Coming soon: Freely will bring Freeview telly into the streaming age

Freely could transform our relationship with streaming TV – and it’s coming soon to a screen near you.

Friday, 29 March, 2024

If you haven’t heard of Everyone TV, you’re not alone. Yet you’ve undoubtedly heard of their services.

Formerly known as Digital UK, Everyone TV is the company that runs Freeview – the biggest free-to-view TV platform in the UK, backed by all our terrestrial broadcasters.

Across Freeview and the niche Freesat satellite service, around 170 channels of televisual content are provided free of charge to millions of households.

More significantly, Everyone will soon be launching a third brand which could effectively render Freeview redundant.

That might sound counterintuitive, but it’s actually a tacit acknowledgement that live broadcasting is going to become increasingly peripheral to consumer viewing experiences…

Truly madly Freely

Everyone’s new platform has been christened Freely, and it’s scheduled to launch later this spring.

Its origins lie in research that suggests most UK homes will watch TV exclusively over broadband by the end of this decade.

That’s inspired a move away from simulcasting live broadcasts, towards a more integrated platform where streaming and live TV are adjacent – and treated as equal.

Freely will enable viewers to flick between live and on-demand content from the likes of BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5 in a single location.

It’ll include a pop-up mini programme guide whenever a channel is changed, while live and on-demand programming from the UK’s terrestrial networks will be available in one browser menu.

For anyone still wanting to watch live programming such as sporting events, a seven-day EPG will be consistently presented across all Freely interfaces, for intuitive operation.

The first screenshots of the interface were released last month, resembling a monochrome version of Sky’s EPG but with one or two distinguishing touches.

The current time will be displayed as a vertical line through each live channel listing, enabling you to see at a glance the proportion of a live show you’ve already missed.

From there, it’s an easy decision whether to continue watching or stream it on catch-up.

As well as the five main terrestrial channels and their various spin-offs (E4+1, BBC Four, etc), Everyone is also negotiating with UKTV to add the likes of Dave, Yesterday and W.

Why is this necessary?

A series of reports from both sides of the Atlantic have underlined that terrestrial television is in retreat amid changing consumer habits and the greater convenience offered by on-demand services.

The UK has a proud history of marquee television that brings people together at set times – from Emmerdale and Eastenders to Line of Duty and Mr Bates vs the Post Office.

Yet even this consensus is crumbling amid an onslaught of (mostly American) streaming platforms, against which BritBox is a rare domestic success story.

Freely will address the dated and largely on-demand nature of Freeview Play, as well as catering to the estimated 15 per cent of UK homes which now have no aerials or dishes.

Nor is this a service only available to premises with full fibre. An internet connection of just 5Mbps should be sufficient to watch HD streams.

Technical data was limited at the time of writing, so there’s no detail on whether TV manufacturers will include a Freely button, or whether there’ll be an HDD recording option.

Because the likes of ITV and Channel 5 rely heavily on advertising revenue (Channel 4 is part-funded by the licence fee), expect lots of unavoidable adverts on the platform.

However, Freely does point towards a seemingly inevitable future, where live broadcasting is largely peripheral to streaming services with their when-and-where-you-want convenience.

Neil Cumins author picture


Neil is our resident tech expert. He's written guides on loads of broadband head-scratchers and is determined to solve all your technology problems!