Freeview Tops 60 Million Sales In UK, But Freeview HD Stalls

Jonathan Sutton

Freeview, the UK free-to-air digital TV service, announced a landmark achievement today as sales of devices that can receive Freeview channels exceeded 60 million units, meaning that roughly one Freeview-capable equipment has been sold for each person in the United Kingdom. Although not formally specified, these Freeview-ready equipments include HDTVs with integrated Freeview tuners, Freeview set-top boxes and Freeview+ DVRs/ PVRs (digital video recorders or personal video recorders).

Since its official launch in 2002, Freeview has grown to become UK’s dominant over-the-air digital TV service which is operated by a 5-way partnership between ITV, BBC, Channel 4, Arqiva and Sky – each with an equal stake in the venture. More than three-quarters of the UK population now enjoy Freeview reception, of whom 18.7 million people use it as the main broadcast service for their primary or secondary TV sets in the household.

Over 30% of Freeview households have access to Freeview+ digital video recorders that let viewers pause, rewind or record live TV. Before they can be approved to carry the Freeview+ logo, these PVRs or DVRs need to fulfill certain criteria set out by the Digital TV Group for quality assurance purposes. A survey carried out by Freeview revealed that 72% of Freeview+ users are thankful for the convenience that Freeview+ brings, while half of the respondents “could not imagine life without Freeview+”.

Perhaps of more interest is how Freeview HD – officially launched on the 30th of March earlier this year – has fared. With UK coverage now standing at 55%, Freeview claims that so far at least 230,000 households have invested in the necessary equipments to receive and watch Freeview HD, with the number predicted to hit 250,000 by the end of this month.

Trying to paint an optimistic picture, Freeview said that Freeview HD’s rate of growth is on par with that of Sky HD over the equivalent period when the high-def satellite TV service was launched in 2006. But this is hardly a fair comparison, since the latter requires users to cough up a hefty monthly subscription fee for at least a year (in addition to any once-off payment for the Sky HD box or satellite dish installation).

Furthermore, despite over 100 different models of HDTVs with inbuilt Freeview HD tuners available on the market, they only represented 15% of all television sets purchased this summer. One would have expected this figure to be higher, considering that most matches in the World Cup 2010 football tournament were broadcast in high definition on the BBC HD and ITV1 HD channels (both available on the Freeview HD platform).