It’s FREEVIEW versus Sky

We’re about to see the digital version of a boxing match as the new, and much smaller, FREEVIEW digital terrestrial television service takes on the well-known, and much larger, Sky digital satellite service.

In just a year of operation, FREEVIEW has garnered more than 2.1 million viewers. Sky, which has been around much longer, claims more than 7 million viewers. Will this battle for eyeballs end up in a knockout or a draw?

On the surface, it doesn’t seem like there’s much of a battle to wage. After all, FREEVIEW provides 30 channels of video plus 20 channels of radio, while Sky claims more than 10 times as many channels, almost 400. Even so, let’s look closer at some of the key factors that may determine if FREEVIEW could actually win, or at least survive, the match-up.

The key advantage for FREEVIEW is its lower cost. After a E100 receiver purchase, there’s no monthly charge. Sky, on the other hand, has a similar E100 charge for the receiver and dish, but you then have to add the monthly subscription cost of E30 or more. The receiver and dish cost can be waived, but only if you agree to a higher-cost subscription package.

Second, just having hundreds of channels is no guarantee of success. While it is certainly impressive that Sky provides 383 channels, I defy you to show me anyone who regularly watches more than about 15 channels of TV, no matter how many they can access. Third, success may lie not in how many channels, but what’s on those channels. One early supporter of FREEVIEW is the Walt Disney Company. Disney has just agreed to supply FREEVIEW with a new channel called Daytime. The new channel will offer a mixture of comedies, made-for-television movies and U.S. soap operas. This marks the first time Disney has ventured into advertising supported television. The more familiar Disney Channel is available only through a subscription to cable or satellite.

Finally, 40,000 FREEVIEW receivers are being sold every week. That’s in addition to the 500,000 that were already in place from the defunct ITV Digital service. With that base of viewers, what some thought represented a defeat for digital broadcasting is now rising like a phoenix in the UK’s new free-to-air digital service. So, the bell has sounded, and now these two competitors — FREEVIEW and Sky — can go to battle. But there needn’t be only one victor.

Given the size of the UK market, there’s room for both. Ultimately, because the government wants broadcasters to vacate those terrestrial broadcast frequencies, for every home that goes digital, there is one less voter to winge about the turn-off of analog services.

This may be one battle where we all win.