Freeview is the UK's biggest television platform and has provided a vital and subscription free service for millions of homes going through the recent analogue TV switchoff - but with Britain now adjusting to a digital world, the service is aware of growing pressure from pay TV alternatives.
TechRadar caught up with two of Freeview's most senior figures, Managing Director Ilse Howling and Marketing Director Guy North to talk about a new policy of coaxing people away from pay TV giants like Sky and Virgin.
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TechRadar: Can you tell us a bit about Freeview and what it stands for?
Ilse Howling: What we are about is providing high quality, free TV. All our focus this year is going to be on value. Freeview's vision is really simple: it's about continuing to give consumers vibrant, high quality, free television and we won't compromise on that principle. It's something that has been our raison d'etre since the start of Freeview.
Let's not forget there were a lot of doomsayers about Freeview when we started, saying this would be the end of free television. But I think that threat to free television is even more pressing than it was 10 years ago. With pay TV companies no longer having analogue companies to chip away at, I think it puts Freeview homes right in their line of sight as those that want to upgrade and take across into pay.
Freeview today has 19.1 million homes: that makes us the biggest television platform in the UK, and we see ourselves as the champions of the mainstream viewer offering what viewers want to watch, and how they want to watch it. This is a lovely statistic - we provide over 95 per cent of the nation's most-watched programmes, and all of them are there subs free.
TR: Just focusing on your 95 per cent point, there's a couple of things that need to be raised about that. First, presumably that figure was significantly higher 10 years ago, so it's falling; and secondly, isn't it inevitable that something available [for free] to a larger audience gets more views? If you asked people what they wanted to watch rather than what they are watching it would be completely different.
Guy North: A couple of things on that, the clarification is that the figure is taken from BARB January to June figures from last year and would have been higher than 95 per cent if we hadn't striped out one-off programmes like the Jubilee because we felt that was unfair. So actually the figure would possibly be higher than that.,
Yes, if you look ten years ago it would be higher than that, but there isn't much further you can go. The key fact is where we are now, in a marketplace with very strong pay TV providers, that [95 per cent] fact is pretty stunning from a consumer point of view. So much is available free from subscription.
TR: But that second point about they are most viewed BECAUSE they are available for nothing. If you take something like Mad Men - if that were still on terrestrial [for free] it would be one of the most watched programmes, but because it's on pay its audience is inevitably limited. That 95 per cent is because they are widely available.
GN: True. It is because it's available, and that's what's happening. That's people's actual behaviour.
IH: If I can jump in here as well, If you look at what you are paying for if you are paying a subscription, and think of how high the average revenue per home is across pay TV operators, and then you think about what are most watched programmes. So then obviously you take out sport - because if you are really into sport then you are likely to go for a pay TV package - and then you look at the dramas coming in, things like Mad Dogs and Game of Thrones,and you contrast if you were to buy the DVD and get the box set; but actually paying a subscription to get [those shows], I'm not sure it stacks up to value.