Ignoring the usual Christmas increase in sales, more and more satellite retailers (and other platforms too) are going to the wall as they can no longer justify the long hours for the tight margins, especially in competition fighting over fewer customers with ‘loss-leaders’ like Amazon and the big supermarkets.
It isn’t so much that the appetite for satellite television has gone, but more because since the advent of ‘high-definition’ and ‘recording’ which sent consumers into a frenzy of spending to upgrade aging equipment, the industry hasn’t moved on as much as you might think.
Yes we have seen progression, but not at the previous pace and we have to wonder why. Could it be limited bandwidth on the satellites, drop in advertising revenue meaning broadcasters don’t have the budgets for new channels, the slow improvements in UK broadband speeds, jittery manufacturers and retailers not wishing to produce or hold large quantities of stock, price, lack of key ‘technical’ personnel to really drive the industry forward? Probably all of those things!
It would be foolish to ignore the very obvious threat to this and terrestrial platforms by the increasing popularity of Internet based television, especially as all the big manufacturers are spending big on offering on-demand and interactive services with their products. Sky themselves were a little late to the party, but you can see how they are slowly re-aligning their business to this structure with the launch of Now TV and services via their set top boxes.
Freesat, and satellite platforms in general, may have the long term advantage over the bandwidth limited/restricted terrestrial services from Freeview, but both will ultimately be superseded by Internet TV. Freesat are clearly aware of this, as they are generally moving towards offering a complex HTML5 based TV Guide to a multitude of devices, but is this the right strategy?
So where does the industry go from here? It is very clear that “if you can’t beat them, join them” is the current order of the day. All the manufacturers are adding more Internet based services, with Freesat now offering all the main on-demand channel via their Freetime brand.
However, standing by the principle of ‘free’ isn’t going to wash long term. Success these days seems to revolve around having certain services on the platform, including Netflix, Amazon Instant Video and Spotify. It is strange that despite discussions taking place, none of these have yet made an appearance. Unlike Sky who for example offer their own film service so can’t add the others, Freesat don’t have such limitations, so why not include Netflix and Amazon. Some may argue this goes against the ‘free’ ethos, but does it really; is it any different than paying a one-off price for a new television, then adding pay-tv services?
Consumers today are looking for ‘all in one’ solutions, so if your preferred method of viewing is via satellite, but you also want access to pay channels like films, at the moment you are having to look elsewhere, such as to what your television has built-in, or a separate device like AppleTV or Roku. This may be discouraging consumers from upgrading their older Freesat+HD non-Freetime boxes.
What else can Freesat do? Well forget new channels, broadcasters just aren’t interested (in general), and forget UKTV channels, they are firmly tied to Sky for the very long term. This leaves a re-focus on technical changes to meet new technology. At present, no major platform is offering a home network setup, although it is believed Sky are working on this. Servers in homes are becoming increasingly popular, especially with more homes being built pre-wired for Internet. If Freesat were to react quickly, offering a system whereby you locate in one room, connect to your dish and Broadband router, then feed off to each television either wirelessly (using small receivers) or via Ethernet, they could be on to a winner. Imagine recording to one central store to watch anywhere in your home – sounds like something you can already get from generic setups doesn’t it! Yes an upgrade may be required, as you’d have to port in at least 4 satellite cables to allow multiple televisions to record and watch channels independently of each other. This is easily within the realms of existing technology. It may be ‘niche’, but those interested are the type of consumers that upgrade consistently and keep driving sales forward.
What about the style of the boxes, does that matter? Being completely honest, the current Freetime PVR’s are somewhat cumbersome. They may have 3.5″ drives in them (SSD’s are still cost prohibitive) but do they really need to be that large? If you look at all the latest Internet TV based boxes, they are small and pack a significant amount of technology to match that of the Freetime boxes (apart from the hard drive). Are consumers looking for a more minimalist setup? Can manufacturers now move away from including a Scart socket entirely, and potentially introduce a method via Ethernet to link between rooms.
If the industry continues at the current pace, it will continue to grow, but at a very slow pace. Major retailers are only interested in stock turnover, and grass-roots independents won’t find enough business to continue; retailers are fundamental to success of any platform, not just Freesat.
So what your thoughts, where do you see the industry going and what would make you keep upgrading? Is there a place for both satellite/terrestrial and Internet based platforms? Have you considered moving away from Freesat (or another platform) to a solely Internet TV home? Is recording to a PVR (because you are too busy to watch live or want to skip the ads) still important now that on-demand services are available for most programmes? Thoughts welcome…