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Freeview to launch connected TV service

Freeview logo Image copyright Freeview

Freeview is launching a connected TV service, giving viewers access to catch-up services without being tied to a broadband provider.

Freeview Connect will offer ITV Player, iPlayer, 4OD and 5 OnDemand as standard on Smart TVs and set-top boxes.

Jonathan Thompson, boss of Digital UK, called the initiative "a critical step" in the evolution of Freeview.

But some commentators described it as a reaction against YouView, which has largely become a Pay TV business.

Launched in 2012, YouView was originally envisaged as a free-to-air net TV service, with internet providers BT and TalkTalk - who are among the service's backers - offering extra channels at a cost.

But the price of stand-alone YouView boxes has remained relatively high. Of the 1 million YouView set-top boxes installed in the UK, only around 30,000 were bought unsubsidised on the high street,

The rest were sold with subscription bundles or broadband contracts from BT and Talk Talk, often tying consumers into rolling contracts.

This is thought to have disillusioned YouView's other shareholders - the BBC, ITV, Channel Four, Channel 5 and transmission company Arqiva.

They are backing the new Freeview service, investing a reported £100 million over five years.

Although the broadcasters will remain partners in YouView, it is reported that they will cut their investment, leaving BT and Talk Talk to pick up the majority of the costs.

Freeview Connect, the working title of the new project, would build catch-up services directly into TVs and set-top boxes.

Viewers would still require a broadband connection to watch streaming TV, but would not be tied into a provider in order to keep the service.

The terrestrial channels will offer their own catch-up services at launch - but it is not yet certain whether the likes of Netflix, Amazon Instant, YouTube, Vimeo and other services will come on board.

Ilse Howling will leave her job as managing director of Freeview to oversee the project.

She said her goal was to create "a new, mass market service to make connected TV available free, for everyone."

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