The key trends that have shaped the past year are familiar ones. More TV is being watched via the internet, while global players such as Netflix and Amazon continue to grow in both audience share and ambition.
Tied to this is the continuing rise of 'cord-cutting', as more and more viewers swap multichannel pay-TV packages for a pick-and-mix approach, combining Freeview with low-cost, subscription video on-demand (SVOD) services. This in part helps explain why Freeview is the only major broadcast platform which is growing its viewer base, with nearly a million extra households coming on board since 2016.
It’s clear that a seismic shift in the way TV is delivered and consumed is not only inevitable – it has already begun and will not be reversed. So far, we’re in the early stages of this transformation. While internet viewing overall accounts for only a small proportion of TV watching, it is growing among younger viewers in particular. Change is coming and free-to-view TV must find a way to adapt.
Though unsettling, disruption to the status quo is no bad thing, driving innovation, encouraging competition and increasing choice. Netflix and Amazon are good for TV, offering more choice to those willing to subscribe.
The challenge for free-to-view TV is to compete with these players who are operating at global scale with production budgets which dwarf those of national broadcasters. This means UK programme makers must raise their game, be willing to take risks and concentrate on producing high-quality programmes which resonate with UK audiences.
On the delivery side, we must be willing to follow the changing habits and demands of viewers by finding new ways to help them navigate the ever-expanding range of programmes we offer, both live and on-demand.
In this respect, there’s a fourth trend that is perhaps more important. Namely, viewers are becoming more savvy and sophisticated. While the desire for more independence and better value-for-money has fuelled the drive towards cord-cutting, there’s also an increasingly low tolerance for technological shortcomings and inflexibility. Viewers want a frictionless experience. This is broadcast TV’s great strength, offering a service that is simple to use and instantly available. It can be Freeview Play’s great strength too. Freeview Play has evolved to embrace the things viewers have come to expect, offering a wealth of on-demand programming with recommendations and search functionality to enable new content discovery. Crucially, these features are built into a platform centred around public service broadcasting and free-to-view TV, with the technological flexibility to be ready for the continuing shifts in viewer behaviour in the years ahead.