company_name = Freesat
company_type = Digital Satellite television provider
foundation = 16 May 2007
location = UK
owner = BBC (50%)
and ITV plc (50%)
industry = Media
homepage =

Freesat is a British free-to-air digital satellite television service developed by the BBC and ITV plc. The service began broadcasting on 6 May 2008 and offers a satellite alternative to the Freeview service on digital terrestrial television, with a selection of channels available without subscription for users purchasing a receiver. The service makes use of the additional capacity available on digital satellite broadcasting to offer high-definition channels.



BBC and ITV, the two biggest free-to-air broadcasters in the UK, have made their services available digitally through three routes: free-to-air via digital terrestrial and digital satellite, and subscription-only via digital cable.

On digital terrestrial, the channels have always been available free-to-air with the appropriate equipment. However, Freeview is currently available to only 73% of the population. [cite web
title=The Consumer Experience - Policy Evaluation 07
accessdate = 2008-05-11
] After analogue TV services are replaced in the planned digital switchover, this will increase to 98.5% for the public service channels and 90% for the full Freeview service. In order to provide more widespread coverage and a larger number of channels, a digital satellite alternative is necessary.

The digital satellite platform has largely been controlled by the commercial operator BSkyB. Initially, both the BBC's and ITV's channels were encrypted since the original satellites used for Sky Digital broadcast to most of Europe but the broadcasters' rights for premium content such as films and sports typically covered the UK only.

The use of encryption meant that any viewer wishing to view the channels had to purchase equipment from Sky and pay for a free-to-view viewing card in order to decrypt the channels. Similarly, in order to use the Videoguard encryption, the broadcasters needed to pay a fee to NDS Group.

Move to free-to-air

In May 2003 the BBC moved all of its channels onto the Astra 2D satellite, which has a footprint that focuses more tightly on the UK. [cite news
last = Jay
first = Alan
title = BBC ceases Astra 2A transmissions
publisher = Digital Spy
date = 2003-05-29
url =
accessdate = 2008-04-27
] This move allowed the BBC to stop encrypting its broadcasts while continuing to meet its rights obligations. It dropped the encryption two months later. [cite news
last = Jay
first = Alan
title = BBC shifts FTA transmission date
publisher = Digital Spy
date = 2003-05-09
url =
accessdate = 2008-04-27

In September 2005, the BBC and ITV announced that they would collaborate on a free-to-air satellite service to complement Freeview. [cite news
title = BBC and ITV to start Sky TV rival
work = BBC News
publisher =
date = 2005-11-07
url =
accessdate = 2008-04-27
] Two months later, ITV also moved their channels over to Astra 2D and then made them free-to-air.

The free-to-air channels could then be received using any standard digital satellite (DVB-S) receiver. However, the Freesat project aims to provide a more managed service with an Electronic Programme Guide, interactive features and approved receivers, similar to the Freeview service launched three years earlier.

The initial plan was to launch the service in early 2006. This was postponed to Autumn 2007 as approval from the BBC Trust was only received in April 2007.cite press release
title = BBC Trust Approves "Freesat"
publisher = BBC Trust
date = 2007-04-27
url =
accessdate = 2008-04-27
] However, the service was further delayed and was officially launched on 6 May 2008. [cite news
title = Freesat confirms launch date as May 6
publisher = Digital Spy
date = 2008-04-30
url =
accessdate = 2008-05-03


:"See also: List of channels on Freesat"

Launch channels

The service launched officially on 6 May 2008. From the launch, Freesat advertised all national television channels from BBC and ITV as being available on the platform (excluding ITV2 +1), as well as all national BBC radio networks. [cite web
url =
title = freesat - What's On
accessdate = 2008-05-07
] Channel 4 also managed to make most of its channels free-to-air in preparation for the launch. In addition some channels from other broadcasters such as Chello Zone, CSC Media Group, Al-Jazeera English and Euronews were included on the channel list. [cite news
title = In full: Freesat channels at launch
publisher = Digital Spy
date = 2008-05-06
url =
accessdate = 2008-05-07
] Five and its sister channels were notably absent at launch, as were channels from BSkyB, MTV Networks and UKTV.

High definition

BBC HD was the only high-definition channel available on Freesat from launch day, [cite news
url =
title = Free satellite TV service begins
work = BBC News
publisher =
date = 2009-04-06
accessdate = 2008-05-07
] with ITV HD added as a 'red-button interactive' service from 7 June 2008. As of June 2008, ITV HD is only available via Freesat [Cite web
url =
title = Confirmed: ITV HD is Freesat exclusive
publisher = Digitalspy
date = 2008-05-06
accessdate = 2008-05-06

As of May 2008, no high definition channels are available via digital terrestrial. However, Ofcom have confirmed that from 2009 high definition TV will be available on Freeview, requiring an HD Freeview box. [cite news
url =
title = Freeview to get HD TV from 2009
work = BBC News
publisher =
date = 2008-04-03
accessdate = 2008-05-07
quote = Up to four free HD channels will be broadcast, including the BBC's service. ITV, Channel 4, Five and Welsh network S4C will be invited to bid for three slots in which they can broadcast high definition TV, or other new services.

Future channels

Freesat has said that it expects 200 channels to be available by the end of 2008 [cite web
publisher = Broadband TV News
title = Freesat plans 30 new channels a month
date = 2008-05-06
url =
accessdate = 2008-05-07
] and 230 by early 2009.cite web
publisher = Digital Spy
title = Five 'cleared for Freesat launch'
date = 2008-07-24
url =
accessdate = 2008-07-26
] , with around 30 channels added each month. In July, 2008, Freesat announced that there were a number of "exciting music and international" channels to be added in the near future including another exclusive-to-Freesat channel and potentially more high definition content.

Channels from one of the main terrestrial broadcasters in the UK, Five, are currently encrypted on digital satellite. At launch, Freesat confirmed that Five would be added to the channel lineup during 2008. [cite web
title = Freesat consumer brochure – May 2008
url =
format = PDF
publisher =
date = May 2008
accessdate = 2008-05-07
] In July, 2008, Freesat announced that the delay in adding Five was caused by rights issues which have now been resolved. They expect Five to have been added by the end of 2008 and more details will be released shortly.

In March 2008 the Irish public broadcaster Radio Telefís Éireann announced that its new international channel, RTÉ International, would be made available on Freesat by March 2009. [cite press release
title = Diaspora TV to be on air by next St. Patrick's Day
publisher = Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources
date = 2008-03-17
url =
accessdate = 2008-06-15

The Scottish Gaelic language TV channel BBC Alba was added to the Freesat EPG when the channel launched in September 2008. [ [ Gaelic Digital Service: BBC Trust Public Value Test final conclusions ] ] TV programmes are broadcast in the evening usually from 17:00. At other times the frequency is used to broadcast Radio Nan Gàidheal and on-screen graphics.

Freeview channels that are unavailable on Freesat

Due to contractual issues, a number of channels which are available on Freeview are not available on Freesat. Virgin 1, TMF, 4Music, UKTV History, Dave, Five US, Fiver, Sky3 and Sky Sports News are all available on Freeview but encrypted on digital satellite. Unless these channels also become free-to-air, they will be unavailable on Freesat. Sky News is not scrambled but is not available from the Freesat EPG. At launch, only the Humax Foxsat-HD set-top box allowed owners to access non-Freesat stations. However, the Alba group boxes (Grundig, Bush, Goodmans) can now perform this function due to an over-the-air software upgrade.

Reception equipment


At the launch of the service, there were two types of Freesat receivers available — standard definition-only receivers and high definition-capable receivers. As of June 2008 there are only four companies licenced to produce freesat boxes [That is boxes designed for the freesat platform; but anyone can make a free-to-air receiver] . No Freesat recorders (PVRs) are currently available, but Humax will have launched one by the end of 2008. [cite web
last = West
first = Dave
title = Humax claims lead on high def Freesat box
publisher = Digital Spy
date = 2008-04-15
url =
accessdate = 2008-04-27


Following the initial launch, Panasonic introduced three plasma televisions with integrated HD Freesat receivers.

atellite dish

The service makes use of the same fleet of satellites as the popular subscription satellite service Sky Digital: Astra 2 and Eurobird 1. This means that any satellite dish which has been used to receive this service will be capable of receiving Freesat, with the addition of a receiver.

For users who do not currently have a satellite dish, Freesat offers an installation service which is made available through retailers and which is advertised in a leaflet included with Freesat receivers. It is also possible to buy a satellite dish and install it yourself.

Outside the UK

It is possible to receive Freesat outside the UK, but with a larger dish as the Astra 2D footprint is intended to cover just the UK. Receivers ask for a postcode during installation, but this is just to determine which regional services to select.

Technical details

Freesat broadcasts from the same fleet of satellites (Astra 2 and Eurobird 1) as Sky Digital. Channels are broadcast using DVB-S. The Freesat electronic programme guide is broadcast from the Eurobird 1 satellite situated at 28.5° east. One common misperception though is that there is a separate set of channels broadcast specifically for Freesat and specifically for Sky. Not so. There is only one BBC3, for example, and it is receivable by Sky boxes, Freesat boxes, FTA boxes and any other satellite-receiving equipment. What distinguishes Freesat from Sky is the EPG. Freesat, like Sky, have nothing to do with the actual broadcasting and availability of the channels, what they do is to provide a platform and EPG for receiving the channels.

All the channels broadcasting to date are broadcasting using DVB-S. Standard definition channels are broadcast using MPEG-2 for compatibility with Sky Digital boxes. BBC HD is broadcast using MPEG-4 since it does not need to be compatible with Sky's non-HD boxes. Currently, BBC HD uses DVB-S since the channel shares a transponder with several SD channels.

The specification for Freesat boxes includes having an ethernet socket on the back. This is to allow on demand programmes provided by the BBC iPlayer or the new on demand Kangaroo service (provided by the BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and five) to be viewed directly on the customer's television. This feature should become operational in the future.


Freesat is not the only way for viewers in the UK to receiving digital satellite television without paying a subscription.

*FREESAT from Sky offers a non-HD proprietary Sky receiver, a viewing card and installation and enables viewing of many free-to-air and free-to-view digital satellite channels.
*Other non-Freesat-branded free-to-air digital satellite receivers and kits can be used to view free-to-air digital satellite channels, although they may not allow access to all the facilities available on receivers designed to meet the Freesat specification.
*European services provided by Eutelsat can be received in the UK using appropriate equipment.


External links

* [ Official website]
* [ BBC News: Q&A on Freesat]
* [ Freesat Blog]
* [ Freesat Information & News at the Astra 2D Website]
* [ Up to date Freesat information and news]
* [ Freesat channel listing, F.A.Q and hardware review]
* [ Latest news, reviews, advice and Freesat price comparison]

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