iPlayer Beta Testing Begins Soon

BBC iPlayer on Freesat

BBC iPlayer will begin beta testing on Freesat soon, with a public launch hopefully a month or two later; slightly later than the original Autumn launch. We are aware that a few privileged people are already alpha testing the iPlayer service and have so far been very impressed with it. The testing is presently taking place on the entire range of Freesat receivers with the appropriate software levels installed.

A few lucky customers have been asked to participate in the next stage of testing, following an email sent out today, so if you had previously completed the registration survey supplied with your Freesat digital box or IDTV, then check your inbox, you may have an invite.

For those not so lucky, here is a copy of the email;

Thank you for taking the time to complete the registration survey for the BBC iPlayer on Freesat trial.

We’ve had a huge response from people wanting to take part in the trial, meaning we’ve had to limit the number of participants.

We’re very pleased to inform you that you’ve been selected to take part, and will be one of the very first to road test the service during the beta trial period.

Further details will be emailed to you in early September.

In the meantime if you have any questions please email iplayertrial@freesat.co.uk.

The Freesat team

Revised 28-Aug-09

Whilst the email mentions September, Freesat would like to state that September is not guaranteed for the start of beta testing;

Freesat is unable to confirm a timeframe for iPlayer beta beginning on the platform but continues to work closely with the BBC on its launch.

No News Is Good News?

Lets hope so, as nothing appears to be happening in the world of Freesat at the moment!

We just wanted to let you know we are still here, still pushing for little nuggets of information to share with you.

It would seem that Freesat are presently spending quite a lot of time assisting in the Digital Switch-Over (DSO), which happens this year in the Granada, West Country, Borders and Welsh regions. Freesat’s primary aim is to ensure that those areas without access to terrestrial reception via Freeview have another option to avoid a blank screen come the end of analogue.

BBC iPlayer continues in its development and an Autumn launch still seems likely, although we’d expect a late Autumn launch given that beta testing is expected in August; of which we are hoping to be part of.

There appears to be a lack of additional FTA (free-to-air) channels coming forward on the Freesat platform of late, with talkSPORT the last to be introduced back on the 19th May. BET HD made an appearance most recently but only for the BET Awards 2009; but it gave us an insight into the potential opportunities for broadcasters that don’t have permanent high-definition channels in the UK to showcase specific events.

We await the latest quarterly figures for Freesat sales, although it has been hinted that 500,000 has been surpassed which is a fantastic achievement in little over a year.

ITV HD appear to be retaining a fairly regular appearance of programmes in high-definition, although still far short of that of the BBC with 9 HD hours per day. ITV sadly continue to avoid wanting to make comment on our fairly conclusive poll of 94% of voters (2,130 to date) longing for a proper ITV HD channel rather than the current red button.

As soon as we get just a sliver of news on Freesat we’ll be sure to let you know. In the meantime, please do continue to visit other parts of our site including the digital box and television product pages, plus polls, channel listings and ITV HD schedule.

Freesat Scoops Marketing Society Award

Freesat has won the ‘Best New Brand or Business’ category at the Marketing Society Awards for Excellence, beating off competition which included the BBC’s iPlayer service.

The award reflects the great strides Freesat has made in only its first year, exceeding 400,000 sales and offering viewers over 140 digital television and radio channels, including the BBC and ITV HD services.

Will Abbott, Freesat’s marketing director comments;

We are delighted and proud to win this award as it highlights the impact we have made over the last 12 months – spending a fraction of the budget of our competitors – and the incredible work of the whole company. We’re already building on this success through 2009 – adding more customers, channels and launching IPTV services such as BBC iPlayer.

Freesat has used PR agency Borkowski since launch. Farm handle all advertising creative work and media is planned and bought by MPG.

Freesat press release

BBC launch Project Canvas proposal

The BBC has launched a public consultation on Project Canvas, the proposal for an online catch-up service, which would allow viewers to watch on demand content from the BBC, ITV, plus many more directly through their television sets.

The service, expected to roll-out in 2010 will be available through both Freesat and Freeview platforms, although it’s believed new equipment will be required, costing in the region of £100-£200. iPlayer, which launches in the Autumn for the existing Freesat customer base will require a new receiver for the full Project Canvas setup.

Project Canvas in many ways combines the efforts of multiple on-demand services all accessible through your television set, and is expected to be opened up to more than just the main channels such as BBC and ITV, but also NHS Direct, YouTube, plus many more web based video services, the possibilities may be endless.

Project Canvas is seeking to be transparent about what the service will deliver and how it is structured, in order to avoid the same fate of Kangaroo, the broadband pay-TV venture backed by BBC Worldwide, ITV and Channel 4, which was scrapped earlier this month after falling foul of competition regulators.

The BBC has applied to the BBC Trust for its permission to form a joint venture partnership, which would set and promote a common standard for delivering on-demand TV and other internet content through a broadband connection. The BBC Trust, which will have the ultimate say on the proposal, will publish it’s interim conclusion by 8 June 2009 and final decision by 24 July 2009.

It is expected the project will cost partners £24m to get up and running, with the BBC expecting a four way equal split funding (assuming four partners) at £6m each. The proposal is for the venture to include the Freesat platform; the total cost including Freesat over a five-year period is around £16.6m. It’s believed ITV’s £6m contribution to the service has already been accounted for and will not represent a new outlay at a time when their finances are under severe pressure.

The project is expected to be run as a “not for profit” organisation, which is usually the case when the BBC are involved, same as BBC’s Freesat joint-venture with ITV.

On-demand programming, particularly catch-up TV services such as BBC iPlayer, has proven to be massively popular on TV services such as Virgin Media’s cable network, which could be part of the reason for such interest in combining television and Internet services.

Speaking about Project Canvas, Emma Scott, Managing Director of Freesat said;

Freesat is already fully behind the Canvas proposal and know from our own experience that its mix of free-to-air channels, HD, IPTV and EPG innovations will be an attractive proposition to consumers.

Our research shows that a third of viewers watch more programming once they see it in HD and we also know that the launch of iPlayer to Freesat this autumn is hotly anticipated.

Canvas now has the potential to continue the UK’s tradition of great free-to-air TV.

So what do you think, do you believe Project Canvas will get approval from the trust, or vetoed in the same way Kangaroo did?

Freesat iPlayer for Autumn launch

It has been suggested that BBC’s iPlayer will launch on the Freesat platform this Autumn, after initial speculation suggested a Spring release.

iPlayer is seen as an important milestone for both the BBC and Freesat, with the iPlayer website servicing 516 million visits during 2008. This should open up the possibilities of ITV (catchup), C4 (4oD) and Five (demand.five) launching their own versions too, rather than the single Kangaroo service which was vetoed earlier this month.

Whilst the Freesat EPG is very much of fixed design, the BBC iPlayer is said to carry it’s own look and feel of menu with clear likeness to the existing iPlayer on Virgin Media.

The iPlayer service will be available on all Freesat digital boxes and IDTV’s via the included Ethernet port using your broadband connection, with different speed options expected to satisfy the ranging speeds available in this country.

James Strickland, Freesat’s Director of Product and Technology Development said;

There are technical challenges in terms of delivering quality content over the top that in the UK’s current state of broadband development still pose a challenge for an operator trying to bring a quality, managed service,

In the immediate term we are looking at ways of delivering quality content to viewers today. As the technology delivers on its promise of quality of service it will allow us to grow.

There will be a low bandwidth option but we will be looking at offering a high bandwidth option for those networks that are capable of reproducing the content in an acceptable fashion.

Ultimately the best service would be delivered if the ISPs, broadcasters and content providers can work together to provide a place for each business to deliver the promise of the internet in terms of audio and video.

Freesat have made it clear that whilst their platform will remain a ‘free’ service, they will allow on-demand chargeable services to be available via Freesat, which should give viewers an opportunity to pay for sports and movies should they wish, similar to Freeview. These could in the long term include channels such as Setanta Sports etc.

Will Abbott, Freesat’s Marketing and Communications Director said;

Freesat won’t stop broadcasters selling content through on-demand, but it won’t affect the free TV service at the heart of Freesat.

We will look at anything as it meets our core requirements but at the moment we are not looking at injecting cost to users of the core platform,

Our success is down to a very clear simple pay-once proposition and we are very mindful of that and it’s something we will continue to make central to what we offer.

We would have to make clear that Freesat is not selling you anything. We recognise that there is a need for content owners to make money from content and we would work with them to make it clear to customers that they were retailing any content, not us.

Information courtesy of Wotsat.

C4HD Is Your Top Priority

Well it was hardly surprising, but in conclusion of our recent poll – “What would you like to see next?” which has been running a few months, a massive 50% of you (2,762 votes) want to see C4 HD as the next service/channel to reach Freesat, beating iPlayer on 19%.

It just goes to show how many Freesat viewers have purchased on the premise of high-definition channels, and with the current shortage (BBC HD, ITV HD and *Luxe HD (*non-freesat mode)) C4 HD is so desperately wanted by many; especially considering that 60% of Freesat audience have HD digital boxes, this is a significant proportion.

So how likely is C4 HD? Well nothing much has been updated since our last post, so whilst we’ll possibly see some time this year, it’s unlikely to be the next service we receive, that honour will probably go to BBC’s iPlayer.

C4HD (50%, 2,779 votes)
BBC iPlayer (19%, 1,037 votes)
Fiver and Five US (16%, 872 votes)
Panasonic PVR/Blu-Ray (8%, 446 votes)
Sub add-on’s (Setanta…) (6%, 310 votes)
Metronic HD/PVR (1%, 80 votes)

Don’t forget to take part in our new poll, “What is your opinion of ITV HD?” (left hand column).

What Should We Expect From Freesat In 2009?

With 2009 fast approaching, what can we expect from Freesat in the new year? Our poll which continues on the left hand side would suggest that more than 50% of you want C4HD as a priority, but in reality will that happen? We know that C4HD is currently tied into agreement (encrypted) with Sky so unless they can terminate early, or the contract concludes in 2009, can we expect this channel at all in the coming year! We will continue to try and find out the in’s and out’s of the contract, but if anyone knows linked to C4 or Sky, let us know.

So what is more likely to appear in 2009? Well BBC are still promising the on-demand iPlayer, directly linked to your Freesat digital box via the Ethernet port. This seems likely to go ahead around spring time, assuming no further delays. Kangaroo looks dead in the water at this point.

Will we see more manufacturers on board? Possible, talks are on-going with a number of large manufacturers although given the current economic climate, this could be a little longer than expected. It’s certain that Metronic will have their HD digital box out soon, although retailing at £150 wouldn’t result in many sales. Metronic’s PVR receiver is also due within the first quarter of 2009, although again, this could be delayed given that the HD receiver from them already has. Alba Group are said to be developing a PVR too, but no timescale as yet, and rumours of Panasonic working on a combined PVR and Blu-ray player/recorder just won’t go away, although the official PR release at this stage is that nothing is in the pipe-line.

So what about other channels? Well Freesat’s target of 200 channels has not yet been reached, so the remaining FTA channels can certainly be expected in the coming months, although will this include FTA channels such as Sky News, we are still awaiting confirmation (don’t forget Sky News and others can be added in non-freesat mode). Will channel Five manage to find space on 2D to bring us Fiver and Five US, lets hope so. As for other channels, well many still expect that the line-up should/will match Freeview, but that’s highly unlikely, as channels such as Dave, UK Gold etc are tied into subscription contracts on DSAT with Sky, so unless these channels/networks can find ways of raising revenue through advertising rather than subscription, it’s not going to happen unless Freesat’s viewing audience substantially increases.

Most will no doubt agree that ITV HD need to drastically improve the quality and quantity of HD programming, at the very least to match a constantly improving BBC HD. Would ITV HD benefit from having a separate channel than using the existing red button facility? Maybe, but the possible downside of this would be access to the channel via Sky, which in-turn could reduce Freesat’s potential viewing figures.

Rather than expected, we hope that BBC and ITV can improve the quality of sound on Freesat, with many, if not all programmes being broadcast in stereo, rather than Dolby 5.1 allowing us to enjoy films etc in surround sound quality. This must surely be a priority?

The platform thus far has been largely successful, but lets hope for an even better year ahead for Freesat, with increased popularity and exposure.

Happy new year from all involved with joinfreesat.co.uk and thanks to all of you that have contributed over the past year.

C4HD, BBC iPlayer and Kangaroo

We had an interesting email this morning from a joinfreesat reader saying that they had been on a training roadshow with a Freesat member of staff who stated that C4HD, BBC iPlayer and Kangaroo would be available in Spring ’09.

Given that this information supposedly came from a Freesat member of staff, we wanted to check how official it was from Freesat directly. Unfortunately the news wasn’t good, but at least it’s further clarity at this stage. The statement said;

As Freesat has previously confirmed, iPlayer will launch onto the service in 2009. A launch date will be confirmed in due course.

Whilst there are currently no specific plans to launch 4HD and Kangaroo at this stage, Freesat is in regular contact with a wide range of broadcasters and service providers across the industry about joining the platform in the future.