Freesat, launched in 2008, is a very big player in the broadcast business in the United Kingdom. BBC has entered into a joint venture with fellow broadcasting industry behemoth ITV plc to offer this free-to-air service as an attractive option to Freeview which offers a number of channels on its digital terrestrial television service and also to Freesat from Sky.
Freesat offers an impressive array of digital satellite programming thanks to its large capacity, and it also broadcasts HD programmes from a number of popular channels such as Channel 4 and RT UK in addition, needless to say, to the BBC and ITV.
Both the BBC and ITV offer their digital programming through any of three options. Content is available free-to-air via satellite or terrestrial and for a subscription via cable. Both companies used to encrypt their channels initially since they used satellites that broadcast over parts of Europe that they did not have broadcast rights over. UK based customers were therefore required to buy the right equipment in order to view the content.
The BBC’s decision to use a satellite with a narrower footprint that focused on the United Kingdom enabled it to do away with encryption. ITV was also able to do the same and both companies offered their channels free-to-air in 2003. It is possible to receive these channels using a standard digital satellite receiver, preferably one that is licensed by Freesat.
Freesat is a very important development in the UK broadcasting business because it provides users with a fully managed service that contains a number of interactive features. There were plans to roll it out in 2006 but delays in approvals meant that it was finally unveiled two years later.
Freesat now offers a wide range of high-definition channels but it initially launched with BBC HD only (this was later replaced by BBC Two). ITV HD was quickly added to it, but only as a “red-button” interactive service. It took about a year for this service to become a full-time channel. BBc followed this up with BBC One HD. Soon, Channel 4 HD and NHK World HD were also added. Additional channels have also been included from time to time, such as during the 2012 London Olympics and the following Paralympics. Freesat continues to get additional channels, with the latest ones being Drama, Yesterday and Really.
Future plans for Freesat include the addition of pay content, especially so that films could be broadcast (as long as they did not have adult content). However, this comes with a stipulation that live streaming of sports would not be permitted. It is understood that this content would be managed by a third party.
Television companies have been quick to offer television sets with in-built HD Freesat receivers. Companies such as Panasonic, LG and Sony offer these television sets in many attractive size options. Interestingly, there is quite a bit of demand for Freesat in Ireland and parts of continental Europe. In fact, Eastern Europeans are also able to capture Freesat’s content since they tend to have very large dishes.