The UK’s biggest free-to-air (FTA) networks have announced a new streaming service to deliver their live channels all in one place.
The new platform, called Freely, is set for launch in 2024 and will be built into the next generation of smart TVs and made available on other connected streaming devices. Freely is being developed by Everyone TV, the organisation jointly owned by the BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5 which runs FTA broadcasts in the UK.
The new streaming service will replicate the terrestrial TV experience, akin to the Freeview digital terrestrial television TV platform, which is currently used in 16 million UK homes. Users of Freely will be able to browse and watch live channels through a modern programme guide and explore on-demand content from within the platform.
BBC director general Tim Davie, said: “Ensuring the universality of public-service television is sustained into the future is of paramount importance to the UK and all its public service broadcasters.
“We are delighted to be deepening our collaboration in helping viewers access our content, ensuring that, in a digital age, we deliver value for all audiences and that no one is left behind.”
Live sports is proving to be the final piece of appointment TV, while UK FTA broadcasters continue to be the home for the biggest events on the calendar, such as major international soccer tournaments, the Wimbledon tennis major, as well as the Olympic and Paralympic Games. Currently, each broadcaster has its own streaming product offering digital access to linear channels, but that does not replicate the ease of access that the traditional over-the-air model provides.
Freely will seek to address this by using the free ad-supported streaming television (FAST) approach, albeit with the BBC still mostly reliant on the licence fee until whatever funding model the UK government seeks to implement when the charter comes up for review in 2027.
Should it be successful, it is hoped there will be a reversal of the trend of younger audiences shunning traditional linear channels. From the perspective of sports broadcast, Freely should aid discoverability and reach for FTA networks’ live coverage.
Everyone TV, formerly known as Digital UK, is responsible for the day-to-day running of the UK’s FTA TV platforms and leading the evolution into streaming. Outside of that, the BBC and ITV have a joint venture on the BritBox subscription streaming service, which reached three million global subscribers earlier this year.