Freeview moves to higher ground

By Julian Clover

Ilse Howling (pic: Digital Lifestyles)

Freeview managing director Ilse Howling has set out the next stage for the free-to-air terrestrial platform. In a speech to the Intellect Consumer Electronics Conference 2009 Howling put Freeview at the centre of the move from linear to timeshift, standard definition to high definition and digital TV to IPTV.

“We are ensuring that the pace of change matches the expectations and demands of our consumers. This way we are helping shift the entire country into a truly digital, on-demand, entertainment environment,” Howling told her audience. She revealed that 91% of analogue switchers in Beacon Hill in Devon, which completed the process on April 22, chose Freeview.

Howling called on her delegates, drawn from the consumer electronics sector, to help make the Freeview+ personal video recorder the entry product for digital television. She said that while it had taken four years for Sky+ to reach one million homes, Freeview+ had achieved the same in 12 months. “40% of all current Freeview box sales are PVRs. And with 12 million analogue videos, DVD, and other recorders in UK homes we know there is an even bigger market out there.”

Freeview HD – offering BBC HD, an enhanced ITV HD, Channel 4 HD and later Five HD – will be available to 50% of the UK by the time of the 2010 World Cup. 60% will have coverage by the following Christmas. Howling said this meant 16 million homes would be able to enjoy subscription free HD transmissions.
It was confirmed Freeview was working with the DTG to offer the iPlayer and, significantly, other on demand services through a hybrid receiver. “These Freeview services will stand alongside the very best in the market today, and side-by-side with new products as they emerge, such as the proposed Canvas service,” said Howling.

It was previously thought that Freeview would offer just the iPlayer until the arrival of the BBC-led Canvas protocol.
Freeview is often positioned as being in competition with Sky, but given that one offers free-TV and the other pay, it is not a partcularly helpful comparison. What Freeview can do is make the viewing experience as pleasurable as possible through the initatives outlined in Howling’s presentation.