The underpinning platform: Why DTT is more relevant than ever

Talk of current TV trends and many people’s minds will turn straight to IP: web-powered and delivered content channels and subscription video-on-demand (SVOD) services offering maximum choice and flexibility.

Amid all the talk of new technologies, it’s easy to discount the established platforms that have served us well for so long and which remain very popular.

Digital Terrestrial Television – or DTT – is the prime example.

Even with the rise of SVOD services such as Netflix, Amazon Prime and a host of similar applications from major players in the market, DTT remains hugely relevant to both broadcasters and their viewers. And there are plenty of reasons why.

DTT in use right now

Before we go into those reasons, it’ll help to consider how and where DTT is being used already.

Launched in 2002, the Freeview platform has long been the most widely known and most popular DTT example, providing free-to-air television to the UK, but the offering doesn’t stop there anymore.

DTT’s selling power is such that there are now many other platforms in addition to Freeview, and most recently Freeview Play, that also use it in some shape or form: EE TV, TalkTalk TV, BT TV, YouView and Sky’s Now TV all use it to power a hybrid DTT/IP offer.

The best of both worlds

The thing that links all these platforms (if you count Freeview Play), is that they combine DTT with OTT (over-the-top) delivered services, rather than forcing a viewer to choose one over the other. This says a lot about the DTT’s place in the market at present - most notably its position as the underpinning platform of television in the UK, and its power to complement newer technologies. It offers a free base on top of which additional IP-based services can be added, be it free catch-up or subscription-based services.

DTT is, and always has been, ideal for heavy lifting. It’s capable of handling huge amounts of traffic and serving the viewing needs of the nation and couldn’t be simpler to set up or use. You plug in an aerial and gain instant, reliable and free access to the most popular entertainment and information services in the UK.

DTT just works and it is free-to-air, and when you consider how disparate the UK’s broadband access is right now, the same can’t always be said for IP.

That said, in the world of mobile viewing, catch-up and box-set binges, such a linear approach will no longer fully satisfy the needs of every consumer and viewer. That’s why providers are using DTT to complement OTT and vice versa. This is in no way a case of old versus new; they both have their purpose and work together to deliver a complete package.

Prioritising user-friendliness

The goal for hybrid providers is to make the entire viewing experience simple and intuitive – and that means bringing DTT and IP-delivered services as close together as possible.

Of course, we know we’re dealing with two very different technologies, but the less viewers notice that, the better. Forcing them to switch between different applications or even AV inputs negatively impacts the viewing experience; it’s unnecessary too.

The ideal situation is to have a single environment that covers all bases – linear DTT and IP-delivered catch-up and OTT – with seamless transitioning from one to the other. This ensures the viewer has what they want when they want it, all with minimal fuss. That’s exactly what Arqiva and our partners aim to provide with our Freeview Play and YouView platforms.

The social importance of linear TV

We’ve touched on the reliability of DTT, and that’s crucial for public service broadcasters like the BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5, all of which must meet certain universality requirements. But linear programming also brings in huge audiences, as evidenced by recent viewing figures.

The Great British Bake Off, broadcast by the BBC over two months each year, was the most watched show on television in 2015 and 2016, pulling in around 13 million viewers each episode, a large chunk of whom would be watching on DTT. Shows like the X Factor and I’m a Celebrity…Get Me Out of Here are also massive draws, largely because of the conversation and media attention around them. People can share their thoughts in real-time on social media, or at work the next day, and this appeal relies on the episodes being broadcast in a certain order and at specific times.

The same is true for major sporting events like the Olympic Games and the FIFA World Cup, both of which need to be broadcast live. These events are built to be seen by the biggest audiences possible, and that’s most easily achieved with DTT.

Constant evolution

With the rise in the number of OTT and SVOD services, DTT has no shortage of competition for eyeballs, but its place supporting and complementing these services has made DTT’s role as important as ever.

DTT offers benefits that can’t be provided by the OTT alternatives; it’s more reliable, has a wider reach, works with the existing TV aerial base and is free. As an underpinning technology to hybrid DTT/IP platforms it has a growing role to play in ensuring the market remains competitive, and that UK audiences always have access to choice and innovation.

Its relevance is true now but is also secure for the future. With figures showing access to and appetite for DTT is on the rise, it’s no wonder broadcasters and service providers are continuing to invest in it.

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