Subject to regulatory approvals, the companies responsible for Freeview and Freesat will be merged.
Digital UK is the technical platform provider behind Freeview, while Freesat (UK) Ltd controls the free-to-air satellite platform of the same name.
The BBC, ITV and Channel 4 have confirmed plans to integrate Digital UK Ltd, which facilitates the provision of Freeview TV services and Freesat (UK) Ltd, which offers access to the UK’s subscription-free satellite service.
The integration of Digital UK and Freesat will help ensure viewers continue to have access to a range of free-to-view TV services in the UK as well as benefit from technological innovations and developments across the two services.
How will the proposed merger affect viewers?
If the merger is approved, the new entity will be responsible for the onward technical development of both terrestrial and satellite free-to-air platforms in the UK.
New features, such as next generation receivers, new apps as well as integration of streaming services can be developed together. A common technical platform will remove the differences in apps available on Freeview and Freesat. The future Electronic Programme Guide (EPG) can be harmonised – so it looks the same on both terrestrial, satellite and planned future internet-only receivers.
A common brand such as Freeview Play could eventually be adopted for both satellite and terrestrial services.
It doesn’t mean that Freesat and Freeview will suddenly start to offer the same channels overnight. This is because individual broadcasters will have different carriage and licensing arrangements for terrestrial and satellite. And a satellite dish won’t suddenly enable you to access Freeview. But as streaming becomes more relevant, barriers stopping some Freesat channels from appearing on Freeview are reduced. So regardless of whether your receiver is terrestrial + internet (e.g. Freeview Play) or satellite + internet (e.g. Freesat) or even satellite + terrestrial + internet (e.g. some Smart TVs), you’ll see an alignment in what’s on offer.
The shareholders in the new company will be the BBC, ITV and Channel 4. It follows Arqiva’s departure from Digital UK in March. Consequently, it gives Channel 4 a say in the running of free-to-air digital satellite services for the first time. It comes several years after Channel 4 and Freesat fell out, resulting in All4 and Channel 4 HD disappearing from Freesat boxes.
Jonathan Thompson, CEO, Digital UK, says: “We welcome this opportunity to work more closely with Freesat whilst continuing to deliver our mission of ensuring everyone in the UK can access a high quality TV service for free. The combined entity will promote the very best of free-to-view content whilst reflecting the changing nature of consumer consumption.”
Alistair Thom, CEO, Freesat, says: “We believe that building on the best that both Freesat and DUK have to offer will ensure that free to air continues to be an exciting and vibrant proposition for UK consumers. This proposition will continue to provide UK viewers with great content however they choose to consume it, whether that is linear or on demand.”