Free-to-air (FTA) describes television (TV) and radio services broadcast in clear (unencrypted) form, allowing any person with the appropriate receiving equipment to receive the signal and view or listen to the content without requiring a subscription (or other ongoing cost) or one-off fee (e.g. Pay-per-view). In the traditional sense, this is carried on terrestrial radio signals and received with an antenna.
FTA also refers to the concept of channels and broadcasters providing content for which no subscription is expected, even though they may be delivered to the viewer/listener by another carrier for which a subscription is required, e.g. cable, satellite or the Internet. These carriers may be mandated (or opt) in some geographies to deliver FTA channels even if a premium subscription is not present (providing the necessary equipment is still available), especially where FTA channels are expected to be used for emergency broadcasts, similar to the 112 emergency service provided by mobile phone operators and manufacturers.
Free-to-view (FTV) is, generally, available without subscription but is digitally encoded and may be restricted geographically.
These channels are described as free, but are more accurately described as free to receive. In many cases the viewer does in fact pay for them, by various means:
- by levy of a license fee (as in the case of the BBC) or
- voluntary donation (in the case of educational broadcasters like PBS)
- Consumer products and services where part of the cost goes toward television advertising and sponsorship (in the case of Japanese television broadcasters like TV Asahi and TV Tokyo which relies on sponsorship heavily, similar to Philippine Television like ABS-CBN, TV5 and GMA)
- Direct & Indirect
- One further variation is in Canada, where the CBC Television/T l vision de Radio-Canada network is partly funded by taxpayer dollars, and otherwise supports itself with commercial advertising revenues as it competes with other free over-the-air commercial networks.
Free-to-air is often used for international broadcasting, making it something of a video equivalent to shortwave radio. Most authorized FTA retailers list free to air channel guides and content available in North America for free to air use.
Australia has 5 free-to-air major networks, ABC, Seven Network, Nine Network, Network Ten, and SBS. Traditionally each network had only a single channel in any given geography, though with the advent of digital television each network now has one extra SD multichannel 7Two, GO!, Eleven and SBS Two respectively, and one HD multichannel 7mate, GEM, One and SBS HD respectively. The Australian Broadcasting Corporation is the only exception to this policy, probably because of its government ownership, the company runs three SD channels ABC1, ABC2 and ABC3, with one HD channel ABC News 24. In addition to their primary channel (simulcast on both analogue and digital). ABC and SBS channels are available across Australia; outside the major capital cities, regional affiliates provide channels that are essentially identical to the metropolitan commercial channels. In addition, Community television provides one channel in some major cities.
Australia's two main government-owned TV channels, ABC and SBS, along with the digital-only multichannels ABC2, ABC3 and SBS Two, are both available free-to-air on the Optus D1 satellite. Viewers in remote parts of Australia can also access Seven Central and Imparja Television, or WIN WA and GWN in Western Australia, through the free-to-view Optus Aurora service.
Other satellite-only channels such as NITV, TVSN, Expo, Press TV and Al Jazeera English are available free-to-air on various satellites.
In Brazil the main FTA satellite is the Star One C2, it holds approximately 30 C-band analog channels, including all major networks like Rede Globo, SBT, Record, RedeTV!, Band and others, and 5 digital HDTV channels.+itv 1
In Europe the term free-to-air would be taken by most people to refer to any non-subscription-based broadcast, regardless of distribution method (i.e. it includes terrestrial broadcasting). However, the remainder of this section concentrates on satellite FTA only.
European countries have a tradition of most television services being free to air. Germany, in particular, receives in excess of 100 digital TV channels free to air. Approximately half of the television channels on Astra's 19.2 east and 28.2 east satellite positions, and Eutelsat's Hot Bird (13 E) are free-to-air.
A number of European channels which one might expect to be broadcast free-to-air - including many countries' national terrestrial broadcasters - do not do so via satellite for copyright reasons. (Rights to purchase programs for free-to-air broadcast, especially via satellite, are often higher in price than for encrypted broadcast.) However, these channels usually provide a scheme to offer free, but encrypted, viewing with free-to-view broadcasts. The UK's Channel Five, certain programming on Italy's RAI, and the majority of Dutch channels are covered by such schemes (although in the case of RAI some programming is transmitted without encryption where there are no copyright issues). In Austria, the main national networks broadcast free-to-view via satellite; however, all regional and some smaller channels are transmitted free-to-air, and the national public broadcaster, ORF, offers a special free-to-air channel which airs selected programming without (i.e. those without copyright issues) via satellite all over Europe.
As Germany and Austria speak the same language and use the same satellite, Austrian viewers are able to receive about 120 free German-speaking channels from both countries.
In general, all satellite radio in Europe is free to air, but the more conventional broadcast systems in use mean that SiriusXM style in-car reception is not possible.
Cable and satellite distribution allows many more channels to carry sports, movies and specialist channels which are not broadcast as FTA. The viewing figures for these channels are much lower than the FTA channels.
The national networks, Television New Zealand TV ONE and TV2, as well as TV3, Four (formerly C4), Prime, Triangle TV and M ori Television are free-to-air analog signals. Additionally, satellite reception is available on Optus D1 - branded Freeview. A new Channel - TVNZ6 was introduced which will only be available on Freeview. A broadcast of parliament and a number of regional channels are also available. A Digital Terrestrial version of Freeview was launched in 2008, which, unlike the analog and satellite options, supports high definition broadcasts.
There are a number of competing systems in use. Early adopters used C-band dishes several feet in diameter to receive analog microwave broadcasts, and later digital microwave broadcasts using the 3.7-4.2 GHz band. Today, the 11.7-12.2 GHz Ku band is used, which enables the use of dishes under a meter in diameter, allowing FTA satellite to be picked up from smaller spaces such as apartment balconies. The European-developed DVB-S standard is the most commonly used broadcast method.
The most common North American sources for free-to-air DVB satellite television are:
- NHK World HD on Intelsat 9 (58 W)
- Retro Television Network on AMC 9 (83 W)
- NASA TV Multi-channel (NASA HD, NASA Public, NASA Media, NASA Education), TVU Music channel and This TV on AMC 15 (105 W)
- ABC News Now on Galaxy 28 (89 W)
- Eternal Word Television Network on Galaxy 17 (91 W)
- My Family TV on Galaxy 3C (95 W).
- AMGTV and BYU Television on Galaxy 19 (97 W)
- English and foreign language broadcasters RT (TV network), MHz Worldview, Ebru TV, IRINN, Al Jazeera English and more up-linked by GlobeCast World TV on Galaxy 19 (97 W)
- Christian broadcasters such as The Word Network, Emmanuel TV, Daystar Television Network, JCTV, Trinity Broadcasting Network, The Church Channel, 3ABN, The Hope Channel, Amazing Facts Television, God's Learning Channel are broadcast from the Galaxy 19 (97 W) satellite for Glorystar and Spiritcast Satellite Systems TV.
- Pentagon Channel on AMC 1 (103 W)
- Jewish Life Television and University of Washington TV on Galaxy 18 (123 W)
- Montana Public Broadcasting Service and other PBS Satellite Services on AMC 21 (125 W)
- Classic Arts Showcase on Galaxy 17 (91 W) and Eternal Word Television Network HD on Galaxy 15 (133 W)
- Football, Basketball, Baseball, Soccer, and Hockey wildfeeds on various satellites
Most of these signals are carried by US satellites. There is little or no free Canadian DVB-S content available to users of medium-size dishes as much of the available Ku-band satellite bandwidth is occupied by pay-TV operators Shaw Direct and Bell TV, although larger dishes (over 3 feet/90 cm) can pick up some content. FTA signals may be scattered across multiple satellites, requiring a motor or multiple LNBs to receive everything.
The largest groups of end-users for Ku-band free-to-air signals were initially the ethnic-language communities, as often free ethnic-language programming would be sponsored by Multilingual American Communities and their broadcasters. Depending on language and origin of the individual signals, North American ethnic-language TV is a mix of pay-TV, free-to-air and DBS operations. Today, many American broadcasters send a multitude of programming channels in many languages, spanning many new channels, so they can get National support, which ultimately leads to carriage by cable systems, to additionally support the high costs of broadcasting signals in this way.
Nevertheless, free-to-air satellite TV is a viable addition to home video systems, not only for the reception of specialized content but also for use in locations where terrestrial ATSC over-the-air reception is incomplete and additional channels are desired.
Around 50 FTA television channels are broadcast from three transponders on the INSAT-4B satellite covering India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal, Sri Lanka and parts of Afghanistan, China, and Myanmar. In India, the channels are marketed as DD Direct Plus by Doordarshan, India's national broadcaster. In Hong Kong, the largest and dominant television channel Television Broadcasts Limited, was the first free-to-air commercial television channel when it commenced broadcasting on 19 November 1967. It may also well be the among the oldest and first station to broadcast over-the-air in Southeast Asia.
In Korea, KBS, MBC (2 main public broadcaster, such as the ARD and ZDF of Germany), SBS (privately owned, but for free to viewers), and EBS (including both TV and Radio) are the free-to-air broadcasting stations. They dominate more than 80% of advertisement profits, according to the recent survey from the agency. Due to the recent government's decision, Digital TV service for all free-to-air network will be scheduled before the year 2012, following at the end of analogue-based current broadcast.
- Satellite dish
- Satellite television
- Set-top box
- FTA receiver
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