Freely, the joint CTV app backed by the BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5, will launch in Q2 2024, its developers announced this morning.
Everyone TV, Freely’s parent company, also released the first images of the app’s user interface (UI) and features. Smart TVs with Freely installed will feature a seven-day TV guide accessible via the Guide button on the TV remote. Through the TV guide, users will be able to navigate to on-demand content linked to shows they are watching live, the company said.
Easily navigating between live and on-demand content seems to be a key feature of Freely’s UI. The app includes a ‘MiniGuide’, a pop-up interface that appears each time the user switches channels, also offering related live or on-demand content. Viewers will additionally be able to restart and pause live TV, and access the app by pressing the Freely button on their remote.
The organisation also announced a major expansion to the TVs that will have Freely installed. Everyone TV has signed a five-year deal with Vestel, the European TV manufacturer behind Toshiba, Bush and JVC. The company said Freely will be the “native guide” on Vestel TVs. The partnership joins a five-year deal with Hisense, announced in December 2023, to carry Freely on the Chinese company’s TVs in the UK.
“We are thrilled to announce our further partnership and commitment to the latest innovation in television technology, by offering customers TVs that are compatible with Freely,” said Atinc Ogut, VP TV Product Management at Vestel. “Freely offers a seamless and intuitive user interface that aligns perfectly with our mission to elevate the way people experience television.
“The collaboration not only enhances the functionality of our TVs but also empowers users to freely stream their favourite shows, live and on demand, all from a single, unified platform,” he added. “As one of the TV manufactures now compatible with Freely, we’re proud to be setting the standard for the future of television.”
Everyone TV cited research that suggests more than half of UK homes will watch TV exclusively over broadband (IP-delivered) by 2030. The company notes that 15 percent of UK TV homes are already considered to be IP-only, with connected TV services such as Netflix and Sky Glass fuelling the transition.
Against this backdrop, Everyone TV said Freely is designed to “futureproof live TV for the streaming age.” This also means futureproofing the public service broadcasters (PSB) against mounting competition from international streaming services, and giving viewers access to all the PSBs’ content in one place could help retain viewers who have moved into a streaming environment.
In addition, the service will help the PSBs retain prominence in an increasingly fragmented viewing environment. The images of the TV guide show the PSB channels in their traditional positions (BBC One, BBC Two, ITV etc.) as the first channels the user sees when scrolling. And if Freely is to become the “native” guide on TV models from major brands, this could further safeguard their prominence.
Meanwhile the Media Bill, currently making its way through Parliament, includes provisions to ensure PSB apps and programmes are easy to find on smart TVs. As a joint PSB app, Freely will be covered by the new law.
The launch comes on the heels of Channel 4’s announcement last week that it aims to become a “digital-first public service streamer” by 2030. Days later came the news that Sky will cut 1,000 jobs, most of them technicians who install Sky equipment in homes. And although Sky is not a PSB and therefore not part of Everyone TV or Freely, the move further signals the shift away from satellite and towards IP-delivered TV.
Everyone TV said Freely TVs can be placed anywhere in the home where there is a Wi-Fi connection, removing the need for a dish or aerial.
“It’s clear the way people are watching TV is changing, with more audiences switching over to a broadband only connection,” said Sarah Milton and Carl Pfeiffer, Joint Chief Product Officers at Everyone TV. “We’ve built Freely around the needs of British audiences, bringing them the freedom to choose how they want to watch, with all their favourite shows from the UK’s leading broadcasters all in one place for free. We’re really proud of what we’re launching with Freely and are excited about bringing major enhancements like the MiniGuide to viewers as Freely launches in Q2 this year.”
Though the announcement provides a window into Freely’s appearance, it leaves operational issues on the table, particularly around how the service will work from an advertising perspective. Freely differs from Everyone TV’s existing streaming service, Freeview Play, by playing content within the app itself rather than directing users to the relevant broadcaster’s respective streaming service.
This poses questions around who will control the ad experience within Freely, and to what extent the commercial broadcasters can target users on the service. And part of Channel 4’s announcement was to build an ecommerce business, enabling viewers to purchase products through its digital platforms, raising questions over whether this functionality will extend to its content on Freely.
And whether Freely will remain the domain of the incumbent broadcasters, or will open itself up to other types of content providers, remains to be seen. Everyone TV said it is working with UKTV to add the broadcaster’s channels (Dave, Drama, W and Yesterday) to Freely, with further smart TV, operating system and content partnership announcements expected in the coming weeks.