Controversial broadcasters who don’t hold an Ofcom broadcast licence can currently find their way onto the Freeview channel list. That loophole looks set to be closed.
- US right-wing news outlets and China’s CGTN have used the loophole to reach viewers in the UK.
- Currently viewers accessing certain streaming channels see a pre-load warning.
- But Everyone TV, the operator of the UK’s free-to-view TV platforms plans to slowly close the loophole.
Everyone TV says the raft of streaming channels that’s appeared above channel 260 don’t meet its objectives of encouraging a migration to an all-IP TV environment. It’s outlined changes to the treatment of these channels which will affect viewers who migrate from Freeview or Freesat to its new platform Freely.
At present, a rule that requires channels to be licensed with Ofcom or a regulator in a country signatory to the European Convention on Transfrontier Television (ECTT). But this currently doesn’t extend to the streaming services carried on Freeview.
This grey zone once allowed China’s CGTN to reappear until late last year, despite Ofcom revoking its broadcast licence. It was only removed once its host – Vision TV – was delisted from the Freeview channel list.
Meanwhile, Freeview’s streaming offer also includes right-wing media outlets including Newsmax, which is available on channel 286 and OAN, available through Channelbox (271).
Newsmax has previously contained content on the US Presidential Elections, Covid-19 and climate change that would have been heavily scrutinised by Ofcom if it was broadcasting through the terrestrial airwaves. Such outlets could currently circumvent restrictions placed on traditional broadcasters around a UK general election.
At the moment, viewers attempting to access these streaming services will see a pre-load warning with a link to the Ofcom website, advising them that normal UK broadcasting rules and the watershed don’t apply.
Going forward, Everyone TV says these channels don’t meet its definition on IP-delivered channels. Therefore, these streaming channels will from now on be referred to as ‘hybrid streaming channels’. That’s because they rely on an HbbTV portal broadcast via the terrestrial network, which directs devices to the correct streams.
As a result, these channels will be relegated lower down the channel list, becoming less visible to viewers. This will only apply when a viewer makes the switch from Freeview to Freely in the future.
At the same time, any channel provider that wants to benefit from a better position in the list and switch to full IP-delivery will need to conform to Freely’s listings rules. Otherwise, they would no longer be eligible for a channel slot.
As a result, the channel will then need to meet certain requirements laid out by Everyone TV. The channel will also be required to hold a valid broadcast licence.
This second requirement will instantly stop the most controversial channels from continuing to broadcast.
Freely migration will kill off viability of hybrid channels
Once Freely devices hit the shops, Everyone TV will begin to withdraw support for new Freeview Play and Freesat receivers.
Over time, more and more viewers will have to migrate to the new platform when they replace their current TV or other kit. And as each viewer makes the switch, the hybrid streaming channels become less visible below shopping, faith and international channels. (At the moment, they are immediately below the news channels in the list.)
This will gradually make distribution as a HbbTV hybrid streaming channel less economically viable. As a result, Everyone TV will have stifled this type of channel without explicitly banning them.
Meanwhile, the Government has also stated it wants to regulate online services including Pluto TV, Samsung TV Plus, LG Channels and Amazon Freevee, which will also close further loopholes that currently allow non-Ofcom licensed channels to broadcast to the UK. The Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) is currently analysing feedback from the recent consultation on the matter.