For the first time ever, all big four public broadcasters are involved in managing and developing both Freeview and Freesat.
Channel 5, itself owned by ViacomCBS, joins the BBC, ITV and Channel 4 with a shareholding in Digital UK Ltd. Digital UK is the platform management company for both Freeview and Freesat, following a merger earlier this year.
Viewers and installers may remember Digital UK as the company that oversaw digital switchover a decade ago. Since then it has it taken full responsibility of the management, development and operation of both UK free-to-air platforms.
In the 2000s, Freeview and Freesat were involved in safeguarding free-to-air television through the digital switchover. Until then, multi-channel television had previously been dominated by pay TV services. In the 2020s, public service broadcasters are relying on Digital UK to provide TV manufacturers and audiences with a platform that provides prominent access to their live and on-demand content. Digital UK’s role is seen as vital following the growth of big budget multinational streaming and pay TV companies.
Caroline Thomson, Chair of Digital UK said:
“We’re delighted to welcome Channel 5 to Digital UK and thank all our members for their continuing support. The future of free-to-view television is critical to providing all UK viewers with high-quality British content and we look forward to working with all public service broadcasters to develop and deliver continually evolving and compelling free TV services across Freeview and Freesat.”
Sarah Rose, Chief Commercial & Operations Officer, ViacomCBS UK, said:
“We’re delighted Channel 5 has joined the BBC, ITV and Channel 4 to help shape the future of free-to-view TV as part of Digital UK. Channel 5 plays a distinctive role in public service broadcasting in the UK and, as part of ViacomCBS can bring a unique perspective to the opportunities that lie ahead.”
Earlier this year, transmitter and multiplex operator Arqiva left Digital UK, leaving the organisation solely in the hands of broadcasters.
What does this mean for viewers?
With Channel 5’s buy-in, viewers can be reassured that Channel 5’s live and on-demand services will continue to form a key component of both Freeview and Freesat. For example, Freesat viewers have already benefitted from Channel 4 becoming a shareholder in Freesat through its shareholding in Digital UK. Having Channel 5 on board means services such as My5 will continue to be developed and integrated in to future Freeview devices.
Digital UK is also working on adding IP-delivered channels on to Freeview, which would be made available above channel 300. This is something Channel 5’s owner ViacomCBS has great expertise in. ViacomCBS owns IP-channel streaming service Pluto TV and has also developed its own live channel streaming service on Paramount Plus.
Under previous owners, Channel 5 remained distant from Freeview and Freesat. Under Viacom ownership, Channel 5 finally launched its HD service on free-to-air platforms and developed new free-to-air services.