Freesat turbocharges its next-gen boxes

Freesat, the UK’s free-to-air digital satellite television provider, has launched a new smart on-screen TV guide for its next-generation Freesat+ boxes, offering a wealth of new features including catch-up TV, a backwards TV guide, a curated recommendations section and improved recordings.

Following hard on the heels of the YouView launch (which promises similar things for the UK’s DTT market), Freesat has indicated that its new TV guide will be called <free time>, emphasising its ability to help users find something they want to watch quickly, without scrolling through endless menus.

Ahead of the launch, IP&TV News spoke to Will Abbott, Marketing and Communications Director at Freesat, who underlined that a key creed for the design team was a desire to help viewers spend more time enjoying TV and less time searching for something to watch.

One of the ways in which it does this is via a new recommendations section called ‘Showcase’, which offers curated suggestions (picked by Freesat) of what to watch on linear TV in the next 24 hours and week, as well as highlights from the built-in catch-up TV services.

Freesat's new UI

The 'Now & Next' view on

“For us, it’s another way of offering viewers easy and quick ways of finding something to watch,” said Mr. Abbott. “And that’s really important – we’ve done lots of research over the past year to fully understand what it is our viewers and potential customers want out of their TV service, and simply put people want to spend more of the precious time they have just enjoying TV, and not having to trawl through lots of menus and screens, so we have tried to make this really simple and easy.”

Other features of the new boxes include a backwards Electronic Programme Guide (EPG) which allows viewers to go back in time to find shows they have missed and watch them on catch-up direct from the guide; an ‘at a glance’ Now & Next’ view; improved recordings offering series link capabilities; and most importantly catch-up TV services from the UK’s main public service broadcasters.

It will be these catch-up services which are likely to be most attractive to potential customers of the new Freesat+ boxes, which will ship with BBC iPlayer and ITV Player on board, while 4OD and Demand 5 are expected to launch before Christmas.

The new boxes are built on open standards and technologies from a range of initiatives, including from the Open IPTV Forum (OIPF) and also the Hybrid Broadcast Broadband TV (HbbTV) project which is gaining serious momentum in continental Europe, along with HTML5 browser technology.

Over time, Freesat will push software updates out to the new boxes via their broadband connection in order to offer additional services and features, including a companion app for smartphones and tablets to create remote control and remote record capability away from the traditional remote.

Will Abbott, Freesat

Will Abbott, Freesat

“Part of the plan is to dynamically launch new services and features over time into the next-generation boxes in the field, and part of the benefit of using the technology standards we have chosen is that they allow us to do that in quite a dynamic way,” added Freesat’s Marcomms Director.

Mr. Abbott is quick to acknowledge the opportunities presented by the Social TV phenomenon, although he believes this is more likely to manifest itself in companion screen apps rather than using Facebook on the TV screen – a sentiment now shared by many in the TV industry.

“The real opportunity for Social TV and IP is – how do you improve and add to that broadcast experience. And the real richness that social media interactions around TV viewing brings comes when you are able to do it on a second screen, not when you are disrupting the main TV viewing experience – particularly when you are watching with other people.”

Freesat also indicates that it plans to add online movie and music services to the platform in the future – although it won’t be drawn on whether these include the likes of Netflix and Sky’s Now TV.

Manufacturing partners for the new Freesat+ boxes include Humax, Sagemcom, Philips and Manhattan, with Humax to launch its first compatible boxes for purchase in major high street retailers such as John Lewis and Currys before the end of this month at a price of GB£ 279 (US$ 443).

There are currently 2.6mn Freesat boxes in use across the UK, offering free-to-air access to a greater range of digital channels (over 150, including five in HD) than are available on the country’s DTT platform ‘Freeview’. There are an estimated 14mn homes in the UK with a satellite dish.

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