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The Future of Freeview

Reports that Freeview management could be replaced by new body, without BskyB (November 2010)

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VG
VizGuru
I'm considering buying a new Freeview PVR, so I thought I would research what the future of Freeview will be, particularly after the digital switchover.

When the analogue signal is switched off, Freeview will be the default way to receive television in the UK (without upgrading to a satellite or a cable service).

Anyway, I came across this article published in Broadcast, the industry magazine which I thought was rather interesting:

Quote:
Future of Freeview in doubt
4 November, 2010 | By Kate Bulkley

Freeview is fighting for its future after it emerged that top-level discussions have taken place about closing the organisation after digital switchover in 2012.

Broadcast has learned that talks have been going on for months, with various ideas on the table.

A document created by BBC chief operating officer Caroline Thomson’s office in the spring suggested the Freeview management company could be closed and replaced by a new organisation controlled by DMOL, the company run by owners of the digital multiplex licensees, which include the BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and Arqiva.

Notably, the new company would not include BSkyB, a key Freeview shareholder.

The document says the current structure governing digital terrestrial TV (DTT) will “likely reduce the ability of the platform to compete effectively in the marketplace, and we expect will lead to a slow, inexorable decline in the popularity of DTT.”

Thinking has now moved on, with one well-placed source suggesting Freeview might continue to exist but “become a shadow of its former self “. Another possibility is that YouView is handed some of Freeview’s responsibilities.

The BBC said in a statement that the document was written to be “deliberately challenging and to provoke discussion”, and that it is not the “views or strategy of DMOL or its members”.

It said the BBC was a “proud and active shareholder” in Freeview, and that it was “critical to the BBC, and the British media industry in the round, that we maintain progressive partnerships that support the continued success of free-to-air TV”.

Freeview’s board is now fighting back and preparing an argument that it hopes will safeguard its role as the organisation behind the “most-trusted brand” for free TV.

Managing director Ilse Howling admitted that “big changes are coming” with digital switchover, more spectrum potentially being made available to DTT, and with the launch of YouView.

She said she was confident there would still be a role for Freeview beyond switchover. “None of us knows what the right answer is yet. Viewing on Freeview will continue to be strong even alongside connected TVs.”
DV
DVB Cornwall
It does make sense really for DMOL / Freeview and the DTT aspects of Digital UK to merge post Switichover. Ludicrous really for more bodies than necessary. The BSB question is interesting, whether BSB would want to totally vanish from the platform I doubt. The platform itself is almost certainly going to expand with little or no other competition for some of the DSO Spectrum dividend, I suspect at least two new DVB-T2 multiplexes will arrive following the auction.

Even if BSB does go, Arqiva are big enough to go into the content business to replace.
NG
noggin Founding member
Yep - or there is also potential scope for a Freesat merger? In other European countries there is more co-ordination between the non-pay TV satellite and terrestrial platforms (with the satellite platform being used to fill in gaps)

However in many other countries the satellite platform is FTV not FTA.
IS
Inspector Sands
There's less of a need for a seperate Freeview orgasisation once it's the de-facto method of watching TV. I would have thought that they'd keep the name for the platform though as it's very well known and a much better way of refering to it to the public than ' DTT'.
NG
noggin Founding member
There's less of a need for a seperate Freeview orgasisation once it's the de-facto method of watching TV. I would have thought that they'd keep the name for the platform though as it's very well known and a much better way of refering to it to the public than 'DTT'.


I think the main benefit of Freeview in recent years has been the Freeview, Freeview+, Freeview HD and Freeview+ HD licensing schemes that have meant boxes and TVs have to meet a decent standard of functionality, and you can buy in confidence. AIUI this is actually run by the DTG - and that is a role that is worthwhile, and I believe they do it for the Freesat boxes as well.

Having some industry group that co-ordinates the platform is obviously wortwhile. Just look at the mess they've got into in the US with no decently implemented EPG system, no decent PVR and metadata standards, different solutions for audio description etc. This has - and is - causing significant issues for OTA viewers over there.
PE
Pete Founding member
Indeed Freesat is a nice example of why being rigid with the EPG is useful. Panasonic TVs currently have the cheek to show adverts down the side of their freeview EPG whereas Freesat is of the standard design.
IS
Inspector Sands
I think the main benefit of Freeview in recent years has been the Freeview, Freeview+, Freeview HD and Freeview+ HD licensing schemes that have meant boxes and TVs have to meet a decent standard of functionality, and you can buy in confidence. AIUI this is actually run by the DTG - and that is a role that is worthwhile, and I believe they do it for the Freesat boxes as well.

Exactly, whatever happens I'm sure the name will remain both for this reason and for the marketing of channels.
NE
Neo
It does make sense really for DMOL / Freeview and the DTT aspects of Digital UK to merge post Switichover. Ludicrous really for more bodies than necessary. The BSB question is interesting, whether BSB would want to totally vanish from the platform I doubt. The platform itself is almost certainly going to expand with little or no other competition for some of the DSO Spectrum dividend, I suspect at least two new DVB-T2 multiplexes will arrive following the auction.

For a new channel/channels is there anything (eg. Ofcom) stopping a broadcaster on Freeview HD (including a payTV one) from using 1080p50? eg. couldn't a broadcaster say you must have one of these decoders to get this channel/channels? I read that though it's not part of the Freeview HD spec that there are set top boxes/decoders that will actually decode it, eg:
http://wotsat.techradar.com/news/broadcasters-will-need-make-changes-and-only-recent-receivers-will-be-able-cope-19-08-10
Quote:
Full HD TV sets on the market from 2008 are already equipped with an internal 1080p 50/60 fps H.264 decoder. Moreover, DVB-T2 set-top boxes that are coming to the market today are able to decode the 1080p 50/60 format.’
- is that actually correct though or is it just that TVs can accept an uncompressed 1080p50/60 signal and set top boxes can convert/upscale to 1080p50?

In August 2009 Ofcom said
"Our current position is that 1080p50 will not initially be a supported video format on Freeview HD. While the situation may change in time ..." and that they "cannot speculate when the broadcasters may be able to start using this format".

And according to articles from last year:
http://www.astra2d.com/archives09.html
Quote:
Ofcom is set to adopt an MPEG-4 advanced video coding (AVC) level of 4.0 in the reference parameters for the UK’s upcoming DVB-T2 high definition digital terrestrial television service.
The decision means that 1080p50 will not initially be a permissible video format for DVB-T2 services and as a result of capacity constraints and DVB-T2 receiver life, the Freeview HD platform will not support 1080p50 within the life of launch receivers .

Ofcom said they expected that this decision would continue for at least the medium term...
*Bolding added by me

So initially it wasn't/isn't supported. But couldn't they in a couple of years? Or if a particular broadcaster decided to (if they got Ofcom's permission)?

Is it more likely we'll see full programmes in stereoscopic 3D on Freeview/Freeview HD (eg. within the next 5 years) than 1080p50? Do you think we'll see the BBC's better than stereoscopic 3D on Freeview ever?
Last edited by Neo on 13 November 2010 3:29pm - 8 times in total
NG
noggin Founding member
1080p50 and the higher AVC / MPEG4 pt 10 Profile required to support it has been added to the DVB family of specs, but is not in the UK Freeview HD reference model at the moment AFAIK (I think the Freeview HD spec was finalised prior to 1080p50 being added to the DVB spec?).

This doesn't mean that Freeview HD licensed STBs and IDTVs can't support 1080p50 broadcasts - it is just that they aren't guaranteed to. (Not that there are any 1080p50 mainstream productions anywhere in the world at the moment AFAIK. I don't think there are many/any broadcasters actually producing content in 1080p50 outside of experimental stuff) (*)

At the moment the UK market is very bandwith poor terrestrially - so 1080p50 OTA broadcasting is unlikely to happen in the short term. It is possible that some of the digital divident spectrum will be bought by people wanting to run extra DVB-T2 muxes to provide more HD (or possibly 3D?) services - though these could well be Pay-TV (and thus could introduce their own box standards independent of Freeview HD's licensing) If anything, it wouldn't surprise me if some decided to introduce 720p50 services though - the quality is still pretty good - and the bandwith requirements are a bit lower than for 1080i25 (aka 1080/50i)

(*) The bulk of 1080p50 broadcast infrastructure is actually being used in dual-link 1080i25 mode for 3D production to allow for left and right eye processing. AIUI 3D is why Sky have specified 3G 1080p50 infrastructure in their new Sky Sports building - not so that they can run 2D 1080p50 stuff. (This will allow them to go for H264 MVC in the future - providing two 1920x1080i25 streams to the viewer - where at the moment they have to use standard H264 in side-by-side mode to deliver a single 1920x1080i25 stream consisting of two 960x1080i25 views 2:1 squashed next to each other in a single field)
TR
trivialmatters
Once digital switchover occurs, there'll be much less to do for a 'Freeview consortium'. I'd expect the YouView team to take over the responsibilities of updating the EPG tables, Freeview website, etc.

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