British public service broadcasters are to launch a new free online television service, to be called Freely. It will allow viewers to watch their channels and on-demand programming delivered online. Set for launch in 2024, Freely will be developed by Everyone TV, the organisation formerly known as Digital UK, jointly owned by the BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5. Everyone TV, which runs Freeview and Freesat, says the service will be built into the next generation of smart television sets.
Jonathan Thompson, the chief executive of Everyone TV said: “We are delighted to be working with the public service broadcasters on the next phase of free TV’s evolution. This new development is a reflection of the fact that a growing number of UK viewers are watching content online, but still want easy access to the shared experience of live TV.
“Our aim is to ensure that all viewers have access to a free, aggregated live TV experience that champions British content and is delivered in a way that suits audience needs and preferences. Every one of us should be able to share in the best of British ideas and creativity on TV.”
Around 4 million homes in the United Kingdom, or about 15% of households, do not have an antenna, dish, or cable connection.
Sky, Virgin Media O2, and BT currently offer services that are available online on a subscription basis. The public service broadcasters also offer their live channels through separate online apps like the BBC iPlayer and ITVX.
Total television viewing has fallen over the last ten years and this has not been compensated for by the growth in online viewing, either through broadcaster video-on-demand services like the BBC iPlayer or subscription video services like Netflix.
The decline is even more pronounced among those aged 16-34, who watched broadcast programming for an average of just one hour a day in 2022, including live at the time of transmission, playback of recorded programmes, and viewing on-demand.
Tim Davie, the director general of the BBC, said: “Ensuring the universality of public-service television is sustained into the future is of paramount importance to the UK and all its public service broadcasters. We are delighted to be deepening our collaboration in helping viewers access our content, ensuring that, in a digital age, we deliver value for all audiences and that no one is left behind.”
Dame Carolyn McCall, the chief executive of ITV, said: “As more and more UK households use internet-connected TVs, it’s critical that the public service broadcaster channels remain available and easy for them to find. This new collaboration enables the UK public to continue to get all of their favourite British TV channels, for free – just as Freeview did at the advent of digital TV. Alongside the important reforms set out in the draft Media Bill it will help PSBs to continue to thrive for years to come.”
Alex Mahon, the chief executive of Channel 4, said: “Streaming TV is increasingly the new normal for audiences, particularly young viewers, so it has never been more important for trusted PSB content to be readily available to everyone, for free. We look forward to working closely with our PSB partners so that when the Media Bill’s prominence provisions become law, the technology to make Britain’s favourite TV shows easy to find will already be in place.”
Maria Kyriacou, of Paramount, which owns Channel 5, said: “We know that British audiences continue to have a strong appetite for the high quality, relevant and impartial content provided by our UK public service broadcasters such as Channel 5. This new collaboration across the PSBs will ensure that, as these viewers continue to shift to IP enabled televisions, they continue to have an easy way to access the channels and content they know and love.”