FreeTV Alliance Seeks to Keep Free DTH Momentum Strong in Europe

On September 12, 2014, three European free-to-air satellite operators—UK’s Freesat, France’s Fransat and Italy’s Tivusat—joined forces to form the FreeTV Alliance. Shortly thereafter, in October, Germany’s HD Plus jumped on board with the group. The goal behind the alliance is to harmonize the production of set top boxes, Smart TVs and other devices for satellite reception as well as to develop standards for “hybrid” satellite and IP-based broadcasting and multi-screen TV solutions.

With hardware vendors working off a single playbook, consumers will have more cost-competitive and innovative retail products to choose from when weighing their TV options, the Alliance proclaimed at its launch in 2014. Rather than focus on cultivating national constituencies, Alliance members would work to promote the growth of free DTH services across the European continent.

Fast-forward to March 2015 and the first major development from the alliance arrived: a new specification that would allow remote control of a free-sat STB via a mobile phone app. The next set of promised FreeTV specifications will tackle technical challenges, such as programming DVRs over the Internet and creating a digital rights management framework for the SAT>IP standard for secure satellite content distribution in the home.

The TV market in Europe is fiercely competitive, but free DTH services appear to be more than holding their own. Indeed, three of the four alliance members who publicly report their subscriber numbers seem to have enjoyed a strong 2014.

TiVuSat added 275,000 net new subscribers during the year, bringing its total to 2.3 million strong or more than eight percent of Italian TV households. Freesat has also notched gains, albeit more modest, adding 12,000 new customers in the first quarter of 2015 and 24,000 in the fourth quarter of 2014. Its total stands at roughly 1.9 million users, outpacing paid services like BT or TalkTalkTV. Germany’s HD Plus ended 2014 with 1.4 million free sat users.

While the FreeTV Alliance works on accelerating the development of viewing technology, it’s free DTH content that has driven customer acquisition. In the UK, for instance, the 500 most-watched programs in December 2014 were all free-to-view. Content, as ever, remains king.