The female skewing lifestyle channel and the home of Emma Willis: Delivering Babies, Inside the Ambulance and Tipping Point repeats is set to become a Freeview channel soon.
Industry journal Broadcast understands UKTV is planning to make the free-to-view switch this spring.
The move is not a surprise, as UKTV has been stocking up on Freeview capacity in recent years.
In October 2020, UKTV purchased the owners of the CCXTV channel and with it a 24 hour broadcast slot and high ranking Freeview channel number. Early in 2021, UKTV closed CCXTV and parked Drama+1 on Freeview. It also moved timeshift channel Dave Ja Vu to channel 23 (recently moved to channel 25 to make way for BBC Three).
With a switch to free-to-view, W will fully fill the gap left behind when its previous female-skewing channel Really was sold three years ago. Really was one of three UKTV channels sold to Discovery in 2019, as part of a deal enabling BBC Studios, the BBC’s commercial arm, to take full control over the remaining UKTV services.
The move will leave Alibi, Eden and Gold as the last remaining UKTV pay TV channels.
On-demand and Freesat boost
But the free-to-air switch of W will allow UKTV to boost its ad-supported streaming platform UKTV Play. UKTV Play can only offer catch-up and on-demand programmes from channels not tied into pay TV carriage contracts.
And the switch should also allow Freesat viewers to access the standard definition version of the channel for the first time. All of UKTV’s free and pay TV channels share a UK spotbeam transponder. Individual services can be easily switched from pay to free.
UKTV hasn’t yet confirmed the move.
A channel with a chequered history…
The channel, originally called ‘Watch’ has had a difficult time since launching October 2008. At times it has struggled with its identity, chopping and changing its look and its programmes amidst competition from other pay TV channels.
Launched as part of a major revamp of UKTV services in 2008, it became the new home for Richard and Judy after they left Channel 4. It also offered digital repeats of Torchwood and provided a UK outlet for Dancing with the Stars (US version). But Richard and Judy’s show and the rest of the channel struggled with low viewing figures. The show was soon axed and the channel underwent the first of many rebrands.
In 2016, the channel became “W” and repositioned itself as a premium entertainment channel targeting some of BBC Three’s former viewers. At the time, the channel took over nightly 10pm EastEnders repeats following the original closure of BBC Three. These were axed two years later. It also continued the story of BBC Three’s The Call Centre, following its star Nev Wilshire setting up an Indian branch.
In subsequent years, the channel has repositioned itself again as a female skewing reality entertainment channel. New original programmes have helped attract new viewers to the channel. In 2021, Stacey Dooley Sleeps Over peaked with 477,000 viewers, with MasterChef Australia attracting over 300,000 viewers.
(as of 16th February 2022)
- Dave Ja Vu
- Yesterday+1 *
Pay TV channels
*Yesterday+1: Placeholder slot on Freeview channel 75: 0500-0700 only; also broadcasts free-to-air full time on satellite, but isn’t yet on the Freesat EPG.
Did Watch replace UKTV Bright Ideas?
Some reference works state Watch replaced the lifestyle channel UKTV Bright Ideas. In fact Bright Ideas closed in October 2007. Watch launched a year later in 2008.