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New Freely Details Are Equally Concerning and Exciting

For those of you who see our weekly newsletters, you'll be familiar with "Freely", the 100% online TV service which offers live TV through an EPG just like terrestrial or satellite, but uses Broadband to do so. This IPTV system is under wraps for now, but new details confirm a release date range, an expanded brand line-up and the expected coverage of Internet-accessed TV by 2030.

To see our coverage of the initial announcements and expanded grounds for the concerns here, read the original article and it's January 2024 update here.

How far do these new announcements go to put our concerns at ease?

Freely Announces New Brand-Partners

One of the issues of Freely was the lack of clarity on how we access it. Not least because live TV streaming (Especially in HD) will certainly have a minimum broadband speed requirement, but also because Freely previously confirmed that Hisense Televisions would be built with this new service installed. This raises the question: If new Hisense TVs are being built to facilitate Freely, will anyone else be able to even access it on release?

The recent announcement did somewhat address this concern, but certainly not remove it entirely. Everyone TV have confirmed a second brand partner, Vestel, who are a manufacturer of TVs spanning multiple brands. This expands the pool of available Freely TVs on launch, but doesn't confirm whether our current Smart TVs in our living rooms across the nation will be able to just download a Freely app and be sorted!

The prospect that we might all have to switch to certain brands, in order to access a "free" TV service, would be one way to disguise the real cost of said service.

Furthermore, the Vestel spokesman stated they are thrilled to be "offering customers TVs that are compatible with Freely". This is concerning because it rather implies that other TVs wont be compatible with Freely, otherwise the statement is rather redundant. What this means is that while Freely is "Free", if Freely-enabled TVs are more expensive than non-Freely-enabled TVs we are essentially still going to be paying for the service.

With the Current Laws, Freely Will Require a TV Licence

We wrote an extended article about when, where and why you need a TV licence in the UK. Freely TVs, being in the household and connected to the mains while offering Live TV (No matter how it is accessed) will be under the current TV licence requirement. This adds your standard TV licence fee on top of the cost of converting to Freely if your current TV is not "compatible with Freely".

Unfortunately there have been no further specifications on what qualifies a "compatible TV".

IPTV Expected to Skyrocket

Part of the Everyone TV update references a study by "3 Reasons" (An analytics company that is almost impossible to Google due to the name) which estimates 50% of TV viewing will be internet-based by 2030. When we consider the Government still have a 2034 timer on Freeview, it's a very real possibility that Freely gets pushed as a replacement. If the Government make Broadband more accessible and Freely is available on all Smart TV units then I can certainly see that 50% becoming 95% (The current TV coverage in the UK) by 2034. When the Freeview safety-net expires in 2034, the Government could pull another "Digital Switchover" but this time to internet-enabled TV.

The main problem with this is that, while 98% of UK homes have potential access to Broadband, this doesn't speak to that broadband's affordability or speed. Just because a home has broadband doesn't mean the owner can afford the highest package providing the speeds needed for Live TV streaming. Or, even if they can afford it, the area may be particularly difficult to service and internet may be unpredictable.

Having TV and internet as separate entities is far more adaptive. If the internet goes down, you can always watch Freeview, or if you lose Freeview signal from an outage you can quickly catch-up online. By making TV and catch-up all internet-based, Freely puts all their eggs in one basket. This could result in us becoming even more dependent on an Internet connection, raising the potential to be forced into unattractive internet packages.

Wait and See in Q2 2024

The final nugget of information we were ordained was a release window. We already knew Hisense TVs with Freely were due in 2024, but now it seems Q2 2024 is the goal. For the initiated, that just means "Quarter 2" of 2024 so anytime between March and June depending on the rollout.

While I have been cautious to accept Freely, and my concerns are not unfounded, I do not mean to put anyone off. Accessible TV is the most important thing, and there are areas with better internet than Freeview signal. However, it is the uncertainty over branding, hidden costs and dependence on "compatibility" which bring the mood down, at least until we can confirm more detail on release in Q2 2024.

Stay Tuned!

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