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FreeviewPlus launch makes it easy to catch missed TV shows

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Adam Turner

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FreeviewPlus is expected to deliver access to online video from the five main Australian television networks. The service is built into a new onscreen electronic program guide that lets viewers scroll back in time and click to watch shows they’ve missed.

FreeviewPlus is expected to deliver access to online video from the five main Australian television networks. The service is built into a new onscreen electronic program guide that lets viewers scroll back in time and click to watch shows they’ve missed.

Australians will be able to watch the TV shows they’ve missed at the press of a button, once the FreeviewPlus streaming video service, built into a new generation of smart TVs, is rolled out.

Unlike the mishmash of catch-up TV apps in use with smart TVs, FreeviewPlus is expected to deliver access to online video from the five main Australian television networks. The service is built into a new onscreen electronic program guide that lets viewers scroll back in time and click to watch shows they’ve missed.

Slated to launch in July, after several delays, FreeviewPlus will be available through new internet-enabled televisions from makers such as Panasonic, Sony, LG and Samsung.

Once Freeview flicks the switch on FreeviewPlus, compatible televisions and set-top boxes will display the FreeviewPlus icon at the top left of the screen when you change channels.

Once Freeview flicks the switch on FreeviewPlus, compatible televisions and set-top boxes will display the FreeviewPlus icon at the top left of the screen when you change channels.

FreeviewPlus relies on the Hybrid Broadcast Broadband TV (HbbTV) standard, which is already popular in Europe. A handful of HbbTV-compatible televisions are already on Australian shelves. It is also coming to set-top boxes from producers such as South Korean electronics company Humax.

Once Freeview flicks the switch on FreeviewPlus, compatible televisions and set-top boxes will display the green FreeviewPlus icon at the top left of the screen when you change channels. The long-ignored green button found on most TV remote controls will launch the FreeviewPlus electronic program guide over the top of whatever you’re watching. It displays the week’s listings for each channel, along with the ability to look back and play missed programs from the internet – complete with advertisements.

At the moment, access to online catch-up TV services on your television is pot luck depending on which brand of internet-enabled smart TV, Blu-ray player, personal video recorder, games console, media player or other set-top box you have. Each television network offers its own catch-up app for various devices, but you’ll struggle to find apps for all five main networks on the one home-entertainment device.

There’s more to FreeviewPlus than the new electronic program guide. Each of Australia’s five main television networks has developed its own HbbTV app, launched by pressing the red button on your remote while watching that network.

Frustrated at ongoing delays, some networks may launch their HbbTV apps early rather than waiting for the official FreeviewPlus launch.

The SBS OnDemand catch-up TV service already supports more home entertainment devices than any other Australian television network, but HbbTV offers the easiest way for viewers to tap into internet video, says Trevor Long, SBS manager of technology strategy and innovation.

‘‘There are plenty of smart TVs on the shelves, but the great thing about HbbTV is that it doesn’t require viewers to leave their comfort zone and delve into the smart TV menus,’’ Long says. ‘‘With HbbTV, you don’t have to launch an app store on your TV, search for the various catch-up TV apps and install them. When you see the red SBS icon at the top left of the screen, just press the red button on your remote and you’ll have our catch-up TV service at your fingertips.’’

The SBS HbbTV app is the work of international smart TV software developer Accedo. Australia’s first HbbTV apps focus on catch-up TV but the technology can support a wide range of extra content and interactive features, says Accedo Australia and New Zealand vice-president Matt Kossatz.

‘‘HbbTV really opens the door for all sorts of applications built directly into your television,’’ Kossatz says. ‘‘In a keen sporting country like Australia it has all kinds of potential.

‘‘In France we’ve built a special HbbTV app just for the Tour de France and it offers viewers at home easy access to stage information and other bonus features such as results, race stats and highlight videos. You don’t have to leave the broadcast and launch the app separately, you just call it up on the screen with the press of a button.’’

Along with bonus content, Kossatz says HbbTV can support onscreen voting and other interactive applications to ‘‘bring a whole new dimension to traditional free-to-air broadcast television’’.

Faced with growing competition from local streaming video services such as Foxtel Play, FetchTV, Quickflix and EzyFlix – not to mention foreign giant Netflix – Australian broadcasters have dragged their heels on a cross-network catch-up TV service. FreeviewPlus has been hampered by both technical challenges and the lack of co-operation between commercial TV rivals.

Freeview Australia is an uneasy alliance between fierce rivals facing a common enemy. It was formed in 2009 to drive the take-up of digital television, stifle ad-skipping technology and stave off competition from pay TV giant Foxtel.

Seven’s regional affiliate Prime Media recently severed ties with Freeview, a move that threatens to further delay the FreeviewPlus launch, especially if Nine’s regional affiliate WIN follows suit.

Once it does go live, the new FreeviewPlus onscreen electronic program guide will include seven-day listings for all television channels. The guide relies on the same schedule information embedded in the broadcast signal and available to all digital televisions.

Unfortunately, this schedule can be less than accurate, owing to the networks’ habit of deliberately running late during prime time. The first Freeview EPG, launched in 2010 and built on the MHEG-5 platform, was designed to detect when programs were running late. The application was shelved because of the dearth of compatible devices – in most part stemming from Freeview’s insistence on disabling ad-skipping and enforcing other restrictions.

Freeview’s latest attempt at an onscreen EPG should meet with more success because HbbTV is an international open standard built into a wide range of devices.

In theory the FreeviewPlus app should run on any HbbTV-compatible television, but Freeview won’t guarantee it. The launch has already been delayed because of video streaming problems and digital rights management.

Freeview plans to release a list of FreeviewPlus-certified television brands at launch, with the networks hoping for broad compatibility that would encourage quick take-up.

The networks have all invested considerable time and money into their HbbTV apps, hoping to ensure they’re not left out of the picture as more Australians look to the internet to watch their favourite TV shows.
 

UPDATE: SBS jumps the gun on FreeviewPlus

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