Prediction: Freeview to see increased competition

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Increased movement and competition on UK DTT platform Freeview is among the developments for 2021 predicted by Chris Parsons, Chief Executive at channel operations specialist MediaPaedia Broadcast.

His five predictions are:

  1. Covid efficiencies are here to stay

2020 saw unprecedented changes in the broadcast industry, one traditionally based on trade shows and meetings. Production has been democratised as consumers have become accustomed to seeing lower quality content with minimal post production. This applies especially to news, where quick turnaround trumps quality. 2020 was brutal in terms of advertising revenues; but, on the flip side, many businesses saw reductions in operations costs. Broadcasters now understand that everything can be done remotely. The expenses of traditional monitored playout aren’t attractive when the same result with 100 per cent reliability can be achieved by a server in a data centre. With several big broadcast players announcing that workers will not be returning to the office for the foreseeable future, these new norms are here to stay. 2021 will no doubt see even more creative technological solutions for efficient remote production and distribution.

  1. The OTT opportunity

Sky being the dominant UK pay-TV platform has previously made it difficult for smaller channels to gain a foothold in the market. Content owners often struggle to get deals on streaming behemoths Netflix, Amazon Prime and Disney+; whilst YouTube has recently raised the content bar, making monetisation more difficult. However, the increasing number of OTT platforms and channel aggregators means it’s never been easier or cheaper for channels to broadcast their own digital channel. Content owners can either get carriage on an existing OTT platform or create their own apps and move into the digital space independently. There is a clear gap in the market for aggregation based on thematic content. This increasing consolidation of OTT means that subscription models can become a viable business, particularly for smaller and niche content owners.

  1. Increased movement and competition on the Freeview platform

If the current DUK consultation is successful, we will see more OTT opportunities opening up on Freeview and potentially reduced costs for channels. The proposed changes include allowing brokering of Logical Channel Numbers ‘LCNs’ and the enabling of IP only channels on the platform using the Freeview Play App. If these changes take place and brokering of LCNs is allowed for the first time, we can expect to see a flurry of movement and a change in the shape of the existing Freeview EPG, which can only benefit the end user. The enablement of IP-only channels would mean an opportunity for broadcasters to get onto Freeview-set top boxes even though they’re not on DTT, marking another step towards the death of traditional broadcast distribution. All of these changes could potentially see the cost of traditional Freeview capacity coming down further.

  1. Smaller specialists operating together

The market for broadcast services in the UK has always been held by the bigger players such as Arqiva, Globecast, Encompass, amongst others. These telecoms giants specialise in distribution, but bundle up managed services and sell based on a combination of price and the perceived efficiencies of a ‘one-stop-shop’. In the climate of a pandemic, investment into the infrastructures to support these services has become unfeasible for many. Recent shifts, such as DMC going into administration and Arqiva, and others, shifting away from playout have enabled smaller companies to pick up the slack. Content owners are trying to distribute content in an increasingly complicated and confusing ecosystem and simply won’t make the same level of commitment that they did, in the past, to a single provider. They will find increased value in collaborations between agile, specialist companies who have the expertise and flexibility to deliver bespoke solutions.

  1. More international channels launching into the UK market

The last few years has seen a number of major US broadcasters launching into the UK, with Smithsonian proving a major success and, last year, Scripps Networks coming across with Court TV. We believe that the success of these bold decisions will result in more American broadcasters starting to see the UK as an easy opportunity for eyeballs. In the fragmented and complex US market, deals are done by partnering with affiliates. Given there is little difference in language and mentality, and with the UK market comparatively simpler to navigate, it makes sense that the US should start to view the UK as another affiliate opportunity, rather than an intimidating international expansion. As always, it comes down to content and rights, but, as content owners further assert their ability to own their rights, new market launches will become a no brainer for more global content creators and curators.


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