Freeview, the free-to-air TV service, is looking to move away from being a name associated with the switchover from analogue to digital TV, towards promoting freedom of choice with its first major product evolution in five years.
New on-demand service Freeview Play launches this weekend with a marketing campaign, that replaces its singing cat and budgie ads with a dystopian world where marching TV sets bully people into upgrading and subscribing, created by Leo Burnett London.
It is a nod to the fact that once you buy a Freeview product – either a set top box or a TV with its technology pre-installed – there is no further fee to pay for the service, which includes 60 channels and now a new catch-up and on-demand function.
Although smart TVs already offer catch-up services such as BBC iPlayer, ITV Player, All 4 and Demand 5, Freeview Play’s unique selling point is that viewers will be able to access programming through the electronic programme guide, rather than searching for separate applications, enhancing user experience.
The launch of Freeview Play and the new multimillion-pound ad campaign also marks the rebrand of Freeview, introducing a new logo and strapline with the closing scenes of the new advert telling viewers to ‘set yourself free’.
Speaking to Marketing Week ahead of the launch, head of marketing Owen Jenkinson explains why product innovation at the company is consumer-led, why the rebrand is a move towards a quality proposition instead of the “cheap boxes” it is known for and how the brand plans to make Freeview Play “the new normal” in TV.
How would you explain Freeview to people who may not know what the brand does?
It’s rather a fuzzy brand and a fuzzy concept. Partly because it was historically associated with the digital switchover, a lot of people assume it is government-related. It’s [also] quite difficult to explain because there is a norm in the category where you pay for TV.
Freeview is in more than 10 million homes and [because] we aggregate the most popular channels in the UK it means 95% of what people watch is available for free on Freeview.
As there is no financial relationship with consumers, what is the business model?
We do not make profit but we are shareholder-owned by the BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and Arqiva, a B2B organisation that owns the [digital transmission] networks. The fifth shareholder is Sky, which has been on the board since inception.
For the likes of ITV and Channel 4, they effectively make more money on a Freeview home than they do on a pay TV platform, mainly because they have a better share of channels. They get more eyeballs and more ad revenue, which is why they invest in the platform. The BBC doesn’t make money but it also wants viewers.
What is the state of play in the TV market, particularly competing with paid-for TV services?
During the digital switchover there was a big land grab for five years, as 10 million homes didn’t have digital TV. Freeview was chosen by 70% of those homes and we saw huge growth, but since 2012 there has been complete saturation in the digital TV market and we are all fighting against each other.
Our shareholders have tasked us with making Freeview seem like a viable alternative to paid-for TV. We are never going to compete on sport and films, which Sky, Virgin Media and BT operate in, but the middle ground [of people] constantly churning in and out of TV platforms, that is who we need to appeal to. The new products in Freeview Play sit in that area.
What is the strategy behind launching Freeview Play in this crowded digital TV market?
There is a term we have been saying, which is to make Freeview Play ‘the new normal TV’. We are not about being fast to market but mainstream and mass-market. The expectation is that although we are launching with a few manufacturing partners – Panasonic and Humax – we will quickly make it available in every TV.
Jonathan Thompson, CEO at Digital UK, which oversaw the digital switchover, told The Guardian that innovation in the TV broadcasting market is often led by a technology mindset rather than a consumer mindset. Do you agree?
Often innovation is led from the technology perspective and I don’t believe it is the right thing. We have a roadmap that is influenced by what mainstream, mass-market consumers are going to want. That is the lens for any kind of evolution that we would want to introduce to the market – is this going to appeal to millions, if not tens of millions, of people?
How does this roadmap fit into the recent rebrand of Freeview?
There is a consumer-facing line that sits at the end of the TV advertising saying ‘set yourself free’. We developed the idea that you are free to choose with Freeview Play when to watch a programme, live or via catch-up, and free to choose how you access it, via cheaper set-top boxes or expensive televisions.
Although we don’t offer pay television per se, all of the products you will be able to buy will have Netflix and Amazon Prime built in so you are free to choose to top up.
We needed to be more modern and to convey that we have better-quality products. Where we have never struggled is value, but there is always that trade-off when you make something that is of higher quality and premium; you start to lose a slight edge of value. We suspect that is what will happen as we introduce our new identity over the years.
How is this portrayed in the new brand campaign launching on 2 October?
With the TV advertising we wanted to make a big statement. We were keen to slightly move away from the last couple of years – with brand advertising focusing on the line ‘entertainment, it’s even better when it’s free’ – to the idea of freedom.
The launch ad picks away at norms in our category that Freeview Play can help alleviate – of being required to upgrade, to subscribe, to conform and almost get what you’re given and like it, which often for many consumers means paying for a lot of content they will not necessarily view.
Freeview was instrumental in helping move the world from analogue to digital and we now need to be instrumental in delivering a fully connected world.