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Freeview HD will thrive in Hybrid Broadcast Broadband era

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Despite strong competition in the Hybrid Broadcast Broadband (HBB) market in the UK, given the roll-out of YouView and Freesat’s <free time>, David Cutts, the MD at S&T, believes Freeview HD can become the HBB platform of choice.

S&T has a long history supporting MHEG services in the UK and more recently the MHEG-IC (MHEG Interaction Channel) specification that is used to enable IP services on Freeview. The company is one half of a joint venture with Simplestream, called Synapse TV, that helps content owners deliver IP content into Freeview HD receivers, where it is then presented through portals that are effectively mini-EPGs within existing EPG slots.

Cutts argues that the volume of Freeview HD device sales, the truly open nature of the MHEG-IC spec, and the ease and relatively low cost of delivering IP services using this standard will make Freeview HD the go-to platform for new streaming or VOD services, whether free or paid.

Importantly, Cutts is convinced that Freeview will not just survive but thrive in the increasingly competitive market for traditionally free-to-air homes that are interested in some extra IP delivered content. He observes what others have also noted: that YouView looks less like a next generation version of Freeview and more like an ISP (BT and TalkTalk) platform for their TV services, and that strengthens the view that Freeview will co-exist with YouView and not be superseded by it.

As witnessed at DTG Summit two weeks ago, people are starting to believe that the relatively high volume of YouView boxes being shipped free by BT and TalkTalk (bundled with broadband/voice services), and the relatively low volume of the devices selling in retail, changes the nature of the beast. It is almost certainly because of the high cost of the YouView receivers so the ‘sales’ balance could change over time, but in the meantime it leaves Freeview as the undisputed king of the free-to-air retail market in the UK.

S&T writes and tests applications that channel owners can use to present IP services on Freeview HD boxes and ensures that any paid services are backed by the security tools within the MHEG-IC specification. Simplestream provides content publishing, customer management, streaming management and CDN services to complete an end-to-end solution for delivering content into the IP environment on Freeview. This combined skillset is wrapped up in the Synapse TV joint-venture.

Synapse TV has three traditional EPG slots on Freeview and these can be populated with any number of additional content options. Cutts says the potential market is diverse, covering free and subscription content, on-demand and linear streaming, niche and mainstream. Customers will come from channels that already have existing Freeview broadcast services and who want to offer complementary IP content, and content owners who are completely new to Freeview and who could not afford terrestrial channel delivery.

Content delivered via Synapse TV using MHEG-IC can be received on Freeview HD receivers (set-top boxes and integrated digital TVs) that conform to DBook 6.2.1. That really means receivers sold over the last year or so. These will have been tested for conformance and one of the key benefits of using MHEG-IC for HBB is that apps written to this one specification can achieve scale almost immediately.

Cutts, who is a Director at Synapse TV, believes the navigation paradigm makes Freeview HD a good Hybrid Broadcast Broadband platform, too. “One of the most important benefits is that the user navigation is through the established Freeview EPG or by pressing the Red Button. The user journey is short and completely familiar. It is as near as possible to normal TV viewing, unlike with app stores, which are in a different place and a long way from where you start off in live TV.”
The IP content being delivered into the Freeview EPG is also covered by Ofcom broadcast regulations, and that is something that will always reassure parents. As Cutts points out: “The user should not care whether content is delivered over broadcast or IP because it is effectively treated as broadcast content.”

Customers for Synapse TV will be targeting what Cutts calls the ‘late majority’ of consumers who are interested in additional content, including paid content, to what is already available on the free-to-air platforms. Some will have churned from Pay TV operators. It will be, and will remain, cheaper to deliver IP services to Freeview HD than to YouView, he predicts.

He reiterates that Freeview will remain the default choice for digital TV (non Pay TV) in the UK, providing the continued scale that content owners will be looking for. Of course, services like Synapse TV can help this prediction come true by ensuring the platform remains competitive in the HBB era.

“With the MHEG-IC specification we are able to extend the range of channels and the ways of financing them,” he concludes, pointing to the pay mechanisms the new joint venture enables. He points to time-to-market and a long history of overseeing reliable MHEG services as differentiators for Synapse TV when compared to companies offering a similar service.

David Cutts will be speaking at Connected TV Summit next week during the panel debate about ‘The market for HBB and its impact on TV’. Synapse TV will also be demonstrating its service at this event (May 22-23 in London). More details here.

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