The next 12 months look set to be much quieter for terrestrial broadcasters, with fewer major sporting events and no major frequency changes affecting Freeview. But there are a number of developments bubbling away below the surface…
Despite the growth of streaming, Freeview remains a default or sustaining platform for most households, with most TVs including a Freeview tuner to fall back on.
We take a look at seven developments to watch out for in the coming year:
In its latest update, the BBC has promised to complete its upgrade of BBC One HD in England by April, that’s slightly later than the end of March deadline it’s set for satellite.
Timelines for each region will be published in the coming weeks.
But Freeview will not be getting HD versions of BBC Parliament, nor BBC Alba HD in Scotland. There isn’t sufficient bandwidth allocated to the BBC to do this at present. In June 2022, BBC News HD was withdrawn for the same reason.
Freeview channels that are staying
Narrative Entertainment, the owner of channels including GREAT! movies and POP! renewed Freeview carriage, as did Gems TV and PBS America in the past 12 months.
But overall, it’s a challenging time for broadcasters. At the end of 2022, vacant slots remained on some Freeview multiplexes.
Freeview channels that are going
Smithsonian Channel will become the first departure of the year from Freeview (5th Jan), with Paramount Global migrating the channel’s content to Paramount+ and Pluto TV.
As a recession affects commercial incomes, and larger media groups pour all their money into streaming services, expect other organisations to be reviewing their channel portfolio as their carriage deals end.
Streaming channels that don’t have a UK licence
In the past two years, China’s CGTN and Russia’s RT have been banned from UK airwaves. But a UK-only ban only has limited implications. RT, which was sanctioned by the EU before Ofcom officially revoked its UK licence, dropped off Freeview in March after its feed to the UK was cut.
CGTN, however, having only been banned in the UK, continued broadcasting on satellites that are receivable in the UK. And its secured a replacement broadcast licence in France, which means it can, thanks, to a pre-EU agreement – the European Convention on Transfrontier Television (ECTT) -continue to be available in the UK.
CGTN is now one of a growing number of channels not licenced by Ofcom that can be accessed through Freeview’s streaming channel portals, found above channel 260 in the guide. This includes America’s Newsmax (via channel 264) and OAN (via channel 271). The trend is for this type of channel to continue to grow, offering a unique selection of services to Freeview Play users.
The broadcasting industry is showing no sign of hurrying any switch from from DVB-T to the newer DVB-T2 standard or from SD to an all HD environment, meaning Freeview is technologically no longer a world-beating service. The vast majority of TVs and set-top-boxes sold in the last decade would be compatible with such a move.
Instead, with uncertainties over the future of terrestrial TV beyond 2030, broadcasters are more inclined to invest in streaming.
The current incarnation of Freeview Play is suitable for streamed services as a compliment to existing terrestrial broadcasts. However, it is lacking the ability to function in an all-IP environment. And truly universal and affordable access to high speed internet is still lacking.
Restoration of services in parts of North East England
This spring, Arqiva is due to switch on the new Bilsdale transmitter mast, a structure that will be the ninth tallest in the UK. At that point, some households will have had to endure over 18 months of degraded service following the fire that knocked signals out in August 2021. Arqiva estimates that 80% of households in some way or other relied on Bilsdale to deliver TV and/or radio services across the North Yorkshire, Teesside and County Durham area.
Temporary relays dotted around the side of the North York Moors currently provide a basic service, carrying the main Freeview channels only.
Once the new Bilsdale mast is switched on, the local TV multiplex covering Teesside will have its coverage boosted, so that for some households, there might be a few extra channels that weren’t around before the fire.
The World Radiocommunications Conference 2023, a international event organised by the ITU, a UN agency, will make binding decisions on the future use of broadcast spectrum. Delegates will be travelling to Dubai this coming November.
For the UK, Europe and Africa, a key decision on the future use of remaining terrestrial TV frequencies will be made. This will determine if Freeview will need to be wound down by 2030, or whether the can will be kicked down the road by a few more years, to align with the preferred 2034 end-date for terrestrial TV. Whatever happens, except to hear much more about an IP-switchover.
Incidentally, the closure of the COM7 multiplex this year was the final fallout of WRC-15, which confirmed that the 700MHz frequency band would be cleared of TV services in favour of mobile services.
by Iain Hatton