A 40-second spot during last night's Downton Abbey was enough to knock out the Freesat website as viewers rushed to find out more about how to get satellite TV for less.
The spot highlighted Freesat's new <freetime> offering which integrates the various free VoD services offered by the BBC, ITV and so forth, but the spike in interest probably had more to do with Sky customers looking to cut some costs and realising that a monthly subscription can be avoided entirely.
Freesat only hit a million users in 2010, but has been growing slowly and like all satellite services it has bandwidth to spare with more channels than one can usefully navigate through. Sky is so closely associated with satellite that other satellite services are seen as comparable, though in fact Sky has been deemphasising its delivery technology for the last half decade to paint itself as an aggregator of content rather than a broadcaster.
Most of those who pushed over the Freesat site will have only stayed long enough to discover that the sports for which they're currently paying 60 quid a month are only available from Sky, but for those not interested in sports a Sky subscription is increasingly hard to justify.
Sky is well aware of the way things are heading, and its Now TV service looks to compete with Netflix and Lovefilm Instant for the all-you-can-watch on-demand streaming which seems to be the future of television, but Now TV is entirely decoupled from the monthly channel subscriptions which make up Sky's existing revenue.
Historically multichannel TV has made money by bundling channels into bouquets, filling out a few roses with a spray of greenery while claiming to have created personalised bundles, while filling them all with adverts so the broadcaster can collect money from both sides. In straightened times customers don't want to pay for foliage any more, and for the moment those offering ad-free alternatives are mopping up subscribers.
Freesat isn't trying to compete with premium offerings from the likes of Netflix and will likely benefit from the trend of viewers combining free channels with paid VoD services. The question is really if paid VoD services can survive against the free options such as 4oD and iPlayer. The challenge is to educate viewers about their options so they can make sensible decisions, something Freesat's 40-second spot seems to have managed. ®