Is Freely the solution to the prominence problem for CTV broadcasters?

Is Freely the solution to the prominence problem for CTV broadcasters?

Freely may well allow PSBs to become greater than the sum of their parts.

TV channels no longer compete on an even playing field.

They are all controlled by the great Electronic Programme Guide (EPG) in the sky. ITV, C4 and Sky have accidentally become Direct to Consumer businesses, with their competition now international streaming giants, all vying for the attention of indifferent and uncaring TV set manufacturers (OEMs), deciding prominence on global, rather than local metrics. Broadcasters who previously relied on the health of the medium to deliver audiences to them now have to coax viewers to their platform before they can serve content.

The streaming services that have done well here have created highly effective direct-to-consumer brands alongside easy-to-use experiences.

Multiple apps brought into one place

Freely is the public service broadcaster’s answer to the streaming age, bringing together linear and streaming together in one place, all accessed via a broadband connection.

Internet connectivity on TV screens is over 80%, and more viewers start their journeys in a digital rather than linear environment. Broadband-only households are becoming a bigger constituency and one that the broadcasters have previously struggled to cater for effectively.

It’s a smart initiative and one the advertising industry, especially old TV heads, should welcome.

In the world of streaming, Freely’s strength is bringing together public service broadcasting in one place rather than being scattered across multiple apps on an increasingly busy home screen; a bit like the old EPG.

Looking at the big global streamers, Netflix’s success in the streaming wars has come down not to having a specific blockbuster hit. Instead, it’s an all-encompassing destination with not only everything you could want, but a very well-developed system to give you the right recommendation after you’ve binged that last series.

That stickiness is what’s driven their ability to keep churn down and grow consumption over time.

Freely can help broadcasters become more ‘sticky’

Meanwhile, the broadcasters’ VOD services have grown massively over the last couple of years. When you look at viewing minutes, the precipitous growth has begun to stymie the boring old narrative of linear decline. However, the volume on these services tends to be ‘peaky’. Audiences tend to jump in for certain programmes (think Mr Bates vs. the Post Office on ITV or Married At First Sight on C4 streaming) and then migrate somewhere else when nothing keeps them there.

A platform like Freely, which can offer a linear and video environment alongside a wider breadth of programming has the potential to create a PSB-focused ‘sticky’ environment for viewers.

Freely may well allow PSBs to become greater than the sum of their parts.

On the face of it, Freely could be a game changer for broadcasters and become the logical evolution of the EPG, finally bringing linear and streaming worlds together.

However, the big challenge for the owners of Freely will be getting the app into as many TV sets as possible. So far they have Hisense and Vestel sets — which is a good start — but with only around 4% market share compared to Samsung’s 33% and LG’s 20% there’s clearly a chasm between the promise and reality that Freely can offer.

Getting Freely available on as many TV sets as possible is the only way of moving on the broadcaster’s offering and delivering prominence to our public service broadcasters.

More inventory, more content

The final part of the puzzle is regulation.

The UK government’s 2022 white paper, Up Next, which aims to make Ofcom fit for purpose in the streaming age, has been stuck in limbo since the contentious section to privatise Channel 4 was removed. The big part of this is prominence, or how visible the services are to viewers when they turn their TV on.

PSBs have an important part in the nation’s cultural landscape and viewers should have equal access to these services, and Freely presents a simple option for original equipment manufacturers (OEMs). Instead of building in prominence for iPlayer, ITVX, C4, My5 and others, bundling them all within one easy app becomes a single easy tile or even a button on a remote.

The benefit for advertisers will be more digital inventory, the benefit of live viewing and streamed in one place and more scope for data-led buys as well as bringing addressability into the linear feed with live ad insertion. As broadcasters push towards digitising their content delivery, creating a stronger environment that takes the best from linear and streaming will be key to moving on this target.

Freely is a good start, but without the heft of regulation to prioritise public service broadcasters and an OEM-wide rollout then it’s unlikely to make the impact on the market that media buyers are screaming out for.

Paul McGee is head of Video Planning at media agency Goodstuff Communications, part of Stagwell Group

Media Jobs