Freesat’s App – you may have missed the point?

Freesat-App-Showcase-16.01.14Another day, another app!  So we have a new companion app from the Freesat team for their Freesat <freetime> set top box (launched  in 2012). The app delivers what we have come to expect from this Freesat team – simple, effective use of open-standard software and systems to outclass their peer group and match much of what the pay TV industry is delivering. It will be fun watching the usage numbers grow this year, and we have to suppose that its use will be strongly correlated to the take up and use of the <freetime> box , whose OS it integrates with.

Its a very nice app and there have been a lot of good reviews.  However, all the reviews we have seen concentrate on its usability (very good), its functionality links with the box – eg changing channel, setting recordings etc (once again – very good), its integration with VOD (partial – for shareholder policy reasons) and its general design (very nice).

Quite rightly the reviews don’t attempt to compare it with the YouView app which does none of those things and is much more limited in its aspirations.  But this app is interesting for bigger, more strategic reasons and everybody seems to have missed the really significant thing they have done.

They have asked Freesat customers to log-in.

More importantly, they have matched a box ID to a name, postal address and email address, so for the first time we have the beginnings of a customer database in the free-to-air bit of the industry.  Not only that, but it appears to be a system whose ability to harness data on viewing choices and TV behaviour can be grown over time.

So What?

In the last five years the TV industry moved from the simple ‘multi-channel’ era into the more complicated ‘multi-function’ phase of development (with the addition of functions like PVR, VOD etc). Through this evolution it has been possible for the free-to-air boxes to ape the functionality of the payTV boxes because none of the new functionality required consumer data.  Functions like info-rich EPGs, PVRs and TV VOD were all possible without ever requiring log-in, or user IDs.  However, the next generation of functionality will be different.

While we are still expecting EPGs, PVRs and TV VOD to continue to evolve, there is a new generation of services emerging that need consumer accounts, log-in, password and even the ability to ‘pay-up’ on occasion – a ‘freemium’ model for TV. These services will include network PVRs, personalisation, social media interaction between STBs and, no doubt, many new things that yet to be invented.  More importantly, they will require the balance between individual IDs (built through use of tablets, phones and laptops) and whole home ‘family IDs’ (built through cumulative use of the family STBs).

Its becoming clear that the free-to-air boxes can’t continue to match the pay boxes without developing some form of customer data strategy that supports this future. Freesat has recognised this and very subtly, this is what the Freesat app delivers.

This raises a difficult challenge for Youview, and in particular its development partners BT and TalkTalk. They both have customer data but it is weirdly un-connected from their TV STB and app development. The current Youview app demonstrates this very nicely, being developed by the central Youview team not their telco partners, and not integrating with very much at all let alone their customer databases (it can’t even change channel).

This means that Freesat have laid down a marker for the next stage of TV evolution, and subtly changed our definition of free TV. It would  be great to see what that team could do if they didn’t have their shareholders holding them back*.

Nigel Walley


*I, for one, would like to see this new <freetime> environment working in a Freeview box?

One thought on “Freesat’s App – you may have missed the point?

  1. I absolutely agree, Nigel, that it’s clever of Freesat to have begun to build a customer database. Freesat has suffered from only being able to talk about the sales of boxes or embedded firmware – but hasn’t been able to prove just how many are being used, and how much. Many Freesat- enabled consumers don’t even realise that they have a Freesat capability (nor even Freeview) – and may never use them.

    However, Freesat may face a bit of a consumer backlash when momentum builds in the cases against those app suppliers, who, by virtue of the use of the IP delivery of the extra capabilities of VoD and IP-delivered channels, are granting permission for the monitoring of 100% of their viewing. Not all consumers will be happy that use of FreeTime allows the supplier to provide all sorts of ‘helpful’ suggestions re their viewing or what adverts they might like.

    Freesat is obviously aware of the sensitivities here. It’s not even clear on the Freesat website that you need broadband connected to get Freetime’s full features, nor all the implications of connecting broadband to the box. Naughty!

    Consumers currently face a bewildering dilemma as to what to buy… all sorts of walled-garden apps with conflicting and sometimes false claims as to just what you get. I hope Freesat doesn’t damage its deserved reputation as a “free” service. It’s supposed to be “not for profit”, but its owning partners do of course have commercial objectives.

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