Sports coverage previously broadcast on the channel is being sublicensed to other broadcasters, it has lost its main free-to-air outlet and there’s change at the top.
FreeSports was launched on Freeview in 2017, providing free-to-air access to a range of sports from around the world. At its peak, the channel was available on Freeview, Sky, Virgin Media, Freesat, BT TV and TalkTalk TV.
It has since lost all but Sky and Virgin Media, although it can now be streamed online through the Premier or FreeSports Player or through Samsung TV Plus. But recent developments now give the impression the channel is being wound down.
ITV’s recent deal to screen 10 La Liga games per season for the next three years has fuelled this impression. Live La Liga was one of FreeSport’s most high profile sports broadcasts. The ITV deal ends a three-year arrangement that saw Premier Sports, as primary rightsholder, allow its sibling FreeSports to screen a number of free-to-air games each season. FreeSports served for many years as a shop window for Premier Sport’s premium content. It’s now become a shop window with a limited audience:
No traditional free-to-air outlet
Ever since its Freeview service closed, FreeSports is no longer listed on any of the free-to-air channel lists. That’s an important point as some broadcast rights holders want to allow some free-to-air coverage to help promote their sport or league. Legally, it still counts as free-to-air thanks to its unencrypted satellite signal.
FreeSports’ Freeview contract ended as part of wider changes to the Freeview platform, which meant its former slot was closed to clear frequencies for 5G. But multiplex operators have advertised alternative national slots that could have allowed it to remain on the platform.
Its outlet on Freesat ended two years earlier, following reports of a disagreement over carriage fees. So far, there’s been no movement on that, although, satellite viewers can (at the moment) still manually tune in the channel. Its unencrypted satellite signal is currently added to the Sky channel guide.
Meanwhile, FreeSports has quietly removed marketing material claiming its availability on BT and TalkTalk TV, after we highlighted how it was still promoting these outlets, despite being no longer available. Availability on BT and TalkTalk TV was linked to Freeview, as both platforms are a hybrid of Freeview and IPTV.
Change at the top
Last month, Swedish media company Viaplay announced it was acquiring Premier Sports’ UK operations.
As part of the announcement, Viaplay confirmed it has plans to rebrand its newly acquired channels.
Not only does Viaplay want to add its brand to the channels, it wants to change what they broadcast. In the takeover announcement, it confirmed it wanted to introduce non-sports programmes on the channels.
For sports fans hoping that FreeSports will come back to Freeview, the Viaplay takeover indicates that the channel is unlikely to return in that format.
And as Viaplay want to push its streaming service, will the current Premier Sports 1 and 2 services be sufficient ‘shop windows’ for the broadcaster? Or will FreeSports become something completely different – technically evolving into a completely new service?
Viaplay has yet to confirm further details regarding its plans for the UK, including when its streaming service will launch. It has not commented the specifics of its takeover and how it will affect FreeSports.
Later this month, FreeSports turns five. The odds are against it turning six.
Iain Hatton, features writer, RXTV