Dozens of Freeview channels will move down the channel list in 2022 if Ofcom approves the linear return of BBC Three.
Following a consultation over the summer, Digital UK, Freeview’s platform manager, agreed that broadcasters will get an eight week notice period of the change.
If Ofcom approves the return of BBC Three, it is widely expected to require platform operators to make a prominent slot available on Electronic Programme Guides (EPGs). In line with other public service broadcasters, that slot will be in the top 24 positions in the channel list.
In anticipation of the announcement, Digital UK has been planning for the return of BBC Three on Freeview. The plans involve clearing channel 23 by moving existing services down. Channel 24 is currently empty in most of the UK, but in Scotland, the slot is used by BBC Four.
As a result, Dave Ja Vu, currently on channel 23, would move down to 25. ITV4 and all services in to the 50s would move down one slot.
To facilitate this, Digital UK has been in consultation with broadcasters in order to make a change to its channel number allocation rules.
Ahead of the change, on-screen and online announcements would notify viewers. The addition of BBC Three would require a retune, although some newer devices will automatically make the changes.
Freeview changes to accommodate BBC Three
Here is a sample of the Freeview channel list, showing how channel numbers could change under the new proposals. BBC Three would launch on channel 23.
|Channel Name||Current channel number||Proposed new channel number|
|Dave Ja Vu||23||25|
|GREAT! TV (available in some areas only)||49||50|
|TG4, RTÉ One and RTÉ2 (Northern Ireland only)||52, 53, 54||53, 54, 55|
Final channel number allocations may vary, subject to individual channel operators taking the opportunity to reshuffle or change their services at the same time as wider changes to the Freeview channel list.
The plans were broadly endorsed by broadcasters, although industry body COBA, representing commercial broadcasters, did ask Digital UK “to consider the wider proposals for mitigation put forward by the BBC”. It quoted that. In its Public Interest Test submission to Ofcom, the BBC suggests that BBC3 would take a higher position on the EPG than 24 until a lower position amongst its own portfolio is released, such as through the retirement of a BBC HD channel. This could potentially mitigate the impact on other channels.”
However, this mitigation would not apply to Freeview, as unlike on Sky and Virgin Media, the BBC does not have another service lower down in the same genre section that would be retired. On Sky and Virgin Media, the BBC currently lists BBC One HD separately in England. This listing will be retired once the existing regional BBC One on channel 101 goes HD. As a result, at least in parts of the UK, the channel number can be recycled for BBC Three.
Ofcom is expected to make its final verdict within weeks. In September it give a preliminary green light, subject to a further consultation with broadcasters.