Why Freesat is betting the house on HTML5

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Let’s be honest, we all love free carbs and sugar on a Monday morning, so as a newcomer to Freesat – I started three weeks ago, heading up our strategy team – I enjoyed starting my week with doughnuts at Freesat Towers to celebrate our 3 millionth sale. But more importantly to me, we also announced the imminent launch of YouTube on the Freesat <free time> platform. This is ground breaking for the UK on a number of levels.

YouTube, of course, is already on a range of connected devices and services worldwide. But what we have here at Freesat is the first deployment outside of the US of the HTML5 version of YouTube on a TV platform – which, in our humble opinion, looks fantastic. In fact <free time> is the first free TV platform to have launched this version of YouTube, and is the only free TV platform in the world to have done so, something we are particularly proud of.

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Typically, any content provider – and in this case the world’s leading User Generated provider – will only launch services on the biggest platforms or devices with the greatest numbers of viewers or users. Freesat, although one of the fastest growing UK TV platforms, is far from the biggest. So why did YouTube chose us?

The answer lies in our overall strategy. We are all about viewers. What they want, and what we think they might want – is what we will seek to deliver. When talking to viewers, the statement that comes up time and time again is that people have access to hundreds of channels, but think there’s never anything to watch. We want to put a stop to this, and we want <free time> to be the platform that allows viewers to get all of the content they want, easily and quickly, on one platform.

Today that content is still, by and large, broadcast TV. We each watch over four hours a day of it and rising, on average. But our customers also tell us that, beyond the broadcast services they love, they want access to a few extra online big brands that they also value. And online brands don’t come much bigger than YouTube, as the thousands of Twitter mentions of our deal on Monday goes to show.

And the technology choices we made 18 months ago when delivering <free time>, some of which were extremely risky at the time, have allowed us to deliver this. Not to labour the point, but open standards are at the heart of <free time>. <free time> is based on HbbTV, the hybrid TV standard which, although becoming increasingly accepted in Europe, has not yet been widely adopted in the UK, where most providers have chosen to use proprietary standards.

And we built our user interface in HTML5, a step few TV providers have taken. We chose to use HTML5 for a few reasons. While there was still some integration work to be done to add YouTube to <free time>, it was achieved far more quickly within an HTML5 framework than would otherwise have been possible (this also reduced the time that the rest of team Freesat had to suffer the awful, power ballard-centric music tastes of Raj, our technical lead, while the app was being tested).

HTML5 also gives us the advantage of flexibility and agility, which is crucial for players like us. And we think it looks great, and allows us to do lots of things with user interfaces that would not have been possible with proprietary technologies.

We’re really proud of what we’ve achieved with the YouTube app, but we certainly aren’t resting on our laurels. The new services and features we’re planning to add to the platform will all be about increasing choice, about giving our viewers more options to watch really desired content and, hopefully, putting an end to people thinking there’s never anything on TV.

Giles Cottle is Head of Strategy at Freesat

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By Freesat

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