Two multiplexes of commercial Freeview channels, currently including GB News, Talking Pictures and Quest have officially had their licences renewed by broadcast regulator Ofcom.
The news will provide certainty for both viewers and TV channel operators, as the right to broadcast these multiplexes across the UK was due to expire in just three years.
The notice of renewal, issued last month, but only recently made public, permits multiplex operator Arqiva to continue broadcasting multiplex C and D (COM5 and COM6) until 31st December 2034, unless Ofcom has to revoke the licence following the outcome of the next World Radiocommunications Conference.
While the current channel line-up includes GB News, Talking Pictures and Quest, plus services from UKTV and Sky, there is no guarantee any of these channels will stay on Freeview. However, Arqiva can now negotiate longer carriage deals, with the revocation clause factored into new contracts.
Under the terms of the renewed Freeview licences for both multiplexes, Ofcom may revoke the licence no earlier than 31st December 2030. If it wants to revoke the licence, it will have to provide Arqiva with a five year notice period. Any revocation will be done with the approval of the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport.
At the moment, the terrestrial TV spectrum used by both Freeview and Programme Making & Special Events is only secure until the end of 2030.
The World Radiocommunications Conference (WRC-23) will determine later this year if the spectrum can continue to be used by TV and PMSE services for at least another four years.
If delegates agree to retain the status quo, it’s expected that the future of terrestrial TV will return to the agenda at the 2027 conference. But if a decision against terrestrial TV is reached, then the revocation process will need to be triggered.
It’s a year since the last Freeview multiplex closure. COM7, also operated by Arqiva, had to close in June 2021 following an earlier World Radiocommunications Conference decision to reallocate TV spectrum to mobile services. This resulted in a drop in the humber of HD channels available on Freeview.
All non-BBC national Freeview multiplex licences are now renewed
In 2021, ministers agreed to let Ofcom extend multiplex licences to secure Freeview’s future for the next decade. The government press release announced the news with great fanfare, but buried details of the revocation clause in the footnotes.
Arqiva was the last commercial operator to have its multiplex licenses renewed.
A process is in place to look at renewing local TV licences, also until the end of 2034.
The BBC’s first Freeview multiplex is linked to the broadcaster’s Royal Charter. The BBC previously indicated it will not opt renew its second multiplex licence, currently due to expire in 2026, until its situation becomes clearer. The second BBC multiplex carries all Freeview HD channels.