Freeview: backward EPG boxes planned without YouView

Freeview, the consortium of BBC, ITV, Channel 4, Arqiva and Sky, which promotes the free to air digital terrestrial television platform, has indicated that there will be Freeview certified equipment that will feature the newly approved backward EPG allowing users access to video on demand content, with Freeview's Managing Director Ilse Howling indicating that this was the 'direction of travel' the organisation was going along.

The certification refers to tagging a Freeview label on another manufacturers equipment - such as is the case with the "Freeview+HD" brand, which - for example - refers to devices that can watch and record Freeview and receive Freeview HD services under the criteria of the Digital TV Group's 'D-book' of specifications.

The backward EPG allows viewers to view the previous seven days TV listings as well as the currently available seven days in advance listings. Viewers would be able to select a programme from the past seven days and, if available on catch up TV services, would be able to watch the programme. A broadband connection of at least 2Mbps would be required.

However, most current connected TV equipment would not be able to access the backward EPG. According to media journal Broadcast, it is understood that the functionality requires pre-installation and can't be added to Freeview devices already in use as a software update.

Impact on YouView
The backward EPG function is seen as one of the key cornerstones of the forthcoming, but much delayed YouView project. YouView was originally referred to as an "upgrade" to the Freeview platform and supported by members of the Freeview consortium, adding on demand content on a single platform. However, the ongoing delays have enabled other connected TV platforms to gain substantial market share.

Reports suggest that Freeview's planned offering will be a direct challenge to YouView, but because all of Freeview's member broadcasters are still also stakeholders in YouView, the recent developments can not be viewed as Freeview creating a full-blown competitor against YouView.

Rather, it is likely that the broadcasters in the Freeview consortium want to get something up and running as soon as possible, to integrate their own catch up TV services onto one EPG, regardless of how it is done. It could however mean that YouView risks becoming a niche connected TV product for users of the ISPs BT and TalkTalk, who are also members of the YouView consortium. 

It also means a continuation of the fragmented connected TV market, where potential providers of content for connected TV services have to sign agreements with a whole variety of manufacturers to ensure their "apps" appear to the widest possible audience, although through the backward EPG, the major broadcasters would ensure guaranteed inclusion on smart / connected TV platforms - it would likely be a condition of getting a potential 'Freeview on demand' style certification on the device.

On Demand Content
Recently, UKTV announced that it was beta testing a video on demand / catch up TV player for its Freeview channels Dave, Really and Yesterday. This would mean that catch up TV via the backward Freeview EPG would potentially be available for the following channels, subject to video on demand rights restrictions on certain programming:

  • BBC One, BBC Two, BBC Three, BBC Four, CBBC, CBeebies, BBC News, BBC Parliament, BBC Alba (via BBC iPlayer)
  • ITV1, ITV2, ITV3, ITV4, CITV (via ITV Player)
  • Channel 4, More 4, E4 and Film 4 (via 4oD)
  • Channel 5,  5*, 5 USA (via Demand 5)
  • Dave, Really, Yesterday (via UKTV's new on demand player)

Sky would be offering its services via "Now TV", a new on demand service that it plans to launch later this year. Now TV is not planned to be a free service, but will offer viewers the opportunity to view content on a pay-as-you-go basis.

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