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Bringing down the paywall

UKTV’s move of Home to Freeview recognises the growth opportunities of free-to-air (FTA). Arqiva’s Mike Finchen, director of digital terrestrial television, considers the

UKTV’s move of Home to Freeview recognises the growth opportunities of free-to-air (FTA). Arqiva’s Mike Finchen, director of digital terrestrial television, considers the implications for the future of DTT broadcast.

The arrival of UKTV’s lifestyle channel, Home, on Freeview last week is timely evidence of an ongoing shift taking place in the broadcasting industry, which has seen more and more broadcasters begin to recognise the growth opportunities in FTA and benefits of moving out from behind the paywall.

Pay-TV platforms have been hugely successful over the years, but their rate of growth has plateaued of late and the days of significant growth are over. Points that previously might have set them apart – choice, quality – are losing weight and the divide is narrowing daily. FTA TV, for example, no longer means settling for a handful of channels; in fact, Freeview now has over 60 channels on its service, 12 of which are broadcast in HD.

Another of Freeview’s selling points for a broadcaster is that FTA TV is a much less crowded place to be, in comparison to the competitive pay-TV landscape where broadcasters must battle the giants (like BT), navigate complicated content rights and throw a lot of budget at diversifying their offering and making it stand out in light of challenging SVoD services. It also helps that the TV ad market is incredibly buoyant, so if you’re a broadcaster delivering ad impacts, Freeview is the best place to find the eyeballs you need.

However, while popularity for FTA is increasing, I don’t think its victory will ever be complete. Instead I see the future of the industry as a hybrid; something we’re already seeing through services like YouView and the forthcoming hybrid NOW TV box which blur the boundaries between FTA and pay-TV.

By providing the consumer with more choice and control over the content they watch, these platforms represent an ideal middle ground between free and paid content. For many more consumers FTA will become the standard TV service, to which they can add services on a day-by-day or month-by-month basis through ad-hoc subscriptions to pay-TV, OTT or SVoD services. It’s worth noting that Freeview is already the most widely used TV service in the UK.

The result: a TV landscape that caters for consumers and broadcasters alike.
Premium TV subscription or SVoD services will remain popular amongst consumers in search of exclusive content, consumers satisfied with FTA services won’t have to compromise on channel options or quality and those that want to have both will have the flexibility to do so.

In turn, broadcasters will retain varied options for delivering and monetising TV content, whilst maintaining an affordable set of TV choices for their audiences.

Overall, the enriched offerings of the FTA space is certainly shifting the premium perception of pay-TV brands and encouraging the likes of UKTV to consider the growth opportunities FTA offers. No doubt other broadcasters will follow suit as the industry sees the benefit of moving towards this hybrid future for television. It’s an exciting time to be in the business!