UK free-to-view satellite platform Freesat reported “strong quarterly growth” in the first quarter of 2014, adding 18,000 homes and ending the quarter with a user base of 1.84 million households.
Freesat, which first launched six years ago this week, now says it is watched by more than 3.8 million viewers every week, in what it claims “demonstrates the strong appeal of premium TV on a subscription-free basis.”
Freesat’s connected TV service Freetime now accounts for 41% of all Freesat set top box sales, according to the quarterly stats, with sales of Freetime boxes having more than doubled year-on year.
Freesat said that demand for its mobile app has also been strong with total downloads now at over 200,000 since launching just over 100 days ago. The app works as a remote control, acts as a guide to what’s on TV, and lets viewers set recordings remotely.
“I’m delighted that Freesat’s strong 2013 momentum has continued into the first quarter of 2014. Free TV has never been so vibrant or compelling. TV fans are switching on to our Freetime service and switching away from pay TV and the expensive contracts that go with it,” said Freesat managing director Emma Scott.
The quarterly figures follow recent partnership deals with TV makers Panasonic and Vestel. The Panasonic deal makes Freetime the preferred TV guide in the new range of Viera TVs that are now on sale in the UK, while the Vestel deal will see Freetime included on a wide range of TVs and set top boxes, including those sold by high street retailers Sainsbury’s, Tesco and Argos.
Netflix says that it is now streaming in Ultra HD 4K quality over the web, with the second season of its original drama House of Cards and several nature films available in the format.
In an official blog post, Netflix said that though its catalogue of Ultra HD 4K movies is currently small, it expects to add more 4K content and increase the number of devices this can be accessed on later this year.
Alongside House of Cards, Netflix viewers can also access a number of nature films in 4K from photographer and filmmaker Louie Schwarztberg. Later this year Netflix said it will add AMC drama Breaking Bad in 4K along with “more Netflix original productions.”
The first TVs capable of streaming Netflix Ultra HD 4K include the Samsung UH8550 and UH9000. Netflix said more TVs that support Netflix in 4K will be in stores soon from Samsung, Sony, LG, and Vizio.
“If you buy one of these new TVs, just connect it to a power outlet and the internet, turn it on and sign into Netflix. Ultra HD 4K streaming will work out of the box,” said Netflix.
“Market researchers predict that consumers will buy a million Ultra HD 4K TVs this year and even more in subsequent years. We expect it will likely take up to 5 years before Ultra HD 4K becomes mainstream; when most of the TVs on store shelves are Ultra HD 4K.”
UK commercial broadcaster ITV is to launch a pay TV channel on the BSkyB platform later this year.
The new service, ITV Encore, will feature ITV drama series from recentyears and will, from next year, screen original commissions.
ITV has also struck a deal with Sky that will see ITV content being made available through Sky’s online and connected TV platforms Sky+ HD, Sky Go, Now TV and Sky Store.
The move marks the commercial broadcaster’s first significant foray into pay TV since the failure of the ill-fated digital terrestrial platform ITV Digital in 2002.
The deal with Sky also includes the launch of ITV catch up and archive VoD and simulcast of ITV channels on Sky Go, together with launch of ITV Player on the Now TV box, and the renewal of the carriage deal for ITV 2, 3 and 4 HD and ITV catch up and archive VOD on the Sky+ HD platform.
“ITV’s brilliant dramas contributed to a fantastic on-screen performance last year – we had three out of the top five dramas in 2013, which helped us increase our share of viewing on the main channel for the first time in a decade,” said ITV CEO Adam Crozier. “The time is absolutely right to build on our successful partnership with Sky with the launch of ITV Encore, which will be an important part of ITV’s family of channels, and will complement ITV3, home to our long-running, classic drama series. ITV Encore is right in line with our strategy of growing non advertising revenues while at the same time creating even greater opportunities to showcase new drama.”
UK free-to-air satellite operator Freesat has launched a new app that will let viewers plan what to watch and control their TVs from their mobile device.
Launched today, the free Freesat App is available to download on Apple iOS devices and will act as a companion to Freesat’s connected TV platform, Freetime.
Viewers will be able to use the app to browse programme picks for the week ahead, scroll back through Freesat’s backwards EPG, search for content, remotely set programmes to record, and launch on-demand programmes to play on their TV.
“The new Freesat App is, we believe, a game changer for the free TV market. January is naturally a popular month for staying in – so it’s perfect timing to make the most of all the great new TV programmes that are on via the Freesat App,” said Freesat managing director Emma Scott.
She added that the launch fits with Freesat’s “core goal” of opening up “fantastic subscription-free TV.”
Freesat’s Freetime service gives viewers access to on-demand services from all the main UK terrestrial broadcasters – the BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and Channel Five. It also offers set-top access to YouTube, with Scott telling DTVE that Freesat is currently talking to more on-demand content providers.
The Freesat app was developed in-house with support from London-based app design and development firm, Nice Agency. The initial release is for Apple devices only, but there are plans for an Android version to follow, said Scott.
Pay TV provider Sky leads the catch-up TV market in the UK, expanding its content offering 50% quarter-over-quarter in the last three months of 2013, according to new stats from digital media consultancy, Decipher.
The VOD Audit for Q4 2013 claims that Sky grew its catch-up TV offering to 3,181 programmes in the quarter, narrowly beating BT’s YouView service by 144 shows.
Sky also beat the number of catch-up assets offered by rival pay TV providers Talk Talk and Virgin Media, which offered 2,836 and 1,770 shows respectively, according to the report.
“Interestingly, whilst there was no significant change in Virgin Media’s own on-demand offering, the Liberty Global-owned firm have recently added Netflix access to their TiVo set top boxes, giving their TV service a boost of over 12,000 episodes and movies,” said Decipher.
However, Decipher added that its collection method meant that this content isn’t included in Virgin’s overall figures.
Other findings of the quarterly report were that, of all UK services, the most VOD is available on iTunes, with 65,063 assets – which Decipher audited for the first time in Q4 2013.
New Year’s Day was the best day ever for the iPlayer with 11 million TV and radio programme requests lodged on the BBC’s catch-up service as viewers caught up on the UK pubcaster’s line-up of festive programming.
That compares with 8.1 million requests on New Year’s Day 2013 and equates to a 35% year-on-year increase in programme requests.
iPlayer boss Dan Taylor revealed the stats in a blog post. He went on to note that Doctor Who was the single most requested programme with almost two million requests, ahead of soap opera Eastenders, the Mrs Brown’s Boys Christmas Special, Call the Midwife Christmas Special and kids and family drama Gangsta Granny.
The other notable trend in iPlayer usage over the Christmas and New Year period was the increase in viewing over connected tablet devices. Having proved a popular gift on Christmas Day, iPlayer viewing on tablets overtook that of computer viewing for the first time ever on December 26. Almost a million consumers downloaded the iPlayer tablet app over the holiday season.
There was also an uptick in iPlayer usage on connected TVs and mobile devices although these trailed tablets and computers.
Across 2013, Taylor said that there were 102 million requests for TV and radio programmes (80 million of the total were for TV).
UK satellite TV provider Sky is due to add 12 more channels to its Catch Up TV service before the end of the year and is expanding its collection of TV series Box Sets this autumn.
Sky said that it is adding Discovery, TLC, E!, Star, Watch, Gold, Dave, Alibi, Cartoon Network, Boomerang, Cartoonito and Sky News to its free Catch Up TV service.
Entertainment Extra+ customers will also see almost a hundred series of TV Box Sets join the Sky service this autumn, which will be available via Sky+HD boxes with selected shows also due to be available on mobile devices with Sky Go.
Box Set series due to be added include five series of HBO drama The Wire, six seasons of The Sopranos, seasons one and two of Game of Thrones and the first three seasons of Mad Men.
British series like I’m Alan Partridge, An Idiot Abroad, Extras and The Inbetweeners will also be included as part of the expanded offering.
“We know how important it is for our customers to have the flexibility to watch the shows everyone is talking about when it suits them. That’s why this autumn we are introducing more TV series to our TV Box Set service, to ensure we have Box Sets of the latest and greatest shows ready for customers to catch up on whenever they want,” said Luke Bradley-Jones, Sky’s brand director of TV products.
UK connected TV platform YouView has released the first in a series of updates to deliver better accessibility for blind and partially sighted customers as well as those with motor skill and cognitive impairment.
The initial software update includes the option of changing the iconic blue and black YouView programme guide to high contrast black and white, enabling visually impaired users to read the text more easily.
The mini TV screen available in the top right hand corner of the programme guide also now has the option to be switched off, offering easier navigation for customers with cognitive disorders.
The update will initially only be available on YouView set-top boxes purchased at retail. Customers with YouView from BT or TalkTalk will receive accessibility updates in due course, according to YouView.
Susie Buckridge, director of product at YouView said, “We want everyone across the UK to be able to enjoy their favourite TV via YouView and to do this we understand how important it is to for YouView to be accessible. We have worked closely with the RNIB and Scope to ensure everything we add will allow the YouView journey to be seamless and easy as possible for all of our customers.”
Further updates for this audience will be added to the service in the next few months.