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ThE MaStEr

The end is nigh


How long will the Freeview brand survive in UK DTT before it is submerged beneath YouView or its partners call it a day, asks Julian Clover?
As Mark Twain wrote, “the reports of my death are greatly exaggerated”, and the same could soon be said of Freeview.

Three times now I’ve heard comment from YouView on what might happen to Freeview. Both prompted and unprompted the remarks from CEO Richard Halton and his chairman Kip Meek cannot be ignored.

Let’s be clear, neither have said that the digital terrestrial platform is doomed, they don’t have the authority to speak for the organization, which they have in any case been told by the BBC Trust that church and state must be kept separate.. But the question, and how it might be answered, will certainly have been a topic for discussion in the past few weeks and it will certainly be asked more than once as the hybrid platform moves closer to its mid 2011 launch.

There are both similarities and differences between Freeview’s shareholders and those in YouView. For its part Freeview doesn’t have any ISPs gathered in the boardroom, while YouView doesn’t have Sky. One sometimes feels that Freeview might wish it didn’t have Sky either, but it must not be forgotten that the presence of Sky News and Sky 3 have helped towards the development of UK DTT. It remains puzzling that Ofcom can on the one hand allow Sky Sports 1 and 2 to be made available to all comers, while allowing Sky Sports News to be taken away from the terrestrial platform in favour of Sky 3+1.

Britain is just 18 months away from the completion of analogue switch off. At that point Freeview will indeed be digital television for everyone. Just as 405 lines became obsolete, so too will analogue reception. A set-top box without a personal video recorder might have been a novelty too, but maybe the delights of hybrid television will finish those off too.

Already it is expected that the Digital Tick might join the little blue bag of salt in marketing initiatives that are no longer required. If everyone has digital TV, how much of a benefit will Freeview actually be to the broadcasters that fund the organization, and not all do?

So is YouView the new Freeview? Currrently Freeview is promoting the HD properties of its service. I even saw an ad during last Sunday’s Downton Abbey rerun. There is so far no mention of the availability of the iPlayer. This is left to the manufacturers of the Freeview HD devices that have added the functionality, a spec likely to be enhanced with the incorporation of the MHEG interaction channel into the UK DTT specs, the D-Book.

So YouView is not setting out to steal the thunder of what will surely be Freeview’s successor, but as in Downton Abbey, time will move on.



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The end is nigh





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