The BBC, ITV and Channel 4, along with network operator Arqiva, are planning to ramp up investment in Freeview Play to continue shifting the service toward becoming a hybrid platform.
The companies are sinking in £125 million (approximately $167 million) over a five-year span to build up the on-demand and linear features for Freeview. The companies intend to launch a mobile app and improve search and discovery on the free channel.
The companies said that since Freeview Play’s launch in 2015, more than 3.5 million Freeview Play products have been sold in the U.K. from brands including Panasonic, LG, Sony, and Toshiba, accounting for 60% of smart TV sales.
The announcement comes about one month after The Guardian reported that the U.K. broadcasters were cooking up a collaborative effort to fight off U.S. SVODs like Amazon and Netflix that are surging in the European market.
Amazon has been busy adding new programming rights deals for the U.K. in the past year. In 2017, it expanded its Amazon Channels service to the U.K. and earlier this year, it signed distribution deals in the U.K. for “American Idol” and U.S. Open tennis. Last week, Amazon won rights to stream Premier League soccer in the U.K. for three years.
At the same time, Netflix has been steadily growing its international subscriber base, adding another 5.5 million international subscribers in the most recent quarter and giving the company more than 68 million subscribers outside the U.S. (about 125 million total).
The BBC, ITV and Channel 4 are taping Digital U.K. to lead the transition for Freeview Play.
“As the U.K.’s TV landscape becomes increasingly impacted by global players, this new commitment from our shareholders is a major boost for U.K. viewers. Building on this spirit of collaboration, we will not only safeguard free-to-view TV but reinvent it for a new age of viewing,” said Digital U.K. CEO Jonathan Thompson in a statement.