With rising streaming service subscription prices and limitations on account sharing, TV watchers increasingly have to make tough choices between which streaming and TV services are worth shelling out for in an increasingly crowded marketplace. For UK viewers, however, there is always the option of ditching pay-for-TV services – even if it's just for a month or two to give your bank account a break – for the egalitarian simplicity of Freeview Play. Here, live TV, catch-up apps and boxsets for your favourite channels are all packaged together in one easily navigable and accessible place. And yes, it is free.
Freeview Play is a best-of-both-worlds service, giving you access to over 70 live channels (including 15 in HD) and 10 UK TV catch-up apps offering over 40,000 hours of on-demand content (including 700 boxsets) for no monthly cost. It requires you to have an aerial for broadcast channels and an internet connection for streaming, for you to be able to take advantage of the live and the on-demand aspect. As long as you have access to both, as well as a compatible TV or device, Freeview Play can be all yours.
With a sea of TV services already on the market, from streaming services like Netflix and Disney+ to your Sky to BT to Virgin Media, you may wonder what's so special about Freeview Play. Allow us to explain...
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What is Freeview Play?
Freeview’s connected TV platform has had growing support from manufacturers since its launch in 2015 and is now integrated on a wide range of TVs and set-top boxes, not to mention available via a dedicated app.
Freeview Play stands out from regular Freeview by adding the extra ‘connected’ element to TV viewing. The Electronic Programme Guide (EPG) can not only be used to access live programming but also, thanks to a clever roll-back function, programmes that have aired in the past seven days. So if you missed an episode of your favourite show, you can scroll back in time and get your fill.
Alternatively, you can catch missed shows on the service’s TV catch-up service apps – BBC iPlayer, ITVX, All 4, Channel 5, and UKTV Play are all present, but there are plenty more besides. There’s also a dedicated Box Sets area to make it easier for viewers to get the most out of Freeview’s vast on-demand content library.
The service has integrated on-demand content into the live TV experience, too, so users can see curated content recommendations from across those TV services all in one place. While Freeview Play claims to offer "95 per cent of the nation’s favourite TV", it also allows you to add streaming services, such as Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and Sky's NOW TV, to the experience – though naturally you do have to pay for those services' subscription fees.
Ultimately, Freeview Play's grand plan is to save viewers the effort of going into separate catch-up apps to search for what to watch. Instead, everything is presented in one place and sorted into genres, including Animation for Grown-ups, Comedy, Crime Drama, Black History and Culture, LGBTQ+, Films, History, Reality, Music and Arts, and Sci-Fi and Fantasy. Of course, there is a search function too. Viewers can keep track of all that content and curate their own watch lists via the My Shows feature.
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How can I get Freeview Play?
While there were a limited number of ways to get Freeview Play when it launched in 2015, the service is now edging closer to ubiquity. According to Freeview, the service has been installed onto over 13 million devices and is the UK’s fastest-growing TV platform, with over 11 million users.
You have three options: buy a TV with Freeview Play built-in, buy a set-top box with Freeview Play built-in, or download the app on an iOS or Android device.
On the TV front, a number of manufacturers, including LG, Hisense, Toshiba and Panasonic, have incorporated Freeview Play into their UK sets since 2016.
However, it is definitely worth checking if the TV you are eyeing up supports it before buying, especially if it is an older or second-model, as Freeview Play isn't a downloadable service and needs to be pre-installed on equipment.
While now a rather niche product category, set-top boxes from brands such as Humax and Manhattan TV support Freeview Play. Some receivers not only use the Freeview platform but also support 4K and HDR as well as storage for downloads and saved episodes too.
There's also a Freeview Play app for iOS and Android devices where you can stream live channels, access on-demand content, set reminders for shows, and curate your own personal weekly watch list – all from your mobile or tablet.
Freeview is constantly evolving its service to grow device support and make content easier for users to discover and watch. The service has launched an Accessible TV Guide to help people with visual and hearing impairments more easily find and watch programmes, offering text-to-speech, screen magnification, a high-contrast interface, content highlighting, and subtitles, audio description and sign language functionality. To change these options, users should head to Freeview channel 555, where they can alter their preferred accessibility settings as well as filter the guide to show only content that suits them.
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Should you get Freeview Play?
Freeview Play is aimed first and foremost at people who don't want to shell out for a TV subscription service from BT, Sky or Virgin, or even a streaming service like Netflix. If you're ditching one of those due to their expense, need a new Freeview box or are looking to upgrade your free TV experience, Freeview Play is certainly worth considering going all in for. In fact, chances are you already have access to it on your TV if it's a model from a big-brand TV from the last few years, so there's really nothing to lose by giving it a try.
It may be competing in a crowded market, but given that 95 per cent of the nation’s most-watched TV is available subscription-free on the service, Freeview hopes that users will want to take advantage of the free, on-demand access to some of the UK's best quality programming.
With its slick interface and discovery features, Freeview Play is a service that seeks to help viewers find and enjoy TV in the simplest and most affordable way possible.
In the fight to sustain free-to-air TV in a landscape dominated by the likes of Netflix and Disney Plus, the BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and network operator Arqiva (the four shareholders of Digital UK) pledged £125m in 2018 to see Freeview Play become the ‘fully hybrid platform’ that it is today. Funding for the BBC and Channel 4 may be increasingly under threat, but one thing's for sure, Freeview Play isn't going anywhere anytime soon.