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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, 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 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.
Although commonly described as free, the cost of free-to-air services is met through various means:
Free-to-air is often used for international broadcasting, making it something of a video equivalent to shortwave radio. Most FTA retailers list free to air channel guides and content available in North America for free to air use.
Australia has five major free-to-air 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. With the exception of SBS, each commercial broadcaster also has one SD datacasting channel: TV4ME, Extra and TVSN respectively; SBS instead broadcasts NITV free-to-air. The Australian Broadcasting Corporation is exempt from the policy limiting the number of multichannels, and currently 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 DVB-S free-to-view Optus Aurora service, which will be completely replaced during December 2013 with the DVB-S2 free-to-view Optus VAST service.
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
European countries have a tradition of most television services being free to air. Germany, in particular, receives in excess of 100 digital satellite TV channels free to air. Approximately half of the television channels on SES Astra's 19.2° east and 28.2° east satellite positions, and Eutelsat's Hot Bird (13° east) 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. 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.
Cable and satellite distribution allow many more channels to carry sports, movies and specialist channels which are not broadcast as FTA. The viewing figures for these channels are generally much lower than the FTA channels.
In Germany there are various free-to-air DVB-T services available, the number of which varies by region. Das Erste, ZDF, ZDFneo, ZDFinfo, 3sat, Arte, KiKA and Phoenix are available throughout the country, in addition to at least one region-dependent channel which is provided by the regional ARD member. Additionally, ARD's EinsFestival, EinsPlus and tagesschau24 are variously available in some parts of the country, and various commercial channels are available in metropolitan areas.
In the Republic of Ireland, there are nine television channels and 11 radio channels broadcast free-to-air via the DVB-T Saorview service. Analog PAL versions of some of the channels were also broadcast until October 24, 2012, when all analogue television broadcasting was shut down.
In the UK, around 70 free-to-air television channels and 25 free-to-air radio channels are available terrestrially via the Freeview DVB-T service. Seven HD channels are also broadcast via a public service broadcast multiplex and a commercial multiplex, both DVB-T2.
National Kordia broadcasters such as Television New Zealand's TV One and TV2, as well as MediaWorks New Zealand's TV3 and FOUR (formerly C4), Sky Network Television's Prime and government subsidized Māori Television. Local stations such as CTV and Face TV (previously Triangle TV) were free-to-air analog PAL transmissions prior to CTV migrating to the free-to-air digital DVB-T service and Face TV's terrestrial free-to-air service shutoff from December 2013.
Additionally, satellite reception is available on Optus D1 - branded Freeview. New government subsidized channels - TVNZ6, TVNZ7, Te Reo and CUE were introduced which are available on Freeview and Sky.
TVNZ6 and TVNZ7 were discontinued in 2011 and 2012 due to government funding cuts with TVNZ replacing TVNZ6 with a less than 12 hour youth orientated music channel called U and TVNZ7 with a timeshifted TV One. U will also be replaced in 2013 with a timeshifted TV 2.
A broadcast of parliament and a number of local channels are also available. A Digital Terrestrial version of Freeview was launched in 2008, which, unlike the analog and free-to-air satellite options, supports high definition broadcasts for TV One, 2 and 3.
There are a number of competing systems in use. Early adopters used C-band dishes several meters in diameter to receive analog microwave broadcasts, and later digital microwave broadcasts using the 3.7-4.2 GHz band. Today, although large C-band dishes can still receive some content, the 11.7-12.2 GHz Ku band is also used. Ku-band signals can be received using smaller dishes, often as small as under a meter in diameter, allowing FTA satellite to be picked up from smaller spaces such as apartment balconies (note, however, that these dishes are not quite as small as those commonly used for commercial services such as Dish Network, DirecTV, Bell ExpressVu, Shaw Direct, etc. Dishes intended for those services may not deliver an adequate signal on Ku-band). The European-developed DVB-S and DVB-S2 standards are the most commonly used broadcast methods, with analog transmissions almost completely discontinued as of mid-2014.
The most common North American sources for free-to-air DVB satellite television are:
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 C-band dishes can pick up some content. FTA signals may be scattered across multiple satellites, requiring a motor or multiple LNBs to receive everything. This differs from Europe, where FTA signals are commonly concentrated on a few specific satellites.
Another difference between North American FTA and FTA in most of the rest of the world is that in North America, very few of the available signals are actually intended for home viewers or other end-users. Instead, they are generally intended for reception by local television stations, cable system headends, or other commercial users. While it is generally thought to be legal for home viewers to view such transmissions as long as they are not encrypted, this means that there are several unique challenges to viewing FTA signals that are not present in other areas of the world. Among these are:
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 (the 2 main public broadcasters), 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.