Freeview’s Guy North Watches Out For ‘The Mass Market’

The managing director of the Freeview free-to-air digital terrestrial TV service aims to provide an “honest and easy-to-understand way for people to get the content they love.”

Freeview’s Guy North Watches Out For ‘The Mass Market’

Demystifying tech and delivering content to the mass market present some unique challenges for U.K. broadcast service Freeview.

Launched in 2002, the Freeview free-to-air digital terrestrial television service counts BBC, Sky, Channel 4, Arqiva, and ITV among its shareholders. In October 2015 the organisation launched its connected product, Freeview Play, offering on-demand and catch-up services.

Guy North, formerly head of marketing at the BBC, joined Freeview in 2011 as a marketing director. He took over as managing director in June 2014. When caught up with him, we began by asking what his role entails.

North: I’m responsible for running what is a £20 million business. We are predominantly a marketing and communications-based organisation, responsible for marketing, promoting, and licensing the Freeview brand. A key part of my remit is to manage and maximise shareholder investment within Freeview, as we are a not-for-profit organisation funded entirely by our five shareholders.

A lot of my time is taken up with managing shareholders and stakeholders across the business. I also have direct contact with broadcasters and content providers and, from a regulatory point of view, Ofcom and The Department for Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS). I work closely with consumer electronics companies too, because we license the brand out to manufacturers of TVs and set top boxes. It is a very varied role.

For a brand that is so big—Freeview is in about 19.5 million homes in the U.K.—we are a small team of 12 people, and we share back-office staff and office space with Digital U.K. What are the biggest challenges of marketing the Freeview brand?

**North:**The broadcast market is now more complicated than ever before, with all sorts of new entrants and content providers, including mobile operators. It means there are so many different ways that consumers can get content today, and it can be quite baffling. One of the pillars of Freeview is that we aim to provide a really simple, honest, and easy-to-understand way for people to get the content they love—that has always been at the heart of the brand and I think people appreciate that.

We have recently launched Freeview Play, our connected offering. The same challenge applies, and we are trying to keep things as simple and straightforward as possible so people know exactly what they are getting. At the heart is the fact that there are no monthly subscriptions—the Freeview service is free once consumers have bought the TV or set top box—but educating consumers and demystifying the technology is a massive challenge for us.

Despite the innovative nature of the broadcast market, we do not seek to lead or innovate—we are much more about bringing new technology to the mass market in an affordable and accessible way. In the same way as Freeview helped the population move from analogue to digital, with Freeview Play we are looking to help take people from digital into the connected world, in a way that is easy to understand. Does being a free service present challenges as well as opportunities?

**North:**Yes. Unlike Pay TV providers, we don’t communicate with our customers daily on a one-to-one basis, because there is no subscription, which means we don’t have that customer data. We are increasingly putting more emphasis on our owned channels such as our website, which attracts up to two million views a month, and we are looking to capture data from social media channels, so that we can start to build up a database of people who we can communicate with, one to one. is your target audience and how has this changed?

North: Over the last year or so, we have redefined our key target audience. Within the U.K, there are about seven million homes who are totally committed to Pay TV because they want sport or movies, for example, and they pay a considerable amount of money on a monthly basis. At the other extreme there are seven million homes who will always stick with Freeview. The people we need to target are the middle ground of about 11.2 million homes who are much more flexible—they may want more content than they can get on a free basis, and they certainly want new technology when it is available, but they are not looking to be cutting edge.

This big group in the middle tend to be existing Freeview homes who want more, or low-end Pay TV homes who aren’t getting as much value out of their subscriptions as they could. That is the audience we are looking at now. They are likely to be 25-to-45 year-olds with young children—that is the sweet spot. is the best way to reach this “middle-ground” audience?

**North:**We are heavily biased towards TV advertising because of our shareholders and the way we are funded. We get a lot of air time from both ITV and Channel 4, which is fantastic, but it does mean our media plan is a little too heavily skewed towards TV. If I was producing the perfect media plan to reach that target audience, I would like a little bit more digital work to support what we do on TV. We do some digital, but maybe not as much as I would like.

The Freeview brand is not as visible as some of the Pay TV brands. When we run TV ads, awareness rises nicely, but as soon as we come off air, there is a danger that awareness slips a little bit, which has implications for our media strategy. We are trying to make sure we sustain that awareness.

To drive traffic to our website we have set up a newsletter that people can subscribe to, and we have over 100,000 people signed up, which is a good start. We also run regular competitions through the website and through Facebook and Twitter, and these are effective ways of capturing data. What role does mobile play at Freeview?

**North:**For us, mobile is more interesting from a content distribution point of view than a marketing perspective. We have a TV guide app, which launched five years ago and proved very popular, but the world has moved on very quickly and when people go to the app now, they expect to touch the screen and access that programme instantly. They can’t do that yet with our app.

My ambition is, therefore, to be able to replicate the Freeview TV experience on mobile devices. We are some way off being able to do that at the moment because our shareholders have their own mobile strategies with their own apps—for example, BBC iPlayer, All 4, ITV Hub—delivering content on mobile devices. We have to work with the shareholders to identify exactly how Freeview as an aggregated service would work. I think there is real value in it for consumers and for the Freeview brands, so that is the aim. How strong is the current demand for mobile content from your audience?

**North:**There are often headlines about the death of linear TV, but all of our experience shows that people use mobile devices to supplement their TV viewing, not to replace it. That is how we view it—any sort of mobile experience would be complementary to how people watch TV.

With the younger generation—16-to-24 year-olds—there is more shift in terms of watching short and long-form content on mobiles and tablets. I think one of the interesting questions facing us and the broadcast industry is around how the behaviour of this first “mobile” generation will change as they get older. Will they continue to consume lots of content on mobile devices or will they revert to watching more on TV? It will be fascinating to see. How is your marketing team set up?

North: I have a marketing director who has a head of brand strategy and insight, and a senior brand manager, and marketing executive working for him. I also have a head of digital and a head of communications, as well as one technology specialist who looks after licensing the brand to manufacturers. We are fairly traditionally structured by function, but, at a more junior level, I am looking to get people in who can work across communications, marketing, or digital, because there is so much blurring of lines between the areas now. For example, where does social media sit? Frankly, it doesn’t really matter to me—it is all about getting the right people in who are able to do good things across all of those areas. So while we are structured by function, I am encouraging people to work much more closely together and that is starting to take shape.

We are also in the process of setting up our own Freeview community that we can dip into for quick and easy research—whether creative work or propositions—so we have a pool of people we can access at very short notice. Our head of brand strategy and insight works with a research executive on this area, and that is increasingly critical in a fast-paced industry. We need to keep across where consumers are at and be able to react quickly. Can you share an example of a recent Freeview marketing campaign?

**North:**The Freeview Play campaign on TV is still running. The soundtrack is “I Dreamed a Dream” from “Les Miserables.” Prior to launching it, we ran a teaser ad, which showed our cat and a budgie ad being interrupted by interference. That created a lot of buzz on social media and we allowed that to roll. It got a lot of traffic on Twitter in particular, with nearly a thousand mentions and a potential reach of 1,773,631, and it built anticipation. One person even called ITV to check they hadn’t been hacked. A week later the campaign launched, first with a two-minute version to set up the story, then a shorter version, which focused much more on the Freeview product and how it works.

We don’t have any stats yet, but key measurements will be brand awareness and understanding of the new product, as well as calls to action such as website traffic. The ultimate test will then be sales of Freeview Play products, which are going well so far. How do you see Freeview staying relevant going forward?

**North:**More of the same. If we don’t evolve and keep up with people’s expectations and needs, we become irrelevant and that is why we have launched Freeview Play. What will be really important now is ensuring that we keep updating the functionality within Freeview Play and keep adding new content providers. We have a road map for the future and I would love for mobile devices to be part of that. We are not a Sky or a Virgin when it comes to leading innovation, but we must keep up with consumer expectations and keep making technology available in an affordable and accessible way for that mass market audience.