On eve of igloo launch, Freeview demos new BBC iPlayer-style on-demand channel

UPDATED: Some good news, and bad news.

UPDATE May 29: Some good news, and bad news.

The good news: A number of readers asked if Freeview's on-demand channel would work through a browser, a game console (as the BBC's iPlayer can in the UK) or through current Freeview set-top boxes.

A Freeview rep responded today: "It will work through new Freeview boxes purchased since last year. The MHEG interaction channel is a standardised platform which will work across all TVs. The channel itself will come through the broadcast stream, and the content will be delivered via broadband."

The bad news: Freeview stresses Friday will be a demo only. There is no launch timetable at this point.


May 28: This just came through from a comms guy for Freeview, for an event to be held on Friday:

I'd like to invite you to join us this Friday for a spot of lunch and a glimpse into the future of free-to-air TV in New Zealand.

With just four months before digital switch over begins, we're launching Freeview's new publicity campaign, and thought we'd share some of our latest news and technology while we're at it.

We'll be demonstrating the Freeview Interaction Channel, which will allow broadcasters to deliver on demand content directly to TVs through Freeview set top boxes. The channel is built with the same technology as the BBC's hugely popular iPlayer catch up service, and we believe it will completely transform the way New Zealanders watch free-to-air television.

We'll also be unveiling our brand new High Definition Electronic Programme Guide - a first for New Zealand audiences - and talk about new channels in the pipeline for the Freeview platform.

It certainly sounds a lot more go-go than Freeview's last announcement (the outgoing TVNZ7 being replaced by a plus-one repeats channel).

The BBC iPlayer (available through the web and game consoles) is like a souped up version of TVNZ On Demand, TV3 and Four's on-demand services (which offer pretty good content, but so-so picture quality).

It sounds promising - so long as it's an easy way to watch TVNZ and MediaWorks content on your telly, and not filled with marginal content.

Certainly, all the technology is there. Support for the requisite MHEG-5 software is loaded on Freeview receivers (as part of the required Freeview spec) and can be upgraded over-the-air. MHEG-5 support is also common among new TVs.

The timing is no coincidence. TVNZ and Sky TV are on the verge of launching their new igloo platform. An igloo set-top box will offer a mix of free-to-air channels, pre-pay channels (for $25) and on-demand, pay-per-view internet content.

Competion around the corner: an igloo set-top box

igloo: still no recorder - boo
igloo's pre-pay channels, including BBC Knowledge and Comedy Central, is attractive, but is undermined by the fact an igloo set-top box will have no recorder.

I've previously carped on about igloo's lack of a hard drive, which makes it a no-go for me (as a Sky TV hold out).

Last week I checked in again with Sky TV CEO John Fellet.

He confirmed a hard drive model was still off the agenda.

"The problem is that it would add another $200 to $300 for each box. For the market we are going after they just can’t wear it," Mr Fellet said.

Igloo is aiming to keep its set-top boxes under $200.

Again, the lack of recording capability is no particular problem for Sky TV.

If an igloo user gets frustrated over the lack of a hard drive, it can upsell them to a MySky decoder.

But it baffles me why TVNZ to accept an igloo set-top box without a hard drive (or not push for an alternative set up with a budget igloo model and a more expensive one with recording capability).

It stunts the service. If you've got no grown-up pay TV service to protect, it's senseless.

Still, good news for Freeview.

Lastly, it says a lot about today's complicated environment that Friday's Freeview launch will be at TVNZ. 

The state broadcaster is one of the Freeview partners. And also now a 49% stakeholder in igloo, which will offer free-to-air service.

And then there's TVNZ's ongoing stake in TiVo, which has been attempting a mini-renaissance recently, pushing Iron Lady on its new Caspa on-demand service (long forgotten by most).

In 20 years, when we all get all our content on-demand through a single pipe, there'll be a media studies student reading that sentence and chuckling.

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