging project but we’re confident of delivering on our responsibilities. Above all, we’re committed to minimising disruption for viewers who need to retune their TVs and boxes by making sure that information and support are readily available.
The theme running through all of these achievements is partnership. It’s at the heart of everything we do and we’re delighted to say that, this year, our partner network has grown. We’ve put a lot of energy into fostering new and deeper links with channel providers, TV manufacturers and retailers as the basis for our future growth.
We’ve also grown as a company, in line with our ever-evolving role and increased ambition to deliver the world's best free TV service. We’ve focused on nurturing new and existing talent, expanding our technological capabilities and providing experience for apprentice BBC engineers. Most importantly, Digital UK remains a great place to work, with the right culture to bring out the best in everyone.