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Free-to-view (FTV) is a term used for free of charge and encrypted audio and/or video contents transmission that do not require any form of continual subscription. It differs from free-to-air (FTA) where content is not encrypted.

In the United Kingdom, e.g., it is used for certain television channels on the Sky satellite platform which require a working VideoGuard receiver and viewing card to decrypt the signals.

Free-to-view vs. free-to-air[edit]

The free-to-view system contrasts with free-to-air (FTA), in which signals are sent unencrypted and are available for all to see with any DVB-S/S2 decoder. Over 100 channels are currently available free-to-air, while only a few channels are free-to-view.[clarification needed - To where does this refer? (UK/Ireland?)]

Commercial restrictions and targeting[edit]

The free-to-view system allows for restricting access based on location of the viewer. For example, commercial stations such as Channel 5 are made available to viewers in the United Kingdom, but are restricted in Ireland and northern France, even though these areas are covered by the same satellite footprint, Astra 2D. Since BSkyB requires all its viewers to supply their addresses when registering, the broadcaster can select which channels that viewer can decrypt.

Using the same idea at a more parochial level, free-to-view encryption cards also allow for selecting the correct regional TV output based on the viewer's address. For example, by using the postcode given when registering the viewing card, a viewer based in Birmingham will have his/her configuration set to receive BBC One West Midlands and ITV Central West on channel numbers 101 and 103 respectively. All regional variations are available, however, and the BBC regions are allocated channel numbers in the 900 series. ITV regions can be tuned in by using the "other channels" function.

Setanta Ireland use Free-To-View for people living in Ireland. At times Setanta provides its programming on a "free" basis but due to rights restrictions they can not unencrypt the signal, instead their selected programmes are sent in the clear to Sky's Irish subscribers during some programmes and events. Setanta use this for programmes produced with the help of the Sound and Vision Fund from the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland and some major events such as the Paralympics 2012.


Main article: Freesat from Sky

Free-to-view channels can be viewed with a Sky viewing card, be it one provided by the Freesat from Sky scheme or an inactive former Sky card. All active Sky cards get the channels that are part of their subscription package. A Sky decoder box is required due to the lack of VideoGuard conditional-access modules. The free-to-view system offered by BSkyB was initially designed to offer the UK's 5 terrestrial broadcasters to viewers who did not want a subscription package.


Several standard definition satellite channels are currently only available free-to-view

Former channels[edit]

  • The BBC's eight digital channels - including BBC One and BBC Two, were encrypted under the scheme from their launch on digital satellite until 14 July 2003, when they became free-to-air.
  • Shortly after this, ITV stated its intentions to go free-to-air eventually, and launched their newest channel, ITV3, in the clear on 1 November 2004.
  • This was followed up by ITV moving its Men & Motors channel to FTA in July 2005.
  • This gradual conversion was completed on 1 November 2005, with ITV1 and ITV2 going FTA. ITV's latest channel, ITV4, was launched at the same time, also as a free-to-air service. All the BBC and ITV channels therefore can be viewed by any suitable receiver, and do not need any registration with BSkyB.
  • However as of June 2008 some ITV regions (including amongst others ITV TT South) were encrypted again due to one of their narrow beam transponder agreements ending.
  • In April 2011 High definition Channel 4 HD moved from being a free-to-view channel to a free-to-air channel (when moving to a transponder on Eurobird 12607 V 27.5 3/4).
  • On 1 December 2011, 5USA, 5USA +1, 5* and 5* +1 became free-to-air after moving to Astra 1N.
  • On 6 June 2012, Pick TV and Pick TV +1 became free-to-air.
  • During October 2012, the final free-to-view regions of ITV1, ITV1 +1 and ITV1 HD became free-to-air.
  • On 25 March 2013, Viva went free-to-air.
  • On 28 October 2013, Channel 5 HD became a subscription channel on the Sky digital satellite platform and is no longer a free-to-view channel.

Free-to-view schemes outside the UK[edit]

Outside the UK, other public-service broadcasters, for example those of Switzerland, Austria (ORF) and the Netherlands (NPO via CanalDigitaal) run a similar scheme using different encryption methods.

In Australia, the Viewer Access Satellite Television service is available for those who can not receive a satisfactory terrestrial signal. A one-off purchase of an Irdeto access card and certified set-top box is required.

In Russia, Tricolor TV is a popular satellite TV service partly operating within the free-to-view model.

See also[edit]