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Broadcasters launch Freely TV in United Kingdom

The service offers streaming versions of linear channels and on-demand content from Britain's public service broadcasters.

The service offers streaming versions of linear channels and on-demand content from Britain's public service broadcasters.

The electronic program guide for the forthcoming British streaming service Freely. (Courtesy photo)
The electronic program guide for the forthcoming British streaming service Freely. (Courtesy photo)

The United Kingdom has a new option to watch live television from its free-to-air broadcasters.

Freely TV debuted this week, bringing streaming versions of the BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5’s linear broadcast channels to streamers across the U.K.

The Freely TV app is now available on smart TVs sold throughout the country, and is intended to help Britain’s free-to-air broadcasters embrace the trend of TV consumers moving away from traditional forms of TV consumption toward digital platforms like streaming.

In addition to offering linear content channels from Britain’s public service broadcasters, Freely TV serves up thousands of TV shows and movies from the on-demand catalogs of the participating TV networks.

Freely TV is the first app that offers streaming channels from all four main public service broadcasters.

“The launch of Freely is a historic moment for U.K. television,” Kieran Clifton, the Director of the BBC’s distribution and business development sector, said in a statement. “Collaboration between the UK PSBs is critical to connecting and protecting all audiences as we transition towards the streaming era – and delivering live TV over broadband for free is a ground-breaking innovation that will future-proof public service broadcasting.”

Martin Goswami, the Director of ITV’s group strategic partnerships and distribution, said the network’s successful and impactful programs demonstrates the importance of the country’s public service broadcasters, “and ITV is proud to be part of this exciting new chapter for free TV in this country with Freely.”

“Bringing live-streamed channels and on demand content together in Freely gives viewers the opportunity to access the very best in British content as easily as possible, from live and recent programs to a wealth of on-demand options,” Goswami affirmed.

While Freely will be free to access, streamers who watch live content through the service will still have to pay the country’s television tax, called a TV license, if they want to stay on the good side of the law. The TV license costs around £170 per year (about U.S. $213 per year), and primarily funds the BBC’s television and radio operations. ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5 are funded through advertisements; Channel 5 is owned by American media conglomerate Paramount Global.

Still, Freely aims to take the friction out of watching linear and on-demand content by providing TV viewers with a centralized location for their channels, shows and movies transmitted by the public service broadcasters.

“Freely will deliver the best of Britain’s world-leading public service content seamlessly and for free,” Grace Boswood, the technology and distribution director at Channel 4, said on Tuesday. “It further supports Channel 4’s Fast Forward strategy as we accelerate our transformation into the streaming age, ensuring our trusted, brand-safe content is available to everyone.”

“We’re delighted to be part of Freely, which will ensure UK audiences can continue to easily discover and enjoy original, high quality British programs from Channel 5 and the other public service broadcasters – live and on-demand, for free,” James Tatam, the Senior Vice President of business and revenue at Channel 5, said on Tuesday.

Viewers in Scotland and Wales will also have access to STV and S4C, respectively. STV holds the channel 3 license in Scotland and provides programs from ITV to viewers there; S4C holds the channel 4 broadcast license in Wales and offers programs in Welsh with English subtitles.

Freely joins two other services that offer free-to-air linear television channels from Britain’s public service broadcasters. The other two include Freeview, which offers digital TV channels sent over broadcast, and satellite-based Freesat.

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About the Author:

Matthew Keys

Matthew Keys is a nationally-recognized, award-winning journalist who has covered the business of media, technology, radio and television for more than 10 years. He is the publisher of The Desk and contributes to Know Techie, Digital Content Next and StreamTV Insider. He previously worked for Thomson Reuters, the Walt Disney Company, McNaughton Newspapers and Tribune Broadcasting.
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