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UK's Freeview services increase pressure on pay TV

The UK’s Freeview Free-to-Air platform providing TV services over the country’s DVB-T digital terrestrial infrastructure is to be upgraded with a range of features to improve navigation and content discovery, with enhanced interactivity.

These include an improved Electronic Program Guide (EPG), enabling viewers to select content broadcast in the past as well as set reminders to watch, or record automatically, items yet to be transmitted. Such reminders or recordings can be set by linking to trailers or websites relating to programs.

There are also enhancements to subtitles, audio description and text-to-speech for connected devices, in preparation for hybrid services available later this year in conjunction with the set top box about to be released by the UK’s YouView partnership. YouView will be a platform including set top box that will enable Internet-connected TVs to access TV channels, radio stations, and a range of other content over the web. It is a partnership involving the four main UK broadcasters, BBC, Channel 4, Channel 5 and ITV plc, as well as incumbent Telco BT, digital terrestrial infrastructure company Arqiva and ISP TalkTalk. The platform has been built to a technical specification based partly on the so called D-Book 7 standard defined by the Digital TV Group, the UK body responsible for Digital TV. The YouView box will integrate Freeview and so provide a hybrid service accessing both over the air and broadband content. It will not be confined to free services, since both BT and TalkTalk will use it to deliver pay TV packages over the Internet.

Meanwhile, the DTG is pushing for international harmonization of standards for interactive applications in line with the UK’s Freeview support for the MHEG-5 open standard for middleware, allowing broadcasters to provide interactive/hybrid services beyond broadcast video. This has an associated connected TV variant, the MHEG Interaction Channel, also used by Freeview.

The DTG is also working on specifications for home networking and companion screen viewing that it would like to combine with existing ones such as the Digital Living Network Alliance.

Apart from Freeview, UK viewers can also obtain FTA services via satellite from Freesat, a joint venture between the BBC and commercial FTA broadcaster ITV, which serves about two million households.