What is Freely and is the new free streaming service a threat to BBC iPlayer and ITVX?

New free streaming service coming from the BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5

Couple watching TV
(Image credit: JEShoots.com / Pexels)

Britain's main broadcasters have once again teamed for a new streaming service. Called Freely, it will launch in 2024 and be completely free to UK viewers (the clue's in the name).

The BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5 are teaming to support the project, which will stream each broadcaster's programming live, while other channels will join the service at a later date.

However, how does it differ from Britbox – another streaming venture from the British broadcasting partners? And, what about the individual free streaming platforms, BBC iPlayer, ITVX, All 4 and My5? Will it replace them?

We answer those questions and more.

What is Freely?

Freely is a new live streaming platform for the UK that will eventually offer the entire Freeview channel lineup over an online connection rather than via an aerial.

It will start in 2024 by giving viewers the chance to watch all of the channels broadcast by the BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5 live. Other partners with channels on the UK's over-the-air digital TV platform will be added after, including Sky (with Sky News) and the owner of Dave, UKTV.

In effect, it will offer an alternative to traditional over-the-air reception by streaming the same channels and content online instead.

It is very much seen as the future of British broadcasting, with the BBC's director-general, Tim Davies, previously suggesting that the days of coventional digital terrestrial TV broadcasting are numbered.

What will you need to watch Freely?

Considering these are still early days for the platform, specific device details for Freely are yet to be revealed.

However, it has been confirmed that Freely will be available on Smart TVs. We're yet to find out whether that's just new TVs going forward or if it can be installed on some of the best televisions already available too.

We also expect the service to be available on mobile platforms. As the chief executive of Everyone TV – the company that currently manages Freeview and Freesat, and will also be operating Freely – said: "Our aim is to ensure that all viewers have access to a free, aggregated live TV experience that champions British content and is delivered in a way that suits audience needs and preferences.

"Every one of us should be able to share in the best of British ideas and creativity on TV."

Jonathan Thompson's words suggest that Freely will be available to all audiences in the format that suits them best.

Will Freely replace Freeview?

As far as we can tell, Freely will run alongside conventional digital TV platforms, such as Freeview and Freesat. It will offer choice rather than replacement.

There is a chance it becomes the de facto standard in future, of course. After all, digital TV eventually replaced analogue after running as a complementary service for several years.

One reason for this is that Freely will not have the constraints of over-the-air broadcasting. The channel lineup is currently limited by the spectrum bandwidths assigned for use by digital TV signals. There will be fewer restrictions for streaming channels over the internet.

It could also result in a greater number of HD and even 4K channels in future.

Will Freely replace BBC iPlayer and ITVX?

As it is primarily a live TV service, Freely is no threat to BBC iPlayer, ITVX, All 4 or My5. In fact, it is likely to support them.

Like with Freeview Play, we fully expect viewers to be able to scroll backwards through Freely's electronic programme guide and select retrospective programming. That will then load directly into the respective service, such as BBC iPlayer and ITVX.

It does mean that the services currently offered by main broadcasters might lose viewers who currently use them to stream live channels, but it's hard to say how many and when.

It's no threat to Britbox neither. To be honest, Britbox is slowly winding down anyway, with new access only available to ITVX subscribers. We wouldn't be surprised if the service is eventually totally absorbed by ITVX in the UK.

When will Freely be available?

As yet, Everyone TV and the partners of Freely are yet to announced a specific launch date.

It will be available in the "first half of 2024" is all we've learned so far.

Rik Henderson
News Editor

Rik is T3’s news editor, which means he looks after the news team and the up-to-the-minute coverage of all the hottest gadgets and products you’ll definitely want to read about. And, with more than 35 years of experience in tech and entertainment journalism, including editing and writing for numerous websites, magazines, and newspapers, he’s always got an eye on the next big thing.

Rik also has extensive knowledge of AV, TV streaming and smart home kit, plus just about everything to do with games since the late 80s. Prior to T3, he spent 13 years at Pocket-lint heading up its news team, and was a TV producer and presenter on such shows as Channel 4's GamesMaster, plus Sky's Games World, Game Over, and Virtual World of Sport.