Rather than waiting for Freeview's launch, SBS has gone live with its new Catch Up TV app.
Freeview is in the final phase of testing its new FreeviewPlus Smart TV app, which offers a 7-day onscreen Electronic Program Guide and easy access to online Catch Up TV. The five major broadcasters have each developed their own app, yet SBS has broken ranks and launched "in beta" ahead of the official FreeviewPlus launch.
The official launch of Freeview's long-promised Catch Up TV service has been delayed several times and is now slated for July, but could be pushed back again. The delays are in part due to video streaming and Digital Rights Management interoperability issues, with the networks undertaking rigorous testing and Freeview introducing a certification process for compatible televisions.
The new apps are built on the open Hybrid Broadcast Broadband TV (HbbTV) standard, which is already popular in Europe. Currently HbbTV is only built into a handful of Australian televisions from the likes of Panasonic, but it is coming to more televisions and set-top boxes this year.
In theory the apps should run on any television which supports HbbTV 1.5 and the industry is aiming for wide compatibility. Even so, Freeview Australia chief Liz Ross says it is irresponsible to suggest that television equipment without the FreeviewPlus logo can support the new apps, insisting; "there is no guarantee of the performance of that equipment to deliver FreeviewPlus properly – or even at all."
The launch of FreeviewPlus has also been hampered by ongoing tensions between the rival television networks which form the Freeview consortium. The regional Prime network recently pulled out of the Freeview consortium due to its lack of faith in the FreeviewPlus project, with CEO Ian Audsley insisting that the regional television market is not developed enough to support HbbTV.
Each of the five major Australian networks has invested considerable time and money into FreeviewPlus, outsourcing the development of an HbbTV app as well as configuring their Catch Up TV streaming video infrastructure to support the new service. Freeview membership is conditional upon participation in HbbTV and affiliation fees are set to fund a major marketing campaign to support the official launch.
As frustration with the delays mounts, SBS has decided to go it alone – flicking the switch on its HbbTV app before the World Cup finals and next month's Tour de France. Viewers with compatible televisions will see the red SBS icon appear when viewing SBS One, SBS 2 or NITV. The red button on the television remote control launches the app, while the green button will launch the FreeviewPlus EPG once it goes live.
The SBS app has launched with a "beta" tag, likely intended to ease tensions with Freeview over jumping the gun on the official launch.
“We’re releasing the app in beta today to elicit feedback from audiences to help us make further enhancements and improvements to the product. Early-adopters of this new technology will be able to provide us with valuable feedback to maximise the SBS ON DEMAND experience,” says SBS chief digital officer Marshall Heald.
“Innovation in the digital space is key to the future of delivering uniquely SBS content for all Australians, and adding SBS ON DEMAND to HbbTV-enabled televisions was a logical next step with the imminent launch of Freeview Plus. It continues our commitment to bringing content to audiences when they want, and where they want it.”
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