A free alternative to the Sky+ digital video recorder comes in the form of Freesat+, the satellite equivalent to Freeview+. Humax will be first to market with a high-definition capable recorder for the free satellite television platform in the United Kingdom. Digital video recorders apparently allow viewers to skip adverts, although television advertising advocates suggest that they rarely do so, despite what you might think.

Freesat+ will not provide as many channels as the pay-television service from Sky but as with Freeview+ it offers a cheap alternative that brings the benefits of a digital video recorder for a one-off payment.

The Humax Foxsat-HDR has two tuners, allowing two programmes to be recorded at the same time. It comes with a 320 gigabyte hard drive able to store around 80 hours of high-definition material or 200 hours in standard definition. It can be connected to a suitable existing satellite connection and will cost just under £300, with no further subscription fees.

Emma Scott, the managing director of Freesat, the joint venture between the BBC and ITV, described it as “an exciting milestone”.

Over 100,000 Freesat receivers have been sold in the United Kingdom since the platform was launched six months ago.

That compares to more than two million digital terrestrial receivers sold in the country in the second quarter of 2008. Around 1.4 million of these were digital televisions, many of which now include digital tuners.

So far, Freesat does not seem to have made a significant negative impact on subscriptions to Sky satellite television services. However, the availability of a Freesat+ digital video recorder, combined with the tougher economic climate, could increase the pressure on the pay-television platform.

By the end of the year, Informa Telecoms & Media forecasts that there will be just over 56 million digtal video recorders installed worldwide, which represents 18%, or just under one in five, of homes with digital television.

Skipping adverts
Brand Republic, a web site for the advertising and marketing industry, published a video vox pop suggesting that many people with digital video recorders may be skipping adverts.

This promptly drew a robust rebuttal from Tess Alps of the television advertising advocacy group Thinkbox. “This is a ridiculous story,” she wrote. “Can you please explain the point of asking six people in a London Street to explain their Sky+ behaviour when Sky already has the actual behavioural data from 7,000 Skyview homes?”

She suggested that the 18% of people with Sky+ spend about 17% of their time watching recorded television, so only about 3% of adverts are skipped. Tess Alps argued that because people with digital video recorders tend to watch more television they actually see more adverts. She cited research suggesting that even at 30 times speed, the impact of adverts was about 65% of those viewed at normal speed. Furthermore, because they are not rated, they are effectively free to advertisers.

It occurs to us that if this is true, advertisers could save money by editing their 30 second spots into 25 random frames, although such blipverts could be considered to be a form of subliminal advertising, which would be illegal.

The view that people with digital video recorders only watch recorded programmes a sixth of the time does not accord with the anecdotal experience of many. This may be because those that profess to skip adverts are more media literate and unrepresentative of the population at large, or because self-reported behaviour is inaccurate.

“People lie both consciously and unconsciously because for some bizarre reason we’ve made people feel guilty about watching telly,” according to Tess Alps of Thinkbox. “That’s why research techniques that exclude dodgy self-awareness and posturing are so important.”

An opportunity to independently validate the Skyview panel data would be welcomed by informitv. The second by second data recorded from thousands of set-top boxes will no doubt provide many fascinating insights into viewing behaviour.