The relaunched BBC Three won’t be available in HD on Freeview in Scotland, according to proposals as broadcaster calls on Ofcom to give the channel a prominent slot on all platforms.
The BBC has asked Ofcom to change its EPG Code, which would force TV platform operators including Sky, Virgin Media and Freeview (Digital UK) to allocate a channel number for BBC Three within the first 24 slots on the channel list.
This is because BBC Three’s original channel numbers have since been reallocated. On Freeview, its SD channel number (channel 7) is now allocated to local TV (England, Northern Ireland), Channel 4 (Wales), BBC Alba (Scotland). Its HD channel number (105) was taken within months of its closure by Channel 5 HD.
On Virgin Media, BBC Three’s channel number (channel 106) was taken over by E4. Similar reallocations exist on other platforms.
The last change to Ofcom’s EPG Code resulted in a number of channel changes during the autumn and winter so that services including BBC Alba, Channel 4 in Wales and BBC Four in Scotland would appear in the higher ranking slots on each TV service. A group of Freeview channels between channel 24-54 had to move, so that the BBC could move BBC Four in Scotland from channel 55 to channel 24 (BBC Scotland SD takes BBC Four’s normal channel number north of the border). On Sky, channels including Sky Atlantic have moved down a slot in Wales only, to accommodate a higher ranking slot for Channel 4 in Wales.
The BBC says that to limit the impact on other channels, it would be happy to take the 24th slot rather than a higher ranking slot if the code was amended. On Freeview, channel 24 is empty in England, Wales, the Channel Islands and Northern Ireland.
Plans to revive the BBC Three linear channel in January 2022 do not include making the channel available in high definition in Scotland on Freeview. And there’s a question mark over BBC Three HD’s availability in Wales on Freeview.
BBC Three will return to using CBBC’s overnight downtime from 2022, reverting back to the arrangement the two channels had until February 2016, when BBC Three took over CBBC’s bandwidth from 7pm. The arrangement will apply to both HD and SD versions of the channels.
Due to limited capacity on Freeview for HD channels, CBBC HD’s overnight downtime space in Scotland is already taken by the BBC Scotland HD channel, which launched in 2019. According to BBC documents released today, the BBC intends to run BBC Three as a standard definition only service on Freeview in Scotland, so that the BBC Scotland HD channel (Freeview 108) can continue to operate in the evenings.
For viewers with Sky, Virgin Media and Freesat, capacity limitations don’t apply, and BBC Three is proposed to be available in both SD and HD in Scotland and the rest of the country. A high definition feed will also be available on the BBC iPlayer.
It’s also been revealed that the allocation of CBBC HD’s downtime capacity in Wales is subject to discussion with S4C, which currently is unable to offer its HD channel on Freeview.
S4C itself abandoned its original HD channel called “Clirlun” in 2012 due to cost-savings, surrendering its Freeview slot in Wales to Channel 4 HD. S4C relaunched an HD service, initially on satellite, in 2016. Allocating HD capacity to S4C would allow the welsh language broadcaster to offer its post 7pm schedule on Freeview. But this would use up the available capacity, stopping BBC Three HD from launching.
As with Scotland, viewers on satellite and cable services would not be impacted by any decision.
Limitations on Freeview are a result of the UK being one of the few countries in Europe not to have launched a migration to all-HD broadcasting. This means already limited bandwidth for terrestrial broadcasts is used simulcasting channels in two formats: standard and high definition.
Elsewhere in the UK, it’s proposed that BBC Three will be available in both HD and SD on Freeview and in both formats on other digital platforms.