Freesat is a British free-to-air satellite television service, provided by joint venture between the BBC and ITV plc. 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.
|Founded||16 May 2007|
|Products||Direct broadcast satellite, pay television, pay-per-view|
|Owner||BBC and ITV plc|
The service also makes use of the additional capacity available on satellite broadcasting to offer a selection of 17 (as of October 2018) high-definition channels from the BBC, ITV, Channel 5, Arirang TV, Bloomberg, Daystar, Discovery Networks, France 24, NHK, RT UK and TRT World.
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.
On 18 November 2008, Channel 5 commenced broadcasting a single channel via Freesat, eventually adding its ancillary services 5USA and 5* (now known as 5STAR) three years later in December 2011. It later added Channel 5 HD to Freesat following the removal of BBC Three (BBC iii) as an SD & HD TV channel (when it moved to on line and BBC iPlayer only).
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 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, but will be withdrawn from 22 February 2018. 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. BBC Three and BBC Three HD have been rebranded as BBC iii and now only available on the BBC i player, but in HD if your television is HD ready and can be connected to the internet either directly (using an Ethernet cable) or via wi-fi or via your computer online. You now have to pay a licence fee to receive all BBC TV channels legally on all devices.
Channel 4 pulled its 4HD service from Freesat on 22 February 2018, along with its catch up on demand ALL4 service. It is claiming Freesat has significantly increased Channel 4's fee for the Freesat platform. Freesat claim however that they have not increased their fee for the ALL4 catch up service. Channel 5 HD and S4C HD are continuing to broadcast on Freesat, along with all the Channel 4 SD (standard definition) channels including Channel 4 SD, Film 4, E4, 4Seven 4 Music and the +1 channels. The Channel 4HD programme guide was also withdrawn on this date. The Channel 4 SD channels remain on Freesat (inc. Channel 4 SD and the SD versions of E4, Film 4 and 4Seven and 4 Music and all the +1 channels) and the programme guide can still be seen on the Channel 4 SD channel.
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. Other available regions may be chosen by putting a different post code into your box for your preferred TV region. BBC English Regional content is only available in SD, whereas Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland programmes are in HD on BBC One only.
Future channels and recent launches
On 7 January 2019 UK national radio station Virgin Radio joined the Freesat digital radio channels.
On 16 January 2019 male-orientated lifestyle channel, DMAX launched on Freesat channel 150, replacing Discovery’s Travel Channel on free-to-air. With content centred on around survival, extreme lives, motoring and comedy, DMAX joins Discovery FTA stablemates, Quest, Quest Red and the Food Network
The Smithsonian Channel launched its first European service in the UK on Freesat on 12 February 2019 with original content spanning a wide range of non-fiction topics, including history, travel, air and space, science, nature and pop culture, inspired by the Smithsonian Institution.
The UK free-to-air entertainment channel operated by Channel 5, Paramount Network, joined Freesat on 17 April 2019 on channel 132.
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 Hub is available for Humax increased to a 30 day catch up service from the original 7 day service but with a larger ITV ident/logo in the top left of the screen], Manhattan, and some Sagemcom devices, however it is not available on 2nd Generation Humax devices to viewers using DG and TD postcodes. It is not clear why this is the case.
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 now ALL4 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 BBC iPlayer and ITV Hub 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.
All4 (formerly 4OD) was added to the [Humax] Freesat service soon after its launch online; however, due to fee increases at start of 2018, Channel 4 have withdrawn the All4 on-demand service from all boxes that carry the Freesat Freetime service, from 22 February 2018 as well as taking Channel 4HD from all HD-capable Freesat devices.
In March 2019, Channel 5's Demand 5 app providing catch-up for Channel 5, 5 STAR, 5 USA, 5 SELECT, 5 Spike and Paramount Network was replaced on Freesat by My5, with a change in user interface, a selection of programmes from partner channels, BLAZE, BET, PBS America, Real Stories, Spark and Together, and some programmes shown online exclusively or ahead of broadcast.
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 group of Astra satellites at 28.2°E as the Sky subscription satellite service. This means that a 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). Provided that the LNB has sufficient outputs, a single dish may be used to receive multiple services (i.e. Sky and Freesat). However, a dish with an LNB for the Sky Q service cannot be used with a Freesat receiver because Sky Q uses a wideband LNB which is incompatible with Freesat receivers. A "Hybrid" Sky Q LNB can be used as it has both wideband outputs for Sky Q and conventional universal LNB outputs for non-Sky Q receivers, including 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 UK and Ireland, 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) as Sky. Channels are broadcast using DVB-S. 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. Interactive television is done using MHEG-5 rather than the proprietary OpenTV platform used by Sky. Channel 4HD will no longer be available from 22 March 2018.
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 Hub 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 shows the quarterly and cumulative sales of Freesat equipment in the first years of the service.
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 with the Q3 2010 Report, and stopped quarterly reports at the end of 2010. Indications are that Freesat penetration largely plateaued in late 2010.
In May 2017, Freesat announced that 904,000 devices capable of receiving the platform were sold in 2016, with the installed base increasing 58,000 year-on-year and passing 2 million during the course of the year.
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