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Freesat unveils 'Free Time' next-gen TV guide

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Freesat has announced a 'smart' electronic programme guide that will blend live television and video on-demand services when it rolls out on new Freesat+ boxes this month.

Using the slogan "liberating TV", Freesat today unveiled the new 'Free Time' guide that it hopes will encourage more homes to switch from Sky to the subscription free satellite platform.

Free Time logo
Freesat logo


Alongside the EPG, the company also confirmed that the catch-up TV services of Channel 4 and Channel 5 would launch on Freesat "before Christmas".

Written as 'Free Time', the guide is the biggest redesign of the Freesat EPG in the four-year-old TV platform's history and represents a "big step forward" in it keeping pace with the industry.

Freesat managing director Emma Scott said that the guide, developed over the last 18 months, was about making subscription-free television "even better".

However, many of the advancements in it are already in operation on other platforms, including the Freeview-hybrid YouView box.

Free Time UI screenshot


'Free Time' blends television broadcast over satellite with video on-demand services delivered over the internet. It also utilises new technologies, including OIPF, HbbTV and the HTML 5 web browser standard.

Coming to new Freesat+ personal video recorder (PVR) boxes later this month, the smart TV guide features a central home screen with a large TV picture and mini guide, alongside a menu of options for full TV Guide, On-demand, Showcase, Recordings and Search.

The TV guide supports scrolling forward seven days to set recordings on the PVR, but also allows users to browse backwards up to seven days to check programmes they have missed and then, if available, watch them via catch-up services.

There are also various PVR options available, such as setting recordings in high definition or 'clash management' for recordings, along with options to record an entire series.

A new Showcase tab has been included which offers six editorial picks for each evening's viewing, including the most popular expected programmes and some "wild cards".

The EPG does not have a learning engine, such as seen in Virgin Media's TiVo service, that learns what type of content the user enjoys and recommends additional options. Instead, the Showcase picks are selected by the Freesat team, similarly to a paper television guide.

Free Time UI screenshot


Users are able to search for programmes via the dedicated section, which starts suggesting options after just three letters are inputted.

The On-Demand offering currently has the existing BBC iPlayer and ITV Player services in dedicated tabs, but this will expand to Channel 4's 4oD and Channel 5's Demand 5 "before Christmas".

Freesat said that 'Free Time' will launch with the latest version 3.4 of iPlayer. The firm also did not rule out introducing pay-TV services in the future.

Scott would not be drawn on whether this would include Sky's new NOW TV internet-based service, but did say that the company was interested in the "best on-demand services available".

Free Time UI screenshot


She added that this would not be a "long tail" of content, however, as Freesat wants to offer a simplified portal of TV, music and other content for access on-demand.

As half of Freesat's TV customers come from pay-TV homes, mostly Sky, 'Free Time' is intended to offer next-generation functionality but without the price.

New Freesat+ boxes featuring the 'Free Time' guide will be available to buy from John Lewis, Currys, Comet and other retailers "later this month", starting with a Humax receiver priced at £279. Boxes from Sagemcom, Philips and Manhattan will follow.

Scott said that boxes are aimed at a "mainstream" audience, offering them a "true alternative to Sky in the satellite market".

Asked whether she feels the box is priced right for this market, she noted that the debut Freesat box from Humax cost £300 in 2008 and it sold "a lot", and continues to perform well.

The debut 'Free Time' Humax box is also cheaper than the £299 YouView receiver that was launched in July, and the price is expected to come down soon as the technology matures and new products launch.

Alongside announcing the new EPG, Scott said that Freesat is developing an app for Apple iOS and Android that will enable users to control their television service and set recordings with their mobile device. More is expected to be announced on that "soon".

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