Freesat

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Freesat
Joint venture
Industry Satellite television
Founded 16 May 2007
Headquarters United Kingdom
Products Direct broadcast satellite, free digital tv, pay television, pay-per-view
Owner BBC and ITV plc
Website freesat.co.uk

Freesat is a free-to-air digital satellite television service in the United Kingdom, provided by joint venture between the BBC and ITV plc.[1] The service was formed as a memorandum in 2007 and has been marketed since 6 May 2008. Freesat offers a satellite alternative to the Freeview service on digital terrestrial television, with a broadly similar selection of channels available without subscription for users purchasing a receiver. The service also makes use of the additional capacity available on digital satellite broadcasting to offer a selection of high-definition programming from the BBC, ITV plc, Channel 5, NHK and RT UK.

Freesat's main competitors are Freeview, Freesat from Sky, Virgin Media and BT. TalkTalk also offer a YouView service (with Channel 4HD and All 4 catch up).

History

Background

The BBC and ITV, the two biggest free-to-air broadcasters in the UK, make their services available digitally through three routes: free-to-air via digital terrestrial and digital satellite, and subscription-only via digital cable.

On digital terrestrial, the channels have always been available free-to-air with the appropriate equipment. In 2007 Freeview was available to only 73% of the population.[2] After analogue TV services were replaced in the digital switchover, this increased to 98.5% for the public service channels and 90% for the full 'Freeview' service. To provide more widespread coverage and a larger number of channels, a digital satellite alternative was felt necessary.

Initially, both the BBC's and ITV's channels were encrypted since the original Astra satellites used for Sky broadcast to most of Europe but the broadcasters' rights for premium content such as films and sports typically covered the UK only. The use of encryption meant that anyone wishing to view the channels had to purchase equipment from Sky and pay for a free-to-view viewing card to decrypt the channels. Similarly, to use the Videoguard encryption, the broadcasters needed to pay a fee to NDS Group.

Move to free-to-air

In May 2003 the BBC moved most of its channels from the Astra 2A satellite to Astra 2D, which has a footprint that focuses more tightly on the UK.[3] This move allowed the BBC to stop encrypting its broadcasts while continuing to meet its rights obligations. It dropped the encryption two months later.[4][5] Two months later, ITV, whose channels had already been located on the Astra 2D satellite since launching on the Sky platform some years earlier, also made their channels free-to-air.

On 18 November 2008, Channel 5 commenced broadcasting a single channel via Freesat,[6] eventually adding its ancillary services 5USA and 5* (now known as 5STAR) three years later in December 2011. It later added Channel 5 HD to Freesat following the removal of BBC Three (BBC iii) as an SD & HD TV channel (when it moved to on line and BBC i-player only).

Viva moved from free-to-view to free-to-air on satellite on 19 March 2013, before launching on Freesat on 2 April 2013.[7] On 2 April 2013, all seven of Box Television's channels left Sky's subscription package, with six becoming free-to-air on satellite;[8] on 15 April four of the channels – The Box, Kerrang! TV, Kiss TV and Smash Hits – were added to the Freesat EPG.[9] This was followed by Heat and Magic on 29 April.[10]

The free-to-air channels can be received using any standard digital satellite (DVB-S) receiver, although those not licensed by Freesat will need to be re-tuned manually if/when channel frequencies are changed. (See next section.)

Managed service

The Freesat project aims to provide a managed service with an Electronic Programme Guide and interactive features similar to the Freeview service launched three years earlier. Unlike Freeview, however, these features are only available on approved receivers manufactured under licence from Freesat.

The initial plan was to launch the service in early 2006. This was postponed to Autumn 2007 as approval from the BBC Trust was only received in April 2007.[11] However, the service was further delayed and was officially launched on 6 May 2008.[12]

Launch channels

The service launched officially on 6 May 2008. From the launch, Freesat advertised all national television channels from the BBC and ITV as being available on the platform (excluding ITV2 +1), as well as all national BBC radio networks.[13] Channel 4 also managed to make most of its channels free-to-air in preparation for the launch. In addition some channels from other broadcasters such as Chello Zone, CSC Media Group, Al Jazeera English, Zee Live, Zee News, RIA Novosti and Euronews were included on the channel list.[14]

High-definition

BBC HD was the only high-definition channel available on Freesat from launch day,[15] with ITV HD added as a "red-button" interactive service from 7 June 2008.[16][17][18] On 2 April 2010 ITV HD changed from an interactive service to a full-time channel called ITV1 HD, simulcasting the main ITV1 channel.[19] The name was changed back to ITV HD on 14 January 2013.

BBC One HD, a high-definition simulcast of BBC One, was made available on Freesat and other platforms on 3 November 2010. Channel 4 HD also became available on the platform on 19 April 2011, but will be withdrawn from 22 February 2018. NHK World HD was added to Freesat on 9 May 2011; it shared its channel number with its standard definition counterpart and was therefore only listed on high definition receivers, which were unable to access the standard definition channel via the EPG. (The SD channel ceased transmission on 1 October 2011.) On 23 July 2012, the BBC added 24 temporary channels to cover the 2012 Summer Olympics, the channels share their EPG slot with their standard definition counterpart.[20][21] On 29 August 2012, Channel 4 added three temporary channels covering the 2012 Summer Paralympics in high definition from the following day; the three channels also share their EPG slots.[22] On 14 February 2013, RT HD was added to Freesat, sharing its channel number with its standard definition simulcast.[23]

On 26 March 2013, BBC HD was replaced by a high-definition simulcast of BBC Two. On 13 June 2013, an HD stream of the BBC Red Button was temporarily made available on the EPG.[24] On 16 July 2013, the BBC announced they would be launching five new HD channels in early 2014.[25] The five channels (HD simulcasts of BBC Three, BBC Four, CBBC, CBeebies and BBC News) were in fact launched early – on 10 December 2013. BBC Three and BBC Three HD have been rebranded as BBC iii and now only available on the BBC i player, but in HD if your television is HD ready and can be connected to the internet either directly (using an Ethernet cable) or via wi-fi or via your computer online. You now have to pay a licence fee to receive all BBC TV channels legally on all devices.

Channel 4 pulled its 4HD service from Freesat on 22 February 2018, along with its catch up on demand ALL4 service. It is claiming Freesat has significantly increased Channel 4's fee for the Freesat platform. Freesat claim however that they have not increased their fee for the ALL4 catch up service. Channel 5 HD and S4C HD are continuing to broadcast on Freesat, along with all the Channel 4 SD (standard definition) channels including Channel 4 SD, Film 4, E4, 4Seven 4 Music and the +1 channels. The Channel 4HD programme guide was also withdrawn on this date. The Channel 4 SD channels remain on Freesat (inc. Channel 4 SD and the SD versions of E4, Film 4 and 4Seven and 4 Music and all the +1 channels) and the programme guide can still be seen on the Channel 4 SD channel.

Regional variations

Some channels (notably BBC One and ITV) are transmitted in regional variations and the appropriate services are selected by the Freesat receiver from the user's postcode. In March 2010, ITV altered several of their regions from free-to-air transmission to free-to-view (because they were moved to a satellite from which transmission covers a much larger area than just the UK and content licensing means that they had to be encrypted). As a result, a few Freesat viewers (who cannot receive free-to-view, encrypted content) were moved to regional variations not corresponding to their actual location. Other available regions may be chosen by putting a different post code into your box for your preferred TV region. BBC English Regional content is only available in SD, whereas Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland programmes are in HD on BBC One only.

Future channels and recent launches

In July 2017 two channels from Discovery Networks joined Freesat. Quest (channel 167) and Quest Red (169) feature documentaries, sport, entertainment, crime and reality TV.[26]

UKTV's Dave and Home channels launched on the Freesat platform on 1 August 2017, on channels 157 and 166, respectively, joining UKTV’s Drama, Yesterday and Really channels.[27]

On 12 September 2017 the FreeSports channel launched on Freesat, broadcasting on channel 252 with football games and highlights (from Germany, Spain, Portugal, Belgium, and Argentina), motorsport, ice hockey, rugby league, boxing and more.[28]

Video on demand

The BBC began to roll out a beta version of BBC iPlayer for Freesat devices in early 2010. BBC iPlayer is an internet based service with around 2500 hours[29] of television being available on demand. ITV Hub is available for Humax increased to a 30 day catch up service from the original 7 day service but with a larger ITV ident/logo in the top left of the screen], Manhattan, and some Sagemcom devices,[30] however it is not available on 2nd Generation Humax devices to viewers using DG and TD postcodes. It is not clear why this is the case.[31]

In 2010, Freesat also indicated an intent to launch a receiver featuring the YouView service (then called 'Project Canvas') and said that the video on demand services 4oD now ALL4 and Demand 5 were under consideration [32]

On 28 July 2011, the BBC Trust approved proposals to introduce the listing of pay content delivered on-demand via broadband.[33] The trust will allow the BBC to continue to play a part in Freesat as the plans did not represent a significant change to the approval previously given in 2007. There was no need for a Public Value Test or for further regulatory process. Under the plans some pay content, such as films, would be added to the Freesat EPG alongside the existing free-to-air content. However, there would be no adult material or live streamed sports coverage. Freesat itself will not supply any of the on demand content, but will allow third parties to do so through its EPG. Some content will also be made available through existing channels using an on-screen prompt that would take viewers to an on demand environment. Pay-TV sales would be handled by a third party, with Freesat operating the conditional access system that would underpin it. The plan is to use the upcoming launch of G2 spec receivers to add support for Digital Rights Management and where technically possible on existing receivers.

On 29 November 2011, a beta trial for the subscription based on demand movie service BoxOffice365 was added to the Freesat EPG.[34] On 11 March 2013, BoxOffice365 withdrew from Freesat.[35]

The Freetime guide also features a backwards EPG and a Showcase section offering recommendations. HTML versions of iPlayer and ITV Player will also launch,[36] both services use MHEG-5 on first generation devices. YouTube launched on Freetime receivers on 7 March 2013, the first deployment of YouTube's HTML app in a Western European TV service.[37] 4oD launched on Freesat's Freetime receivers on 27 June 2013, making Freesat the first UK TV platform to host the HTML5 version of 4oD.[38] Demand 5 arrived on Freesat on 6 August 2013.[39]

In December 2015, Freesat announced the availability of an application for the Netflix subscription TV streaming service on the Humax HDR-1000S, HDR-1010S, HDR-1100S and HB-1000S Freetime receivers. Netflix is expected to be available on other Freetime receivers in the future.[40]

In January 2016, Saorview, the Irish free TV service announced it would be launching an online catch-up and on-demand TV service using the commercial version of the Freetime software, including EPG roll-back and remote recording, with Freesat providing a fully managed service.[41]

In September 2016 the BBC closed the MHEG version of the BBC iPlayer (V2) used on some older connected TVs and receivers (manufactured between 2008 and 2014). Freesat Freetime equipment using the HbbTV version was unaffected. The BBC recommended that consumers should purchase replacement receivers to continue to receive iPlayer.[42]

In October 2016 STV Player was made available to Freesat viewers. The online live streaming and catch-up service operated by STV shows ITV programmes and content from its own archive.[43]

All4 (formerly 4OD) was added to the [Humax] Freesat service soon after its launch online; however, due to fee increases at start of 2018, Channel 4 have withdrawn the All4 on-demand service from all boxes that carry the Freesat Freetime service, from 22 February 2018 as well as taking Channel 4HD from all HD-capable Freesat devices.

Reception equipment

Receivers

Reverse of a Humax Freesat HD box

At the launch of the service, there were two types of Freesat receivers available —standard definition-only receivers and high definition-capable receivers. As of July 2010 there are eleven companies licensed to produce Freesat boxes and televisions.[44] Humax launched a Freesat recorder, Freesat+, which became available to the public in November 2008.[45]

On 17 October 2012, Humax released the first Freetime receiver, the Humax HDR-1000S.[46]

Televisions

Following the initial launch, Panasonic introduced three plasma televisions with integrated HD Freesat receivers. At the end of October 2008, Panasonic brought out 2 more sizes which are the 32" and 37".

In April 2009 LG launched 4 LCD TVs with built-in Freesat receivers. The LG series is the LF7700 (discontinued mid-2010), with screen sizes of 32", 37", 42" and 47". Sony have released two televisions with Freesat receivers, the W5810 and Z5800 series, available from sizes 32" up to 52" and in 100 Hz and 200 Hz alternatives.

Satellite dish

The service makes use of the same group of Astra satellites at 28.2°E as the Sky subscription satellite service. This means that a satellite dish which is positioned to receive these services will be capable of receiving Freesat, with the addition of a suitable receiver (or Television with receiver built in). Provided that the LNB has sufficient outputs, a single dish may be used to receive multiple services (i.e. Sky and Freesat). However, a dish with an LNB for the Sky Q service cannot be used with a Freesat receiver because Sky Q uses a wideband LNB which is incompatible with Freesat receivers. A "Hybrid" Sky Q LNB can be used as it has both wideband outputs for Sky Q and conventional universal LNB outputs for non-Sky Q receivers, including Freesat.

For users who do not currently have a satellite dish, Freesat offers an installation service which is made available through retailers and which is advertised in a leaflet included with Freesat receivers. A suitable dish may also be installed by the user or a non-Freesat-affiliated installer.

Ireland

While Freesat systems work in Ireland, official branded Freesat receivers are not widely or officially marketed in the country.[clarification needed] On 23 October 2008 several Irish retail chains including Maplin, Tesco Ireland and PowerCity began offering modified Freesat systems from Grundig and Alba[47] that had their Freesat branding replaced with a Sat4free brand name. The requirement to enter a UK postcode was removed; the systems were instead set to use the version of the electronic programme guide appropriate for Northern Ireland through a hard-coded Belfast postcode.[48] Sat4free was permanently closed down shortly after.[49]

Outside the UK and Ireland

Although not intended for reception outside of the UK, it is possible to receive Freesat outside of the British Isles, although a larger dish may be required as the footprint of Astra 2E and Astra 2F (who carry all the channels from the BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5) is mainly focused on the UK and Ireland. Even residents of Eastern European countries, however, (who generally have giant dishes) can often have access to the Freesat UK services. Freesat receivers, however, ask for a UK postcode during installation, to determine where regional services are placed in the EPG and channel list.

Technical details

Freesat broadcasts from the same fleet of satellites (Astra 28.2°E) as Sky. Channels are broadcast using DVB-S. Freesat's role is not broadcasting or availability of channels (although the BBC and ITV are substantial broadcasters in their own right) but instead providing a platform for receiving the channels and the EPG.

All of the standard definition channels on Freesat are broadcast using DVB-S; ITV HD, NHK World HD and RT HD also use DVB-S. BBC One HD and BBC HD used DVB-S until 6 June 2011 when the satellite transponder carrying them was upgraded to DVB-S2.[50] Channel 4 HD had launched using DVB-S2 but the transponder was downgraded to DVB-S on 28 March 2012. Standard definition channels are broadcast using MPEG-2, while high definition channels are broadcast using MPEG-4. Interactive television is done using MHEG-5 rather than the proprietary OpenTV platform used by Sky. Channel 4HD will no longer be available from 22nd March 2018.

Since the channels are broadcast in-the-clear, they can also be received by non-Freesat receivers, including Sky Digiboxes.

The specification for Freesat boxes includes having an Ethernet port. This is to allow on demand programming from services such as BBC iPlayer or ITV Player to be viewed directly on the customer's television.[51]

Open standards and technologies form the basis of Freesat's second generation Freetime receivers, including those from the Open IPTV Forum (OIPF), the Hybrid Broadcast Broadband TV (HbbTV) project and HTML5 browser technology,[52] with the majority of the Freetime user interface built using the latter.[53]

The Freetime spec also includes features such as: DiSEqC 1.2 support; MoCA (Multimedia over Coax Alliance) support including single cable routing; HTML, JavaScript and CSS internet technologies for broadband-delivered interactive services; DRM for online content; and payment mechanisms for broadband services like LoveFilm. James Strickland, Freesat's director of product and technology development, explained that Freetime is a hybrid between HbbTV and MHEG-5.[54]

Adoption

The table below shows the quarterly and cumulative sales of Freesat equipment in the first years of the service.

Quarter Quarterly Sales Cumulative Sales Quarterly HD Sales Cumulative HD Sales Quarterly HD Proportion Reference
Q2, 2008 39,018 39,018 23,854 23,854 61% [1]
Q3, 2008 68,982 108,000 49,146 73,000 71% [2]
Q4, 2008 125,000 233,000 99,000 172,000 79% [3]
Q1, 2009 117,000 350,000 91,000 263,000 78% [4]
Q2, 2009 98,000 450,000 77,000 340,000 79% [5]
Q3, 2009 190,000 640,000 ? ? 79% [6][permanent dead link]
Q4, 2009 260,000 900,000 ? ? 80% [7]
Q1, 2010 100,000 1,000,000 ? ? 80% [8]
Q2, 2010 250,000 1,250,000 ? ? 80% [9]
Q3, 2010* ? ? ? ? 80% [10]
Q4, 2010* ? ? ? ? 80% [11]

In the Q4 2009 report (from the table above), Ofcom reported that Freesat had announced the 1 million mark had been hit by the end of February 2010.

*Note: Ofcom stopped reporting Freesat Penetration Cumulatively with the Q3 2010 Report, and stopped quarterly reports at the end of 2010. Indications are that Freesat penetration largely plateaued in late 2010.[55]

In May 2017, Freesat announced that 904,000 devices capable of receiving the platform were sold in 2016, with the installed base increasing 58,000 year-on-year and passing 2 million during the course of the year.[56]

See also

References

  1. ^ "What's freesat – Free digital TV for everyone". Freesat UK. 31 July 2009. Retrieved 31 July 2009. 
  2. ^ "The Consumer Experience – Policy Evaluation 07". Archived from the original on 24 June 2008. Retrieved 11 May 2008. 
  3. ^ Jay, Alan (29 May 2003). "BBC ceases Astra 2A transmissions". Digital Spy. Retrieved 27 April 2008. 
  4. ^ Jay, Alan (9 May 2003). "BBC shifts FTA transmission date". Digital Spy. Retrieved 27 April 2008. 
  5. ^ "BBC and ITV to start Sky TV rival". BBC News. bbc.co.uk. 7 November 2005. Retrieved 27 April 2008. 
  6. ^ "Five joins Freesat". Broadband TV News. Broadband TV News. 5 November 2008. Retrieved 25 February 2010. 
  7. ^ "VIVA and Travel Channel join Freesat". a516digital. 2 April 2013. 
  8. ^ "Bauer's Box channels appear free-to-air on satellite". a516digital. 2 April 2013. 
  9. ^ "Freesat turn up the volume with 4 new music channels". Join Freesat. 15 April 2013. 
  10. ^ "Magic and Heat TV stations added to Freesat". a516digital. 29 April 2013. 
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  12. ^ "Freesat confirms launch date as May 6". Digital Spy. 30 April 2008. Retrieved 3 May 2008. 
  13. ^ "freesat – What's On". Retrieved 7 May 2008. 
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  15. ^ "Free satellite TV service begins". BBC News. bbc.co.uk. 6 April 2009. Retrieved 7 May 2008. 
  16. ^ "Confirmed: ITV HD is Freesat exclusive". Digitalspy. 6 May 2008. Retrieved 6 May 2008. 
  17. ^ "ITV HD on Sky HD new EPG". Digitalspy. 10 April 2009. Retrieved 18 April 2009. 
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  19. ^ "New ITV1 HD channel available on Freesat, Freeview, Sky and Virgin" (Press release). ITV plc. 12 March 2010. Archived from the original on 9 October 2012. Retrieved 16 March 2010. 
  20. ^ "TV to stream 24 channels for digital Olympic". BBC. 3 April 2012. 
  21. ^ "Freesat to offer BBC's 24 HD Olympic Channels – all subscription-free" (PDF). Freesat. 3 April 2012. Archived from the original (PDF) on 5 May 2012. 
  22. ^ "How to watch the Paralympics". Channel 4. 13 August 2012. 
  23. ^ "Freesat's sixth HD channel goes live". a516digital. 14 February 2013. 
  24. ^ "A BBC Red Button summer 2013". BBC. 10 June 2013. 
  25. ^ "BBC to launch five new subscription-free HD channels". BBC Media Centre. Retrieved 16 July 2013. 
  26. ^ Quest and Quest Red launch on Freesat Broadband TV News July 4, 2017. Accessed August 31, 2017
  27. ^ UKTV’s Dave and Home to launch on Freesat UKTV July 18, 2017. Accessed August 31, 2017
  28. ^ Freesat News Freesat. Accessed September 28, 2017
  29. ^ "Top TV On Demand Service in the UK". fluxgain. 12 January 2015. 
  30. ^ "Freesat Launches ITV Player (channel 903)". Join Freesat. 26 July 2011. 
  31. ^ "Freesat ITV Hub availability in Scottish Borders and Dumfries & Galloway". 25 August 2016. 
  32. ^ "Response: Ask Emma Scott A Question". Join Freesat. 23 April 2010. 
  33. ^ "BBC Trust approves Freesat entry into pay VOD". Broadband TV News. 28 July 2011. 
  34. ^ "Freesat Offer Movie Streaming Service". Join Freesat. 25 November 2011. 
  35. ^ "Box Office 365 no longer available on freesat". Join Freesat. 13 March 2013. 
  36. ^ "Freesat Freetime box by Humax pictures and hands-on". Pocket-lint. 4 September 2012. 
  37. ^ "YouTube goes live on Freetime from Freesat: video hands-on". Recombu. 7 March 2013. 
  38. ^ "4oD launches on Freesat TV service". Digital Spy. 27 June 2013. 
  39. ^ "Freesat adds Demand 5 catch-up content". Digital Spy. 6 August 2013. 
  40. ^ "Humax Freetime boxes to launch Netflix application" (PDF) (Press release). Freesat. 15 December 2015. Retrieved 31 December 2015. 
  41. ^ "RTÉ AND SAORVIEW PARTNER WITH FREESAT TO DELIVER A NEXT-GENERATION PRODUCT FOR IRISH AUDIENCES" (PDF) (Press release). Freesat. 20 January 2016. Retrieved 20 February 2016. 
  42. ^ BBC iPlayer closure on some older TV devices BBC website 29 September 2016. Accessed 30 November 2016
  43. ^ "STV Player now available on the Freesat Platform" (PDF) (Press release). Freesat. 18 October 2016. Retrieved 30 November 2016. 
  44. ^ Note: that is, boxes or televisions designed for the Freesat platform, however anyone can produce a free-to-air receiver.
  45. ^ West, Dave (15 April 2008). "Humax claims lead on high def Freesat box". Digital Spy. Retrieved 27 April 2008. 
  46. ^ "Freesat looks to future with Freetime-enabled Humax box launch". Digital Spy. 15 October 2012. 
  47. ^ "New digital TV service launched". The Irish Times. 24 October 2008. Retrieved 27 April 2008. 
  48. ^ "Sat4Free launches in Ireland". Join Freesat. 25 October 2008. Retrieved 4 May 2011. 
  49. ^ "Irish Freesat shuts website". Broadbandtvnews. 7 November 2008. Retrieved 4 May 2011. 
  50. ^ "Changes to BBC HD channels on satellite on 6th June". BBC. 2 June 2011. 
  51. ^ "BBC Launch IPTV Exclusive To Freesat". Join Freesat. 6 December 2010. 
  52. ^ "Freesat turbocharges its next-gen boxes". IP&TV News. 4 September 2012. 
  53. ^ "Freesat Freetime: BBC iPlayer, ITV Player, new user experience". Pocket-lint. 4 September 2012. 
  54. ^ "Freesat G2 Spec: DiSEqC, Single Cable PVR, On-demand". Join Freesat. 3 March 2011. 
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  56. ^ Smart and UHD TV sales boost Freesat 25 May 2017. Broadband TV News. Accessed 31 May 2017

External links

  • Official website
  • BBC News: Q&A on Freesat
  • List of Freesat (UK) Channels
  • Radio and Telly: Freesat guide
  • Freesat Section at Astra 2
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