When debating connectivity, we often overlook one of our most widely used and increasingly connected technologies - television. Since analogue broadcasts were switched off in 2012, UK consumers have enjoyed the fruits of massive investment across terrestrial, satellite and cable networks which makes the once humble television or set-top box a naturally converged environment with a veritable cornucopia of content, from live TV and catch up to first run movies and the latest box sets.
Of course, this tendency to take TV for granted is understandable thanks to its history, ubiquity and central role in our national culture. It’s perhaps no surprise therefore that broadband and mobile are seen as disruptors and a threat to the future of ‘traditional TV’. This is despite the fact that TV and other video content is driving much of their growth. Cisco estimates that video accounted for 60 per cent of mobile data traffic last year and that video will account for 82 per cent of traffic over IP networks by 2020. And just a few weeks ago, YouTube’s announcement that it now notches up a billion hours of viewing around the world every day triggered yet another round of hyperbole from the headline writers.
The YouTube figures are impressive but a good example of why we need a little perspective. Content issues aside (a great deal of YouTube clips are not what we would normally consider ‘television’) it’s important to note that the billion figure is based on global rather than national viewing. I’ve not seen a global figure for daily TV watching but you can be sure it would dwarf YouTube’s figures. In the USA alone, home to less than five per cent of the world’s population, daily TV watching comes close to a billion hours. In the UK, while there are marked differences between age groups, on average we still watch mostly live TV and use on-demand services less than 10 per cent of the time.
So rather than see these changes as a David and Goliath battle between large screens and small ones or between broadcast and broadband, we should be celebrating and exploring how this increasingly symbiotic relationship can offer greater choice and flexibility for consumers.
This belief in bringing together these technologies underpins the rationale for Freeview Play, the new standard for connected televisions developed by Digital UK in conjunction with Freeview and a range of partners across the content and consumer electronics sectors. The Freeview Play proposition for the first time guarantees consumers access to the most-watched broadcast channels plus a compelling package of the most popular catch-up players from the BBC, ITV, Channel 4, Channel 5 and UKTV integrated into a choice of different make of television. And crucially, Freeview Play does not confine catch-up to a dedicated apps area requiring complex navigation. Rather it delivers seamless integration of programmes via both broadcast and broadband straight from the on-screen guide.
But Freeview Play is more than a great example of aggregation and integration of linear and on-demand television. Freeview’s subscription-free model which played such a vital role in enabling everyone to share in the benefits of digital TV over a decade ago could be about to do something very similar for connected viewing. What’s becoming clear is that Freeview Play’s appeal extends beyond the savvy middle market and those tired of paying a ‘full fat’ subscription to Sky or Virgin who increasingly turn to low cost OTT services such as Netflix, Amazon or Now TV. It also has something to offer the 18 million people in the UK who’ve yet to experience the choice and flexibility offered by on-demand TV. Research for Digital UK by Kantar Media showed that despite the many barriers to this audience engaging with connected technologies, three-quarters like the idea of catch-up TV and some even say it could be the spur they need to get a broadband connection for the first time.
It’s early days but more than a million Freeview Play products have already been sold and 2017 looks to be a year of strong growth. So let’s keep up the pressure for improving UK connectivity but let’s also remember that it’s through the panel in the corner that many people will first experience some of the greatest benefits.
Jon Steel, Director of Communications and Public Affairs, Digital UK for techUK's "Good to Great Connectivity for the UK" Week.