Opinion: freesat confusion and secrecy is hurting the brand and stifling competition

Columns & Opinion, Satellite TV

andy-merrett.jpgfreesat, the free-to-air satellite service due to launch in a matter of weeks, is a great idea and one that many people are looking forward to, but the organisation is behaving as if the pre-launch phase is a covert military operation, and that’s hurting the brand.

Last week we wrote about the launch of Hauppauge’s USB2 tuner that should be able to receive the freesat signal via a compatible satellite connection. That’s not how freesat sees it.

Yesterday, I received an email from freesat’s PR company stating that they “would like to clarify that the Hauppauge free-to-air USB2 satellite tuner is not a freesat licensed product and as such will not receive freesat services. freesat licensed products can be identified by the freesat logo and are subject to a stringent test and conformance regime.”

What’s interesting is that, while freesat chased a number of publications who had written about the product, Hauppauge seemed not to have heard anything to suggest there was a problem.

It’s not just “unauthorised” products that have suffered. The unofficial freesat blog reported that both Comet and John Lewis pulled the Grundig freesat receivers from their web sites. That’s two authorised retailers listing a licensed manufacturer’s product for pre-order.

Despite the belief that freesat will launch on 6th May — just two weeks away — there has been no noticeable publicity or advertising. Either there are significant problems delaying the launch, the service isn’t capable enough to handle a large influx of customers in the first week, or freesat’s marketing team isn’t very good.

More concerning from a technical point of view is that freesat feels like a closed system. To the end user it may look like an open, free-to-air service that requires just a single payment for the equipment and installation, but why is freesat so scared of other manufacturers creating innovative products so that consumers can watch programmes any way they choose?

Freeview is now available via a multitude of set top boxes, TVs, PVRs, USB sticks, PC cards, and other devices, most offering full functionality. Why can’t freesat be like this?

Their statement that Hauppauge’s kit “is not a freesat licensed product and as such will not receive freesat services” suggests that programmes will be encrypted to ensure only licensed hardware can decode them.

I understand freesat’s desire for quality control of products, but I don’t understand why only a handful of manufacturers (good though they may be) get to play. How were they chosen?

It risks stifling both innovation and competition and is bad for the consumer.

I understand that freesat may be worried about Sky launching a marketing offensive against them, in which case why don’t they tell everyone about freesat now?

When and if Freeview broadcasts in high definition, consumers will have to buy new equipment to receive it because programmes will have to be transmitted in a new format that current decoders can’t handle.

The same shouldn’t be true of freesat, if they adhere to DVB-S and DVB-S2 standards. If they’re don’t, why not? If they do, is this a piece of marketing FUD designed to lock people in to just a few pieces of hardware?

Whatever the reasons, we’re not privy to them. My calls for comment on the statement fell on deaf ears. Even PC World only got as far as “A spokeswoman at Freesat’s public-relations company said she could not elaborate on the statement, though she agreed that it raised more questions than it answered. She could not, for instance, clarify whether it meant that conditional access technology would restrict reception to authorised devices.”

The trouble with secrecy is that you have to be a pretty cool company to pull it off.

When Apple keeps its mouth shut, hundreds of web sites publish speculation on what’s being developed, fuelled by the flakiest of rumours, hearsay, and alleged insider information.

freesat: you’re just not cool (yet). By keeping your cards so close to your chest, you’re not allowing us to see what you’ve got on offer.

freesat sounds great, but simply telling us that it’s “the next big thing” doesn’t cut it any more.

Please don’t treat us like you don’t trust us.

Related posts: freesat: 12 things | Hauppauge WniTV USB

Andy Merrett
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One thought on “Opinion: freesat confusion and secrecy is hurting the brand and stifling competition

  • Agree with your comments as a Digital Satellite manufacturer who has been selling in the UK for over 4 years with a few large retailers onboard (maplin etc). We are a little taken back by the hush hush approach. The current offering for satellite manufacturers is pretty basic stuff. ITV HD which was deemed as only available of FREESAT is now running on our line of HD boxes complete with USB PVR options etc. Additionally they are infact shoothing themselves in the foot a little by only advertising 80 channels when FTA manufacturers have advertised 250+ for years. I do not think they did there research and determine d the best formula to satisfy the customer base and include all retailers and manufacturers who wanted to be included. It would have made a fairer approach but additionally a united front to give a stronger message.

    Best regards, Jonathan Ashley, GM Fortec Star

    PS happy to send in one of our new receivers to test head to head against FREESAT.

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