Freeview broadens its service, offers access to on-demand

Far gone are the days where we got to the best point in our television show only to hear “cccsssshhhh” and see our screens produce an unnerving display of black and white fuzz as we frantically wrestled our bunny ear antennas into the most awkward and weird positions to get the picture back (only to have missed the best part). Luckily this hasn’t been a problem for a while, and our options for viewing television are always getting better, and today Freeview announced the launch of its new digital TV platform, FreeviewPlus, which allows Kiwis with the right technology to access on-demand video.

In a nutshell, the new service, which is free, lets New Zealanders easily switch between on-demand services and linear or broadcast television. However, to do this, Kiwis must own a new FreeviewPlus set-top box (from about $150) or a 2015 Smart TV with the service in-built. FreeviewPlus smart TVs and set top boxes from LG, Samsung, Sony and Panasonic are available in shops.

Viewers who upgrade then connect to a UHF aerial and home broadband will automatically hook up to the service.

“FreeviewPlus is a smarter way to watch TV. The simple on-screen programme guide lets viewers search across a massive library that brings together broadcast content from 19-plus live channels and on-demand content from TVNZ OnDemand, 3NOW and Maori Television On Demand, something that has to-date not been available in New Zealand,” Freeview general manager Sam Irvine says.

FreeviewPlus also offers an eight-day ‘catch-up’ or, in other words reverse programme guide that allows viewers to go back in time across TVNZ, MediaWorks and Maori Television channels and select straight from the guide, Irvine says.

It should be noted, however, that the service has been launched when most New Zealanders are without the technological equipment to use it. But Irvine says he expects this will change pretty quickly. “It’s [FreeviewPlus] built into most Smart TVs, so there are about 400,000 TVs [in general]sold a year in New Zealand.”

He also says just in the past few hours he has seen a few hundred FreeviewPlus set top boxes connecting up.

Based on the number of TVs that are sold Irvine expects 100,000 homes to regularly use FreeviewPlus in the first year. “That’s 300,000 New Zealanders …The great thing about it is if you are buying a new TV you get the service. We kind of get the best of both worlds.”

It’s a really competitive market and new manufacturers and retailers use TVs as a battleground for getting customers in stores, he says. “For $1,500 to $2,000 you could get an amazing TV. Now you’re getting top quality television and you can go down to $600 and that will get you a digital TV.”

He says not every TV within the scope of the particular brands selling them will be a FreeviewPlus-capable ‘Smart TV’. “Within the first year there will be a selection of their range, but as we roll out it will eventually be every TV. An example is Veon, we are working with them on approval [to use for the service] and there will be a selection of their range that will be FreeviewPlus ready and at a cost effective solution for people as well.”

He says upgrades for the service should also be easier as it’s not hosted by the make of the television. “In the future we will look to add other services and improve functionality and second screen synching that allows other broadcasters to launch services easily on it as well.”

It’s been reported that the FreeviewPlus rollout hasn’t worked particularly well in Australia, but Irvine says that it goes back to the viewer. “In terms of the viewer experience, ours is probably better because it’s faster, so that’s a key thing. Our two key principles are performance/speed and usability so if I’m searching for a show I can search across all linear and all on-demand, whereas in Australia you are just linked to linear shows.”

Australia is a different market, pay TV isn’t as strong as it is here, he says. “They have free-to-air broadcasters that have a significant amount of sport content that has be to legislated and be on free-to-air as well as pay TV so their content offerings are different, but in terms of the product the viewer gets in New Zealand, we have really improved what we started from.”

He says Freeview is currently used in over 60 percent of New Zealand homes, which equates to over two million New Zealanders.

“Globally what the finding is, is that people are watching more on-demand content on the big screen which makes sense. For example Netflix, Lightbox, Quickflix and the others are all trying to get their apps and their content onto the big screen and are making it easy for people to do that.”

He says there has also been some talk about whether FreeviewPlus is the start of the journey to a PVR in the cloud. “So you don’t have you stream it because it gives you access to all that on-demand content.”

Freeview has also released a new ad promoting the service, created by True, featuring a few familiar faces.

FreeviewPlus features breakdown:

  • Free to view
  • Switch seamlessly between live TV and on-demand 
  • Scroll through an 8-day TV guide that displays multiple channels at the same time
  • Roll back 8 days to catch up on selected shows on ONE, TV2, TV3, FOUR, Maori TV and Te Reo
  • Search across live and on-demand TV content
  • Featured sections showcase selected programmes
  • Browse TV and movie libraries by genre
  • Set reminders and favourites
  • On-demand shows and movies from TVNZ OnDemand, 3NOW and Maori TV on-demand
  • All the Freeview HD features

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