Connected TV

Howling raises idea of ‘Freeview Smart’, with YouView as niche product

Freeview managing director Ilse Howling raised the possibility that connected TV services could reach a mass audience on Freeview without the need for a YouView set-top box at today’s Digital Television Group (DTG) summit in London.

Howling said that while total Freeview sales stood at 20 million as of today, sales of Freeview HD devices already stood at 4.4 million.  Of those, she said, only 400,000 were of set-top boxes, with the bulk being integrated digital TVs.

“What people are buying are connected TVs,” she said. “YouView will be a set-top box offer…[that] will have a valuable place for more sophisticated consumers.”

Within the Freeview HD universe there are already 2.6 million connected TVs, said Howling. “There is a very big market starting there and all of use want to embrace that connected opportunity.”

Howling said that the latest version of the DTG’s D-Book, which includes a specification for an enhanced EPG that can look backwards as well as forwards in time, could help deliver sophisticated connected TV services without the need for an additional set-top.

Asked if there was a case for a separate consumer brand to help consumer identify compatible devices, Howling said it was conceivable that “there may be scope for something like ‘Freeview Smart’ – who knows where that could go. If you do use specification branding, it does help consumers.”

Earlier, Howling said that Freeview’s research showed that the most popular innovations on the platform were those around the EPG. “It’s exciting to see a specification for an enhanced EPG being signed off in the D-book this month,” she said, adding that the BBC would likely look at how to use that to deliver new services.

Howling also said that any enhancement to the platform would be rooted in the principle that the service should remain predominantly based on free TV. “We will carry on defending the free TV space and we will make sure hybrid is not used as a smokescreen to erode the principle of free TV in this country,” she said.

Speaking at the same event, David Cutts, managing director of DTT technology specialist S&T, said that the MHEG Interaction Channel (MHEG-IC) could be used effectively to delivery hybrid services. MHEG-IC is specified as part of D-book 6. “All Freeview HD services are in principle connectable,” said Cutts.

D-book 6.2.1 extended this by providing for encrypted streams and seamless stream transition, and this has been a requirement for products from 2011. Cutts said that “millions of units” sold this year would be compatible with D-book 6.2.1.

Second-generation Freesat products and YouView products will also have this capability. However, few of these devices are likely to achieve mass penetration this year.

S&T used the DTG event to demonstrate a beta service with technology provider BiBC showing NBC Universal’s PictureBox video-on-demand service on a Freesat device and a trial catch-up service for Irish broadcaster RTÉ with dynamic advertising insertion.