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Freesat Targets DTT Viewers With Discovery and Aggregation Strategy

by User Not Found | May 02, 2014

I was given some interesting insights into the changing world of TV content discovery during an update with Freesat’s management team, Emma Scott and Matthew Huntington at their London HQ yesterday. I reported on Freesat’s launch of its online DVR service Freetime in October 2012. Since then Freesat has gained insight into how users behave when finding and choosing on-demand video. 25% of on-demand video is selected from the backwards TV guide, 10% from the Showcase recommendations service, and the remaining 65% direct from the online players (iPlayer, 4OD etc.). This pretty much mirrors my own experience. It suggests that users prefer to try what they know, which would typically be the classic online video player, but also that innovations like the backwards guide and Showcase can also have an important impact.

Showcase is a human-curated guide to what’s coming up on broadcast TV as well as currently available on OD services. It’s a nicely presented service, and, as Freesat confirms, the images make the difference – people respond to the sight of a particular actor or scene. From personal experience, when I do occasionally explore the Showcase recommendations I am usually rewarded with one or two shows which I want to know more about, even to the extent of setting the record button.

The importance of Showcase is also demonstrated by the fact that the top ten DVR recordings made by  Freetime users are all driven by Showcase recommendations. For these and other reasons Freesat is about to expand and improve the Showcase offer. The number of recommendations will be increased (as is already the case on the iPad app), they will be categorised into genres, and scrolling will become both vertical and horizontal. (I am also assured an Android version of the app is on the way – it can’t come too soon.)

While Freesat’s original goal was managing a free-to-air satellite platform, strategically it will be positioning itself increasingly as a device-agnostic aggregation and content recommendation service, and Freetime will serve as the basis of this strategy. Freesat was encouraged by retailers and manufacturers to enable its Freetime service on the UK’s other free-to-air platform, Freeview. This led to the recent launch of Freetime-enabled Panasonic smart TVs and similar products from Vestel are expected by the end of the year. Pansonic’s Freetime TVs include either both satellite and DTT tuners or only a DTT tuner. Freetime will therefore become the default smart TV interface for viewers watching DTT Freeview on Panasonic TVs.

My take is that it seems clear that, from Freesat’s perspective, there is a greater expectation from these new products to build a new DTT Freetime audience than to add new Freetime satellite customers. This clearly positions Freetime as a potential alternative to Youview, although it currently lacks the DVR capability, something which Freesat is working on with manufacturers, including enabling USB hard disk support. Since the BBC, ITV and other free-to-air players are known to be unhappy that BT and TalkTalk have dominated sales of YouView DVRs (not that they should have been surprised at this outcome), they will be encouraged to know that DTT alternatives are beginning to appear. I suspect that discussions about a Freetime DTT DVR are already well under way.

Freesat itself is excited at the possibility of adding “700,000” new Panasonic connected TVs to its Freetime user base by the end of 2014. The company has no plans to monetise Showcase at the moment – its recommendations are not paid for –but with a growing Showcase user base it could eventually become an important influence on which TV programmes people are watching in millions of UK homes.

Finally, the arrival of a pay service on Freesat is expected soon. It will be an onlinbe on-demand service, I am told, not a pay TV channel. Freesat makes it clear that it will not be managing the pay relationship – that is entirely in the hands of the content partner.

David Mercer


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