The Gaelic-language channel wants ‘greater visibility’ in Northern Ireland, so as to attract more ‘passing viewers’.
According to the Belfast Telegraph, TG4 hopes a move up Freeview’s channel ranking will achieve this. TG4’s Director-General Alan Esslemont said the broadcaster had been “seeking to promote itself more widely in Northern Ireland in 2021 as it marked its 25th anniversary”. But the broadcaster says its channel slot means viewers are less likely to stumble across its programmes.
TG4 previously asked Digital UK, the organisation responsible for managing Freeview channel numbers, for a more prominent slot. In 2020, TG4 requested a move to Freeview channel 8. At the time, it argued that it should have greater prominence, like S4C in Wales and BBC Alba in Scotland. Freeview channel 8 is currently empty in Northern Ireland.
Instead, on 4th November 2020, TG4 moved down from Freeview channel 51 to 52. This was part of a national reshuffle ensuring all UK-based public broadcasters were found in the top 24 slots of the channel guide ahead of new Ofcom rules coming into force.
And next month, Freeview channels below 23 in the channel list will be shuffling down, to create a national channel slot for BBC Three, which returns at the beginning of February. This could result in TG4 moving down again, this time from channel 52 to 53.
No regulatory decision on TG4 Freeview number
The decision to award a channel particular prominence rests with Ofcom. Ofcom’s decision is based on a channel’s UK public service broadcasting status. The regulator recently rewrote prominence rules in preparation for BBC Three returning. However, there is currently no specific provision for TG4 gaining an advantage in the channel list, as it is not a UK public broadcaster.
TG4 launched in the Republic of Ireland in 1996, becoming the home of Gaelic language programming. TG4’s inclusion on Freeview in Northern Ireland is a result of the Good Friday agreement. The agreement initially allowed TG4 to broadcast in analogue in the Belfast area. A special multiplex carrying RTÉ and TG4 was established to continue broadcasts after the digital switchover. But by the time TG4 arrived on Freeview in 2012, higher ranking channel numbers were already allocated to other channels.
TG4 does not enjoy any prominence on other platforms in Northern Ireland, either. On Sky in Northern Ireland, the channel is on 163. Meanwhile, Virgin Media offers the channel in Northern Ireland near the bottom of its channel list, on channel 877.