Launched in 2013 as a way to get extra HD channels to viewer’s homes, extra Freeview capacity on COM7 ended up giving viewers access to a wide range of channels.
With coverage peaking at around 75% of UK households, COM7 (and lesser used sister multiplex COM8) struggled to attract many HD services, with broadcasters tied in to long-term pay TV deals. Instead, the capacity was used to open up anything from an Arabic rolling news channel to a US courtroom channel to digital terrestrial TV viewers.
Here’s our pick of the many different services that made use of that experimental capacity:
1. Talking Pictures
Talking Pictures first launched in May 2015 with its now successful mix of classic movies and vintage TV series. By September 2015, it had secured a slot on COM7 allowing it to try out Freeview.
What makes Talking Pictures so different is that it isn’t owned by a major broadcaster. A family business, ‘TPTV’ was founded by producer/editor Noel Cronin, and run by his daughter Sarah Cronin-Stanley with her husband Neill Stanley.
It didn’t have a large advertising budget. Neither did it have the funds to secure an expensive Freeview slot.
But COM7 provided cheaper access.
Following positive viewer reaction, ratings and increasing ad revenue, the channel signed a new four year contract in 2018, allowing Talking Pictures to move to a different, more widely received multiplex.
2. Al Jazeera Arabic
This was a surprise addition to Freeview in 2014, becoming the platform’s first ever Arabic-language service.
Removed again in 2017, it’s unclear how many viewers the channel ever got on Freeview.
COM7 also allowed sister channel Al Jazeera English to be available for a few years in HD on Freeview. Freeview was one of the first platforms around the world to gain the HD version of the channel.
3. Motors TV
The channel started off its Freeview life as a streamed channel back in the day when not that many TVs supported streaming. It soon launched as a regular channel on COM7, quickly gaining a following of motorsport fans across the UK.
Motors TV suffered numerous outages, crashing off air for days as rumours over the broadcaster’s financial position grew. Motors TV was eventually taken over by motorsport.tv, now a streaming-only service.
Another unexpected channel on Freeview, as many South Asian TV services are behind a paywall.
Rishtey (now known as Colors Rishtey) came out from behind the paywall to offer Freeviewers a taste of Indian entertainment. Programmes on Freeview were abruptly suspended at the end of 2015, before returning in February 2016 – viewers were never told why.
Sister channel Colors also briefly made its way on to Freeview, as did Colors Cineplex.
In summer 2017, the channels were removed as they retreated back behind the paywall.
5. VIVA (UK)
COM7 was also a dumping ground for channels. Music channel VIVA looked doomed when Viacom (now Paramount Global) prepared to launch Spike on Freeview in 2015.
In the end, VIVA was shunted across to COM7 and down the Freeview channel list to 57.
Initially the channel was on air for a couple of hours each morning, before being reinstated briefly as a full-time channel on 1st December 2015.
VIVA was finally removed from Freeview at the end of January 2018, ahead of closing completely.
6. Court TV
For a three month period in 2021, Freeviewers gained access to live US court coverage. The short-term Freeview carriage deal was designed to showcase the Court TV’s coverage of the trial of former police officer Derek Chauvin. He faced court over the death of George Floyd and was subsequently convicted of George Floyd’s murder. The death triggered mass protests around the world, shining a light on the actions of US law enforcement towards black Americans.
Court TV lives on in the UK on other TV platforms, including Sky.
7. Forces TV
At first a military factual channel, by the time Forces TV arrived on Freeview, it had started to carve a niche with its ‘Best of British’ TV format.
Its operator, the charity BFBS, announced its closure so it could focus its resources on its core purpose: to entertain, inform and connect UK armed forces and their families.
8. PBS America
Originally launched as pay TV channel, PBS America went free-to-air in the autumn of 2015. But it wouldn’t be until 2018 before the channel arrived on Freeview, where it took a slot on sister multiplex COM8.
Featuring high-brow and award-winning factual shows from the US Public Broadcasting Service, viewer response was positive. So when a more permanent slot on Freeview became available, it moved.
It’s +1 channel took over a temporary slot, that is being closed as a result of the end of COM7.
9. Smithsonian Channel
Another US channel specialising in factual programmes was given a step up on to Freeview through COM7.
It launched in early 2019 at a time when Freeview capacity was so tight, launching on COM7 was the only way to get a foothold on the platform.
But when 5Spike and Paramount merged a year later, Smithsonian moved to the resulting spare capacity, boosting its Freeview coverage.
Ever since 2003, there had been plans to develop a free-to-air sports channel for Freeview. After Sky Sports News withdrew from Freeview, the sports void on the platform was keenly felt.
Freesports launched on Freeview in August 2017 and is part of the same company that operates Premier Sports on pay TV platforms.
Being free-to-air, it was never able to compete with larger pay TV operators, but it has enabled access to a variety of sports – from Ice Hockey to Speedway – that may never have been available on Freeview.
Operated by broadcast infrastructure company Arqiva, the licence for COM7 expired on 30th June, to make way for 5G services. Sister multiplex COM8 closed two years ago.