Freesat is a UK digital satellite TV service from the BBC/ITV which launched in May 2008. Freesat has no monthly subscription, just a one-off payment for the digital box, satellite dish and installation. It even comes with subscription-free, high-definition TV programmes. As Freesat is broadcast via satellite, it’s available to almost every household in the UK.
Following on from the huge response we got in the Ask Emma Scott A Question post, we have the responses.
Can we just say a big thank you to all of you for asking such a wide range of questions (and some over and over again ;)), sorry if yours is not specifically covered, but we had to condense down from approx 100, to 10, but in the end got 20 submitted.
Also can we extend the thanks to Emma herself for taking the time to answer each one; as well as the Freesat team and Borkowski (Freesat PR) for facilitating. We hope the responses give a little insight in to the future of Freesat.
Q: A recent poll on joinfreesat.co.uk showed that 63% of customers chose Freesat for HD content above all others, does it concern you that channels like C4HD, E4HD and FiveHD all seem to have contractual agreements with Sky (whether that be through limited 2D space or financial) that will mean no chance of them appearing on Freesat any time soon? Is 1.5 HD channels deemed enough to meet the primary advertising strategy?
A: The vast majority of viewers are very happy with freesat but that doesn’t mean we’re at all complacent. I spend a lot of my time taking to broadcasters about their HD ambitions and we’ve been in on-going talks with Channel 4 over 4HD for some time. I’m confident that there will be positive news on the HD front soon – and we will continue to try our best to get more.
Limited satellite capacity isn’t the issue in this case as channel can be moved and Astra is launching new UK focussed satellite capacity next year. In the end it’s a commercial/ financial decision by the channel and the market has been tough so we’re focused on trying to make that decision easier to make by continuing to attract new viewers and maintain growth – so the economics stack up for them better.
Unfortunately FIVE has elected to go pay, which means neither Freesat nor Freeview will be adding them any time soon.
Q: Have any discussions taken place with Channel 4 (c4HD and E4HD) and Five (Five HD) into bring them to Freesat, do you envisage this being a reality within 2010? If limited 2D space is an issue, could they become a red button option?
A: See previous answer
Q: Why is so little HD broadcast in Dolby Digital, and why none in 5.1 surround? What is the point in HD video, without HD sound?
A: This isn’t something Freesat (or any other TV service) directly controls unfortunately but Freesat HD is fully equipped to broadcast Dolby 5.1 surround should the channels choose to do so. Ultimately it’s down to the broadcaster rather than Freesat and is exactly the same for all TV services. I’d also add that the HD is still enjoyable without surround sound, even though it’s obviously very nice to have!
Q: Can we be sure that the amount of HD content on Freesat will not fall below that of Freeview long term? If it does, does Freesat remain a viable option for anyone other than in areas not able to receive Freeview signals?
A: Although it’s not possible to dictate that broadcasters come onto Freesat, we will have as many HD channels as Freeview once 4HD joins. More importantly, beyond that Freesat has the capacity for far more HD services than Freeview – and given you can already receive our services across the UK, we will always be in a better position strategically.
Q: Once ITV HD goes simulcast with ITV 1 (now available) will we see an option for HD recorders to replace ITV HD as channel 103? Why has it been given channel slot 119 and not 103 or 109?
A: ITV has taken a dual channel strategy approach to ITV1HD and channel 119 was chosen as it was the first available listing with all the other ITV channels on the EPG. It wouldn’t be practical or fair to start moving channels around and would go against Freesat’s EPG listings policy.
Q: Are there any long term plans for Freesat to provide 3D broadcasts? Would the current receivers be compatible?
A: 3D is very exciting and it’s something we are actively looking at. We worked hard to make sure that the first generation of receivers were as future proofed as possible – so the great news is that all HD Freesat receivers would be 3D compatible – if you buy a new 3D TV and the specs of course! We will continue to talk to broadcasters about opportunities in this area.
Q: Have any existing channels contracted to Sky as subscription been in talks with you regarding becoming FTA, do they see Freesat as being a viable option yet to gain a potentially larger audience? CNBC went down this route in Feb.
A: We regularly talk to channels across the market and expect others to follow CNBC. As Freesat and its audience grows, it will become a more attractive option for channels because they’ll reach more viewers and generate more advertising revenue.
Q: Is narrow-beam capacity the biggest hurdle to additional channels on freesat, HD or otherwise? What steps are Ofcom, Freesat (BBC/ITV), Astra (SES) and Sky taking to ensure that narrow-beam capacity is prioritised for FTA channels?
A: It’s not an issue as there is still capacity available and moving forward there will be more capacity when Astra launches an additional satellite next year.
Q: There are many channels FTA, but not on the Freesat EPG. Are there any incentives or marketing to these channels to persuade them to join?
A: Freesat offers an opportunity to reach a large audience but will not offer financial incentives to channels. It’s important that there is a clear and fair policy that applies to all. We are working with the very best of the free to air channels market and our door is always open to other channels that may wish to be listed
Q: What are the plans for the Freesat Information Channel, should Freesat customers be turning to this channel on a regular basis?
A: The Info Channel is an exciting new development for us and gives Freesat a chance to inform viewers about service issues, enhancements, features etc so it’s worth checking to see if there are any new and relevant updates. We will continue to use it to communicate to viewers along with the website.
Q: When will the Panasonic TV’s with Freesat built-in get iPlayer? Will it cover old and new models?
A: Over air downloads are planned for the coming months and will definitely cover all Panasonic models – so whilst it might be a bit frustrating to wait a little longer, we’ve worked really hard with our manufacturers to persuade them to address the existing base of homes
Q: When will the iPlayer beta end and is it the intention of Freesat to offer a ITV Player beta/test period for Freesat customers? Will this happen in the summer?
A: The BBC iPlayer Beta will come to an end soon. There will also be a phased launch for ITV Player beginning with initial testing in coming months.
Q: Is it Freesat’s intention to launch Project Canvas (subject to approval)? Will 4OD and Demand Five be considered in the interim?
A: Freesat does intend to launch a Freesat receiver with Project Canvas within it, pending BBC Trust and OFT approval and 4OD and Demand Five are under consideration.
Q: Are there any plans for CAM slots/pay tv to be introduced to freesat? Such as subscribing to individual channels without the large monthly costs Sky currently offer. Top Up TV for Freesat?
A: Freesat’s no bills, no strings promise has proven very popular. However, we will continue to consider all options for improving the service in the future and pay TV, most likely using a third party supplier, is a potential option following Ofcom’s Wholesale Must Offer decision.
Q: Having moved from Freeview to Freesat, It is disappointing to see that the BBC Red Button service is lacking in the news multiscreens, extra coverage of music, entertainment and sports events, Comedy Extra and children’s coverage, especially as Freeview seems to get more despite having severely limited capacity for extra services such as this. When do you expect the BBC will bring Freesat in line with the other services?
A: Freesat’s worked hard with the BBC to get the range of Red Button services already on offer and we continue to discuss how these might be enhanced. Freesat has a tailored version of iPlayer specifically built for the platform so we feel on balance we’re doing rather better than Freeview.
Q: Would it be possible to support Internet applications like Skype and web browsing in the future?
A: Potentially but only on future products and not something we’re actively looking at.
Q: How involved are Freesat in issues manufacturers have with software problems; a prime example being the update issues caused by Harvard and Humax receivers?
A: Freesat works closely with all our partners to make sure that customers get the best possible viewing experience but ultimately over air downloads come down to the manufacturer. That said we try our very hardest to make sure our partners learn from any mistakes made so that they don’t happen again.
Q: Having seen many prophets of doom, forecasting the demise of Freesat; does Freesat have a long term future? What sales figures are you expecting over the next few years?
A: Freesat most definitively has a long term future and we’d point to recent developments such as BBC iPlayer and ITV Player, as well as possible future additions such as pay TV, increased satellite capacity and 3D as evidence of that. We’re here for the long haul!
We don’t share sales predictions but we expect to continue to grow – the World Cup makes this a great potential year for Freesat
Q: Would it not be more beneficial to market the service a bit more aggressively? I appreciate that in the way Freesat is run it’s ‘not for profit’ so effectively they don’t have the financial resources of the likes of Sky etc but think take up would be improved with more awareness of Freesat products?
A: Awareness is currently over 60%, our performance has exceeded all targets and expectations and we’re currently running our biggest ever ad campaign. We spend a tiny proportion of the marketing budgets of our competitors – but we deliver many more new homes and happy customers. My Marketing Director would always like to have more money though!
Q: What were the differences and challenges between launching Freeview and Freesat? And what is she looking forward to in the future? Is Freecable on the horizon?
A: I’ve sort of done cable already from my days launching Optus Vision in Australia! Every broadcast technology I’ve worked with has its pluses and sometimes minuses, but satellite is, without a doubt, the most important transmission system in the UK at the moment. Going forward our ability to grow Freesat as a hybrid on-demand service will remain integral – and the option of pay TV may be an interesting hook (not that Freesat itself would sell those services). Above all I’m keen to ensure that all our existing customers continue to be really happy with the Freesat promise they originally bought into.
Q: What do you think of the work done by joinfreesat.co.uk to promote and encourage the Freesat platform? (honest, this was posed by a reader, not us!)
A: We’ve had fantastic support from joinfreesat and long may it continue. The team and I regularly read the site and comments and, although we’re not always in a position to comment ourselves, we appreciate how readers inform others and straighten out issues on our behalf – and for the very honest feedback we get! So, a big thank you from me and the team, it’s nice that Freesat has such a loyal and passionate fan base.
It would appear that some channels have been removed from one of the Astra2D transponders (10921 H) today; the channels removed seem to be pay-per-view channels serviced by Sky.
Whilst not major news, it has been a long time since 2D slots have opened up so the question will be, what for?
For those not aware, UK broadcasters wishing to broadcast ‘in the clear’ (i.e. FTA) must allocate their channels a slot on the Astra2D beam which is more UK focused to limit access outside the UK; a previous post on this subject can be found here.
With any luck, Channel 4 may be able to buy one of the slots for C4 HD when it comes out of contract with Sky (again) and also Channel Five may be able to grab a few for Fiver and Five US which are presently encrypted (FTV). There may even be space for Five HD!
This is purely speculation though, for all we know, the pay-per-view channels may return or the space may still be rented by Sky and used for other channels they intend launching; but if there is any opportunity for the UK broadcasters to use as a reason to actively pursue the slots, now is the time.
Thanks Rich for alerting us to this development.
Well, it’s not the first time and certainly won’t be the last; ITV HD are once again suffering from shocking sound drops during the Coventry City v Chelsea football match. The sound drop’s appear to be happening every 5-10 seconds making it almost impossible to enjoy, although the picture quality is good.
We can only hope that by continually highlighting these issues, ITV will take notice and stop making such fundamental errors. Once or twice can be excused, but this is almost every match now…let’s hope it’s resolved in time for the next match on ITV HD, which is Fulham v Manchester United at 4.45pm this afternoon.
Suffer from the same fault, let us know your opinion?
ITV can be emailed at email@example.com
Update (20:22) – ITV decided to broadcast the Fulham v Manchester United game in SD only due to this sound issue which wouldn’t have been resolved in time. The red button option was still available but was only providing an upscaled standard-definition picture which was clearly obvious, but at least the sound was ok. Hopefully ITV will release a statement, we most certainly deserve one.
C4’s new dedicated music channel launches today on Sky, Virgin Media and Freeview, but why not Freesat?
Contracts contracts contracts!!!
We can only assume that 4Music has fallen foul of Sky’s never ending contract over some C4 channels. When will C4 finally break free? When will Freesat be treated as an equal satellite platform?
So how long can we expect to wait until 4Music comes to Freesat? Anyone’s guess, no one seems to know the in’s and out’s of Sky’s contract with C4, we can only hope it expiries soon and Freesat push C4 and Five’s channels to the top of the list for inclusion on the EPG.
One things for sure, when Freesat finally get all C4 and Five’s channels, plus a PVR, its going to be a fantastic platform, not just a great one!
It was of no surprise that our previous blog post entitled ‘Technical Reason For Freesat Batch Launch‘ would raise a number of questions/comments with regards to how and why Sky control the technical aspects of Freesat’s ability to add FTA channels.
The comments certainly made an impression on Sky, who have released a statement to TechRadar UK.
Have a read for yourself here – “Sky responds to Freesat red-tape hold up talk”.
Following on from the discussion below of 230 channels by early 2009, we questioned what the ‘technical issues with Sky’ could be causing for channels to be added in batches. Without requesting a reply, Freesat’s PR agency (whom have been absolutely fantastic since taking over) kindly sent over an explanation, which to be honest, shocked!!! This is what we received:
Due to Sky’s position in the satellite TV transmission, Freesat’s services have to pass through a Sky-controlled stage. In order for Freesat services to be acceptable to Sky at this stage in the broadcast chain, Sky requires all Freesat services previously to have passed through another technical process, managed by Sky, called ‘configuration’. This ensures that the Freesat services’ components meet Sky’s technical specifications.
For the ‘configuration’ process, Sky have specified limits on:
– the number of services they will configure in a month
– the type of services they will configure
– the grouping of services by transponder, and
– the frequency with which they will work on each transponder.
Freesat is obliged to plan its forward launch schedule within these requirements.
So this suggests that Sky have incredible control even over FTA channels becoming available on the Freesat EPG, and should this measure not be in place, its highly likely that all the signed-up FTA channels would already be available on the Freesat EPG. We can only hope that channel FIVE will be fast tracked to take up its position soon, but how do Freesat possibly make the decision on the running order of channels to be added, do they even have a choice, is it first come first serve or at the discretion of Sky? One things for sure, putting all technical issues to one side, this is a good way for Sky to control the market and not allowing Freesat to gather pace too quickly.
What does everyone else think?
We are pleased to say that our chat went ahead with Freesat as planned, so thank you to Helen at fireflycomms for arranging, and to Janet Morrow for giving us such a large allocation of time.
Janet Morrow works for Freesat in the capacity of communications. Janet is actually employed and works for the BBC, but has been seconded to Freesat part-time to assist in ensuring accurate information is available to the public domain. Whilst the information we can give is more ‘fact’ than ‘exclusive news’, it does at least settle a few debates and was a very worthwhile conversation. Janet spent as much time going through each question as we needed, going into more detail than asked at times so we very much appreciate it.
Rather than a Q&A, we’ll just give the information as points:
The first DTR/PVR receivers should be available in the autumn of this year. Speculation of delays meaning an end of 2008 / early 2009 release are totally unfounded. Humax are the only manufacturer of the DTR/PVR receiver, Alba Group and Panasonic are not involved (very interesting).
No other company (including Pace) are signed up to manufacture Freesat boxes at this time, but naturally if any discussions are happening, they couldn’t be discussed at this time. The question over whether Humax and Alba Group have an exclusivity agreement is being found out for us.
There is no truth in software issues being the reason for delays in the launch of regional ITV channels or additional FTA channels. Freesat want to make it very clear that because this is the first batch of channels since launch, they are taking extra care to ensure that everything goes technically smooth, as obviously this is now a live product.
All ITV regions and additional FTA channels (including but not limited to, ITV2+1, Film Four+1, E4+1 and More4+1, Zone Horror, Zone Reality, Kix and BET as well as digital radio stations including Capital Radio, Virgin Radio and XFM) will be available late July 2008.
Freesat confirmed and openly wish to make clear that an EPG slot on Freesat is £30,000 per year for TV channels and £5,000 per year for Radio channels.
We asked whether empty channels such as 109 and 110 are pre-allocated, or whether it’s a first come first serve basis. Janet was unsure and will find out, but suspects they may be pre-allocated to ensure that specific genres are placed within certain channel ranges.
Freesat still believe that close to 200 channels will be available by the end of the year. They couldn’t comment on whether any FTA channels (other than those mentioned above) are signed up already, only that discussions are taking place.
It’s not Freesat’s intention to mirror Freeview’s channels in any way. They treat digital terrestrial and digital satellite as two very different platforms as different regulations and agreements are in place. They know that gaining existing subscription channels like Dave, UK History etc will be almost impossible due to the way in which they are funded.
Freesat’s official statement on channel FIVE being available on the platform is “definatly in 2008″. Whilst Freesat didn’t comment, FIVE has said that FIVER and FIVE US won’t be.
Freesat have no indication of if/when C4 HD will be available on the platform. Given that they’ve made it clear that FIVE will be on Freesat this year, it would suggest that C4 HD hasn’t been agreed, or won’t happen this year. They couldn’t comment on C4 HD’s existing Sky contract or the reasons why C4 HD have not created a duplicate channel in the same way as C4. They do however see C4 HD as an important addition to the Freesat platform, as the more HD content the better.
We really needed to speak to the broadcasters directly, but Freesat’s understanding of the further production of HD content from BBC HD and ITV HD is ongoing. BBC HD will have 300 hours of Olympics this summer, as well as Wimbledon. ITV HD have said they will start with major sporting events (i.e. Euro 2008), followed within 2008 by premium movies and premium dramas.
Alba Group’s lack of ‘add channel’ functionality is not the responsibility of Freesat, nor was it requested as part of Freesat’s original tech spec. They are however working closely with Alba Group to ensure that this is implemented within the next few weeks. Both parties are aware of the EU regulations to provide, and are working to resolve.
We asked when ITV HD will be available in Northern Ireland and Scotland. Freesat say soon, but must stress that the decision to incorporate ITV HD was given to all ITV companies, of which both NI and Scotland chose not to accept.
Whilst Freesat wouldn’t say never, they did say that ITV HD must remain an interactive service, not a full channel. The official statement given to Freesat by ITV was that regulations mean that ITV HD as an individual channel is not commercially viable. Freesat are going to find out more on this, as they were only provided a single line statement. Freesat are adamant that ITV HD has launched as an interactive service for this very reason, and not to offer Freesat a HD advantage over Sky to encourage its early day uptake.
Freesat will continue to allow Sky to use the word “freesat” in their promotions of their own free service. They do not believe that both platforms using the name will cause any confusion (this is a point we may need to blog separately about at a later date once Freesat has been in the market for 6 months or so).
Freesat do not see their service as overtaking or replacing Freeview, nor as a competitor to Sky; they see it as a choice for the general consumer.
No official figures on the uptake of Freesat are available. Any indications given on the web are pure guess work.
Freesat are not aware of an issue with emailing visitors to their old site who wanted updates on the release. We explained that there must be thousands who didn’t receive and only a handful that did. They are going to find out for us.
Another burning question we and many of you wanted to know was what advertising is in place, or will be in place to promote Freesat to the masses. The answer in no uncertain terms was not very much. However, Janet did explain the reasons why. Freesat have a very small marketing budget which doesn’t allow them enough funds to promote the service in its own right via television media. They are promoting on radio and in national press, but are relying on associated companies like retailers etc to put the brand name across. Freesat made particular mention to Panasonic and their efforts to promote not only their new plasma’s, but the Freesat service associated with them. Its Freesat’s intention with the small budget they have to focus on areas where Freeview (terrestrial digital) signal is not available, which is why recent promotions in Wales have taken place, including 10% discounts at Comet etc. Anglia is next for promotional work. ITV television advertising is too expensive, and BBC is unable to promote the Freesat brand due to their unbiased policy. Whilst BBC mention Freesat as part of their recent BBC HD advertisement campaign, they must also mention all other available platforms fairly. Freesat wanted to make clear that Sky’s recent Sky+ campaign likely cost more to advertise than Freesat’s entire annual budget…for everything.
Whilst no breaking news, at least a few points have been clarified which should ease doubts and concerns. Janet was keen to point out that they are working hard to develop the service, and whilst it seems like a long time, it’s only been 6 weeks since launch and its very early days.
Again, we’d like to thank Janet for the time spent talking to us.
Could we just ask that if you mention any of the above on other sites, forums etc that you make reference to joinfreesat.co.uk, so the appropriate recognition is given. Thanks.
Not quite an official annoucement but its beleived that Channel 4 will be available on the freesat platform (FTA) from launch.
Originally we beleived that Channel 4 would have to wait until their existing contract with Sky ends in October, but it seems that they might have found a solution to this (no idea how!).
According to avid satellite programming fans, Channel 4 has appeared on the Astra2D satellite beam, which is a great indicator of almost being ready to launch, and the timing would seem highly coincidental with the freesat launch. Astra2D by the way is the beam used for FTA channels such as BBC and ITV.
We don’t have confirmed reports on whether the rest of the Channel 4 channels (E4, More4 etc) will be available too, as their present contract with Sky is for subscription availability, not FTV like Channel 4. It is beleived though that slots for these channels are appearing on the Astra2D beam also.
No news on Five as yet, although its suggested that they are pushing for launch too. Great news.
With the obvious impact freesat might have on Sky’s customer intake, how will Sky respond? freesat is expected to offer not only the range of free channels (which will be available on Sky anyway!) but also the attractive options of a PVR with no charges. At present, Sky’s Sky+ service is FREE, but ONLY if you are an existing subscriber, packaging starting from £16 per month. If you don’t subscribe to Sky, you can get the Sky+ functionality, but at a cost of £10 per month.
You might think its a simple decision of Sky dropping the charge and allowing non-subscription customers use of the Sky+ service, especially considering that more Sky units always means the potential for more Sky subscribers in the future. However, what needs to be taken into account is the fact that Sky have hundreds of thousands of existing subscribers on the minimum £16 per month package. This might be because they enjoy just one range of channels, but most likely because they wish to utilise the Sky+ PVR service, as it simply is amazing technology. The risk to Sky is that dropping the charge might encourage customers to Sky, but at the same time might risk a drop in subscribtion customers deciding they no longer need to subscribe!
There’s been no official word from the Sky camp yet, as they usually do allow time for rival services to launch and monitor how they get on, but unofficial word has it that its been raised but changes won’t happy for a few months, even at all this year.
Tricky predicament ahead we think.