|Founded||16 May 2007|
|Products||Direct broadcast satellite, free digital tv, pay television, pay-per-view|
|Owner||BBC and ITV plc|
Freesat is a free-to-air digital satellite television joint venture between the BBC and ITV plc, serving the United Kingdom. The service was formed as a memorandum in 2007 and has been marketed since 6 May 2008. Freesat offers a satellite alternative to the Freeview service on digital terrestrial television, with a broadly similar selection of channels available without subscription for users purchasing a receiver. The service also makes use of the additional capacity available on digital satellite broadcasting to offer a selection of high-definition programming from the BBC, ITV plc, Channel 4, Channel 5, NHK and RT UK.
The BBC and ITV, the two biggest free-to-air broadcasters in the UK, make their services available digitally through three routes: free-to-air via digital terrestrial and digital satellite, and subscription-only via digital cable.
On digital terrestrial, the channels have always been available free-to-air with the appropriate equipment. In 2007 Freeview was available to only 73% of the population. After analogue TV services were replaced in the digital switchover, this increased to 98.5% for the public service channels and 90% for the full 'Freeview' service. To provide more widespread coverage and a larger number of channels, a digital satellite alternative was felt necessary.
Initially, both the BBC's and ITV's channels were encrypted since the original Astra satellites used for Sky broadcast to most of Europe but the broadcasters' rights for premium content such as films and sports typically covered the UK only. The use of encryption meant that anyone wishing to view the channels had to purchase equipment from Sky and pay for a free-to-view viewing card to decrypt the channels. Similarly, to use the Videoguard encryption, the broadcasters needed to pay a fee to NDS Group.
Move to free-to-air
In May 2003 the BBC moved most of its channels from the Astra 2A satellite to Astra 2D, which has a footprint that focuses more tightly on the UK. This move allowed the BBC to stop encrypting its broadcasts while continuing to meet its rights obligations. It dropped the encryption two months later. Two months later, ITV, whose channels had already been located on the Astra 2D satellite since launching on the Sky platform some years earlier, also made their channels free-to-air.
Viva moved from free-to-view to free-to-air on satellite on 19 March 2013, before launching on Freesat on 2 April 2013. On 2 April 2013, all seven of Box Television's channels left Sky's subscription package, with six becoming free-to-air on satellite; on 15 April four of the channels – The Box, Kerrang! TV, Kiss TV and Smash Hits – were added to the Freesat EPG. This was followed by Heat and Magic on 29 April.
The free-to-air channels can be received using any standard digital satellite (DVB-S) receiver, although those not licensed by Freesat will need to be re-tuned manually if/when channel frequencies are changed. (See next section.)
The Freesat project aims to provide a managed service with an Electronic Programme Guide and interactive features similar to the Freeview service launched three years earlier. Unlike Freeview, however, these features are only available on approved receivers manufactured under licence from Freesat.
The initial plan was to launch the service in early 2006. This was postponed to Autumn 2007 as approval from the BBC Trust was only received in April 2007. However, the service was further delayed and was officially launched on 6 May 2008.
The service launched officially on 6 May 2008. From the launch, Freesat advertised all national television channels from the BBC and ITV as being available on the platform (excluding ITV2 +1), as well as all national BBC radio networks. Channel 4 also managed to make most of its channels free-to-air in preparation for the launch. In addition some channels from other broadcasters such as Chello Zone, CSC Media Group, Al Jazeera English, Zee Live, Zee News RIA Novosti and Euronews were included on the channel list.
BBC HD was the only high-definition channel available on Freesat from launch day, with ITV HD added as a "red-button" interactive service from 7 June 2008. On 2 April 2010 ITV HD changed from an interactive service to a full-time channel called ITV1 HD, simulcasting the main ITV1 channel. The name was changed back to ITV HD on 14 January 2013.
BBC One HD, a high-definition simulcast of BBC One, was made available on Freesat and other platforms on 3 November 2010. Channel 4 HD also became available on the platform on 19 April 2011. NHK World HD was added to Freesat on 9 May 2011; it shared its channel number with its standard definition counterpart and was therefore only listed on high definition receivers, which were unable to access the standard definition channel via the EPG. (The SD channel ceased transmission on 1 October 2011.) On 23 July 2012, the BBC added 24 temporary channels to cover the 2012 Summer Olympics, the channels share their EPG slot with their standard definition counterpart. On 29 August 2012, Channel 4 added three temporary channels covering the 2012 Summer Paralympics in high definition from the following day; the three channels also share their EPG slots. On 14 February 2013, RT HD was added to Freesat, sharing its channel number with its standard definition simulcast.
On 26 March 2013, BBC HD was replaced by a high-definition simulcast of BBC Two. On 13 June 2013, an HD stream of the BBC Red Button was temporarily made available on the EPG. On 16 July 2013, the BBC announced they would be launching five new HD channels in early 2014. The five channels (HD simulcasts of BBC Three, BBC Four, CBBC, CBeebies and BBC News) were in fact launched early – on 10 December 2013.
Some channels (notably BBC One and ITV) are transmitted in regional variations and the appropriate services are selected by the Freesat receiver from the user's postcode. In March 2010, ITV altered several of their regions from free-to-air transmission to free-to-view (because they were moved to a satellite from which transmission covers a much larger area than just the UK and content licensing means that they had to be encrypted). As a result, a few Freesat viewers (who cannot receive free-to-view, encrypted content) were moved to regional variations not corresponding to their actual location.
Future channels and recent launches
In February 2016, Talking Pictures TV, a classic film and television channel, launched on Freesat from transponder 103 (11.671 GHz/H) on the Astra 2G satellite.
The Keep It Country (KIC TV) music channel launched on Freesat in March on channel 516. Reality-based channel, True Crime and its time-shifted sibling True Crime+1 launched on March 22, 2016 on channels 143 and 156, respectively.
Video on demand
The BBC began to roll out a beta version of BBC iPlayer for Freesat devices in early 2010. BBC iPlayer is an internet based service with around 2500 hours of television being available on demand. ITV Player is available for Humax, Manhattan, and some Sagemcom devices.
In 2010, Freesat also indicated an intent to launch a receiver featuring the YouView service (then called 'Project Canvas') and said that the video on demand services 4oD and Demand 5 were under consideration.
On 28 July 2011, the BBC Trust approved proposals to introduce the listing of pay content delivered on-demand via broadband. The trust will allow the BBC to continue to play a part in Freesat as the plans did not represent a significant change to the approval previously given in 2007. There was no need for a Public Value Test or for further regulatory process. Under the plans some pay content, such as films, would be added to the Freesat EPG alongside the existing free-to-air content. However, there would be no adult material or live streamed sports coverage. Freesat itself will not supply any of the on demand content, but will allow third parties to do so through its EPG. Some content will also be made available through existing channels using an on-screen prompt that would take viewers to an on demand environment. Pay-TV sales would be handled by a third party, with Freesat operating the conditional access system that would underpin it. The plan is to use the upcoming launch of G2 spec receivers to add support for Digital Rights Management and where technically possible on existing receivers.
The Freetime guide also features a backwards EPG and a Showcase section offering recommendations. HTML versions of iPlayer and ITV Player will also launch, both services use MHEG-5 on first generation devices. YouTube launched on Freetime receivers on 7 March 2013, the first deployment of YouTube's HTML app in a Western European TV service. 4oD launched on Freesat's Freetime receivers on 27 June 2013, making Freesat the first UK TV platform to host the HTML5 version of 4oD. Demand 5 arrived on Freesat on 6 August 2013.
In December 2015, Freesat announced the availability of an application for the Netflix subscription TV streaming service on the Humax HDR-1000S, HDR-1010S, HDR-1100S and HB-1000S Freetime receivers. Netflix is expected to be available on other Freetime receivers in the future.
In January 2016, Saorview, the Irish free TV service announced it would be launching an online catch-up and on-demand TV service using the commercial version of the Freetime software, including EPG roll-back and remote recording, with Freesat providing a fully managed service.
In September 2016 the BBC closed the MHEG version of the BBC iPlayer (V2) used on some older connected TVs and receivers (manufactured between 2008 and 2014). Freesat Freetime equipment using the HbbTV version was unaffected. The BBC recommended that consumers should purchase replacement receivers to continue to receive iPlayer.
At the launch of the service, there were two types of Freesat receivers available —standard definition-only receivers and high definition-capable receivers. As of July 2010 there are eleven companies licensed to produce Freesat boxes and televisions. Humax launched a Freesat recorder, Freesat+, which became available to the public in November 2008.
Following the initial launch, Panasonic introduced three plasma televisions with integrated HD Freesat receivers. At the end of October 2008, Panasonic brought out 2 more sizes which are the 32" and 37".
In April 2009 LG launched 4 LCD TVs with built-in Freesat receivers. The LG series is the LF7700 (discontinued mid-2010), with screen sizes of 32", 37", 42" and 47". Sony have released two televisions with Freesat receivers, the W5810 and Z5800 series, available from sizes 32" up to 52" and in 100 Hz and 200 Hz alternatives.
The service makes use of the same fleet of satellites as the subscription satellite service Sky: Astra 28.2°E and Eutelsat 28A. This means that any satellite dish which is positioned to receive these services will be capable of receiving Freesat, with the addition of a suitable receiver (or Television with receiver built in). Providing the LNB has sufficient outputs, a single dish may be used to receive multiple services (i.e. Sky and Freesat).
For users who do not currently have a satellite dish, Freesat offers an installation service which is made available through retailers and which is advertised in a leaflet included with Freesat receivers. A suitable dish may also be installed by the user or a non-Freesat-affiliated installer.
While Freesat systems work in Ireland, official branded Freesat receivers are not widely or officially marketed in the country. On 23 October 2008 several Irish retail chains including Maplin, Tesco Ireland and PowerCity began offering modified Freesat systems from Grundig and Alba that had their Freesat branding replaced with a Sat4free brand name. The requirement to enter a UK postcode was removed; the systems were instead set to use the version of the electronic programme guide appropriate for Northern Ireland through a hard-coded Belfast postcode. Sat4free was permanently closed down shortly after.
Outside the UK and Ireland
Although not intended for reception outside of the UK, it is possible to receive Freesat outside of the British Isles, although a larger dish may be required as the footprint of Astra 2E and Astra 2F (who carry all the channels from the BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5) is mainly focused on the UK and Ireland. Even residents of Eastern European countries, however, (who generally have giant dishes) can often have access to the Freesat UK services. Freesat receivers, however, ask for a UK postcode during installation, to determine where regional services are placed in the EPG and channel list.
Freesat broadcasts from the same fleet of satellites (Astra 28.2°E and Eutelsat 28A) as Sky. Channels are broadcast using DVB-S. The Freesat electronic programme guide is broadcast from the Eutelsat 28A satellite situated at 28.5° east. Freesat's role is not broadcasting or availability of channels (although the BBC and ITV are substantial broadcasters in their own right) but instead providing a platform for receiving the channels and the EPG.
All of the standard definition channels on Freesat are broadcast using DVB-S; ITV HD, NHK World HD and RT HD also use DVB-S. BBC One HD and BBC HD used DVB-S until 6 June 2011 when the satellite transponder carrying them was upgraded to DVB-S2. Channel 4 HD had launched using DVB-S2 but the transponder was downgraded to DVB-S on 28 March 2012. Standard definition channels are broadcast using MPEG-2, while high definition channels are broadcast using MPEG-4.
Since the channels are broadcast in-the-clear, they can also be received by non-Freesat receivers, including Sky Digiboxes.
The specification for Freesat boxes includes having an Ethernet port. This is to allow on demand programming from services such as BBC iPlayer or ITV Player to be viewed directly on the customer's television.
Open standards and technologies form the basis of Freesat's second generation Freetime receivers, including those from the Open IPTV Forum (OIPF), the Hybrid Broadcast Broadband TV (HbbTV) project and HTML5 browser technology, with the majority of the Freetime user interface built using the latter.
The table below attempts to show the quarterly and cumulative sales of Freesat equipment since the inception of the service. Sales rose through the first two-quarters of the service and then averaged around 120,000 per quarter while reported, leading to total sales of 350,000 by the end of Q1, 2009. Over 80% of all sales have been high definition receivers.
In the Q4 2009 report (from the table above), Ofcom reported that Freesat had announced the 1 million mark had been hit by the end of February 2010.
*Note: Ofcom stopped reporting Freesat Penetration Cumulatively and By Quarter starting with their Q3 2010 Report. Over 80% of Cumulative Freesat Unit Sales by the last update in Q2 2010 were Freesat HD units with the remainder Freesat SD. Upon release of the Q4 2010 data Ofcom stated that:
"The next report, scheduled for publication in June/July 2011, (Q1 2011) will be our 30th quarterly update. We have decided that in light of the progress that has been made towards Digital TV conversion, it is now appropriate to move to an annual cycle of reporting, with the first annual report being published in June 2012."
- Freesat from Sky
- Saorsat – a free-to-air satellite service for Ireland
- List of free-to-air channels at 28°E
- Astra – satellites carrying Freesat
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- "RTÉ AND SAORVIEW PARTNER WITH FREESAT TO DELIVER A NEXT-GENERATION PRODUCT FOR IRISH AUDIENCES" (PDF) (Press release). Freesat. January 20, 2016. Retrieved February 20, 2016.
- BBC iPlayer closure on some older TV devices BBC website September 29, 2016. Accessed November 30,2016
- "STV Player now available on the Freesat Platform" (PDF) (Press release). Freesat. October 18, 2016. Retrieved November 30, 2016.
- Note: that is, boxes or televisions designed for the Freesat platform, however anyone can produce a free-to-air receiver.
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- Official website
- BBC News: Q&A on Freesat
- List of Freesat (UK) Channels
- Radio and Telly: Freesat guide