The head of the UK’s Freesat digital service believes viewers will begin to resent paying for HDTV as increasing numbers regard it as the new “standard”.
Emma Scott, managing director of Freesat, which launched in May, said there were already over 10m HD ready TV sets in UK homes.
But at the time of Freesat’s launch only around 5 per cent of those HD ready homes were actually watching television programmes in high definition – and by subscription.
Addressing the Broadcast Digital Channels Conference 2008 earlier this month, she said consumers and retailers wanted HD content– but it was the broadcasters that had taken a while to catch up.
“Free HD is a long term opportunity for broadcasters and for Freesat,” she said. “HD is not a gimmick, it’s a new standard for television and one which every broadcaster I’ve met would love to deliver its content in.
“I do not believe that HD will remain a long term income driver for pay platform operators – consumers will resent paying for something they see as the ‘new normal’ television if it isn’t premium sport and movies, which they already ‘expect’ to pay for.”
Freesat offers subscription-free high definition channels and services once viewers have made a one-off payment for equipment.
It expects to have up to 200 channels by the end of this year, including two high definition services – BBC HD and ITV HD – both available for free.
Scott said that only with the launch of Freesat, a joint venture between the BBC and ITV, was HDTV really free for anyone who wanted it.
She pointed to the rise in popularity of HD in the US, saying that the 35 per cent of homes now watching in HD were increasingly loyal to the networks they watched – and sought out HD programming, even if they wouldn’t normally watch the genre.
“And with 1m Sony Playstation3s and an increasing number of Blu-ray players sold – both of which allow you to watch HD content via an HD ready TV – there are an increasing number of homes who will never want to switch back to just normal, ‘standard’ definition content.”
Citing other popular examples where consumers get free access to products and services – such as Gmail, YouTube and Skype – she said Freesat hoped to be as successful in broadcasting.
“So, in a world where there is widespread availability of digital technology, consumers increasingly expect their media for free,” she said.
“But just being free isn’t enough for Freesat. Freesat will be the best of free, and is only going to get bigger and better.”

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