Freely is the latest evolution in live online streaming

The new Freely streaming service promises to simplify the task of watching live British television online.

Friday, 13 October, 2023

Given the internet’s maturity, and the plethora of streaming platforms piping content into our homes, watching live TV online can be a surprisingly challenging process.

The BBC offers live streaming of its various channels through iPlayer, but other terrestrial broadcasters are less well-prepared.

Venture onto the recently rebranded ITVX app, for instance, and you might be baffled by the lack of streaming options.

On most smart TVs, the ‘streaming’ menu option is missing. Only Samsung TVs currently support live transmission of ITV’s four live channels.

Attempting to stream live ITV content through a web browser often leads to the same issue, yet Android and iOS devices support it without difficulty.

The More4 and My5 apps also have their challenges, which is why the recent unveiling of Freely deserves note.

This extension of Freeview has been developed by the same parent company. It will provide live streaming content across the various BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5 stations.

Best of all, it should be platform agnostic, whether you’re watching on a tablet using public WiFi, on a smart TV without a terrestrial aerial, or on a phone using 5G.

Free’ to those who can afford it…

Piping live TV to smart devices over home broadband isn’t a revolutionary concept, and given the success of Freeview, it’s surprising Freely has taken so long to debut.

Most streaming services in this country have hitherto focused on archive material and on-demand content.

BritBox is the classic example of this, repackaging BBC and ITV content for the digital age while missing out on its suppliers’ new content.

Freeview is also geared more towards on-demand content than live streaming, whereas Freely is intended to offer both.

Freely will additionally consolidate content in one location, which is useful for channel-surfers and consumers who don’t want four different apps for four different broadcasters.

Needless to say, there won’t be a cost levied on this new app.

It’ll be accessible by pretty much everyone, requiring 5Mbps connection speeds – which 99 per cent of UK homes already have.

Watch this space

At the time of writing, relatively little technical detail about Freely has been released, with the service itself not anticipated to launch until next year.

We don’t know whether pre-roll adverts will play before a live stream commences, which would sit uneasily with public service content yet might be requested by commercial stations.

There’s no information on whether this will replace existing streaming platforms like ITVX, and we don’t know the technical aspects being proposed – codecs, compression and so forth.

It isn’t even obvious whether these live streams will be in standard definition, HD and/or 4K, depending on either consumer choice or variable file bitrates.

However, many people will be delighted to see live terrestrial TV content accessible online, within a single platform and backed by Freeview’s broadcasting know-how.

Freely should join the roster of pre-installed apps on future smart TVs, with the inevitable apps to follow.

It’ll initially be aimed at the 15 per cent of British households using the internet as their primary broadcasting connection – a figure set to rise as IP services replace over-the-air broadcasts.

It will also benefit people who either aren’t allowed to have a TV aerial mounted to their homes, don’t want one, or can’t connect every TV in the house to an aerial socket.

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!