Free-to-view (FTV) is a very commonly used term in the broadcast business. It refers to encrypted transmissions, containing audio or video content, that are provided to users at no charge. People tend to confuse it with free-to-air (FTA), but the difference is that transmission is not encrypted in the latter.
Since free-to-view services are always encrypted, they can only be viewed using special equipment for reception. These include a specific conditional access module as well as a viewing card. However, as the name indicates, the content is available for free. In other words, there is no need to pay a regular subscription to access the channels available on the service. Instead, access to the broadcast content might be available for a one time payment, if it is not offered for free.
It is interesting to note that a few services that offer content for a regular fee come under the category of free-to-view because they charge a fee for the delivery and not for the content. This makes them different from regular pay TV. Germany’s HD+ service is a very good example of this kind of service. It offers a package of popular TV channels in high definition and standard definition with the latter available free-to-view even though there is a service fee. The company claims that the service fee is not related to any particular content, either individually or as a package but to the acceptance of the offer.
Broadcast companies make good use of free-to-view systems especially to offer access to certain content based upon where the viewer is located. In case a satellite broadcasts channels over a wide geographical area that is not covered by programme rights then the broadcast company in question will give its customers viewing cards that will enable them to access the content. Once the companies move to a satellite with a narrow broadcast beam that targets the areas over which it has broadcast rights then it can switch to free-to-air from free-to-view.
ITV was one of the first major broadcast companies to move to free-to-view, but many other companies followed suit. The increasing availability of many satellites that provide a relatively narrow beam has made this possible.
There are quite a few companies that offer broadcast services only for the UK. The best known of these are Sony Entertainment Television and 4Music. While most people have a Sky Videoguard receiver as well as a Sky viewing card to receive them, others have made use of the highly affordable Freesat from Sky package which is available for a one time payment.
One of the most popular free-to-view networks in Europe is Freesat from Sky that offers a bouquet of around 240 TV channels as well as Sky EPG, all of which is available for a one time payment that gives users a satellite dish, receiver, and also cards to install and view the content. German speaking audiences can opt for HD+ whereas French Speaking ones can choose Fransat and Italians can sign up for Tivù Sat.