BBC, ITV, Channel 4 to Invest $165M in Britain's Freeview Amid Rise of Netflix, Amazon

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Media regulator Ofcom has highlighted challenges from new players and called for more industry collaboration to boost public service broadcasting content in Britain.

U.K. broadcast giants BBC, ITV and Channel 4 said Monday that they have signed a new five-year agreement to invest $165 million (125 million pounds) to "accelerate" British digital terrestrial TV platform Freeview’s transition to "a fully hybrid platform, providing the best in free-to-view live and on-demand TV."

Their Digital UK joint venture with network operator Arqiva, which is behind the service, will look to build on the success of Freeview Play, a free-to-view connected TV service and take on subscription streaming video giants like Netflix and Amazon with a mobile app and "improvements in content discoverability and navigation."

Since launching in 2015, more than 3.5 million Freeview Play products have been sold in the U.K. from such brands as Panasonic, LG, Sony and Toshiba, accounting for 60 percent of smart TV sales in Britain, according to Freeview. Around 19 million homes watch Freeview on either the main or a secondary TV set.

"The new investment will help Freeview exploit the trend towards ‘cord cutting’ as viewers build their own ‘skinny bundles,’ combining free-to-view TV with low-cost streaming services," it said.

The mobile app, which will enable viewers to access live and on-demand content on smartphones and tablets, is set to launch later this year. The company is also planning to launch a restart functionality, "allowing viewers switching on mid-way through a program to watch from the start using catch-up links built into the Freeview Play TV guide." Among the planned improved navigation plans is a voice search option.

"The agreement to invest in developing Freeview as a fully hybrid platform reflects the continuing strength of linear TV but also the growth of on-demand viewing," the partners said. "[U.K. media regulator] Ofcom recently highlighted challenges created by new players, such as Netflix and Amazon, calling for more industry collaboration to maintain the prominence of public service broadcasting content on connected TV interfaces."

Jonathan Thompson, CEO of Digital UK, said: "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."

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