Freeview’s announcement last year that it would release a new generation of internet connected boxes was immediately hailed as a development that would re-assert the service’s primacy in the UK’s increasingly crowded free-to-air TV market.
Off the record briefings of the day insisted that Freeview Play – as it’s now called – would be embedded both in TVs and set-top-boxes and be more likely to appeal to customers by being cheaper than YouView and simpler than Freesat’s Freetime service by working with viewers’ existing aerials rather than needing a satellite dish installed.
However there have been a number of big developments in the past 12 months that seriously limit the potential for Freeview Play to achieve the dominance that the parent brand enjoys.
The falling prices of Freesat Freetime and YouView boxes – both now available for less than £100 – make them an impulse purchase for anyone looking to add ‘smart’ capabilities to their TV.
By the time Freeview Play launches it’s likely both services will be available for even less.
Device makers will need to shave costs considerably to be able to launch Freeview Play at competitive prices. Making cheap kit isn’t that hard, but doing so without compromising quality or performance is.
In addition, Freeview Play’s chances of being adopted by TV makers are dwindling with every month that it’s little more than an idea on a developer’s ‘to do’ list.
Freesat already provides EPG, catch-up and on-demand players to Panasonic and Vestel – the third-largest TV maker in the world which makes sets for major brands and retailers including Argos, Tesco, Asda and Sainsbury’s.
And earlier this month YouView announced it had signed a similar deal with Sony to provide its EPG and catch-up service for virtually all of 2015 TV models.
These deals make it hard for Freeview Play to achieve scale at the premium or even mid-tier level of the TV market.
As the UK’s most familiar free-to-air TV brand, Freeview isn’t going to go away, but its lateness in launching Play means it’s never going to return to the days of being the UK’s only FTA platform and the new service is unlikely to fulfil early talk of being a YouView or Freesat “killer”.