22 December 2006

Review of 2006

The end of 2006 marks the end of another exciting year for Digital Terrestrial Television in the UK. Not only have we seen changes to the channels and services themselves, but also witnessed the creation of a definite switchover timetable. What once may have seemed like a flight of fantasy will soon become a reality: the first major area to switchover will see analogue signals turned off in just ten months; the first regions to switch only have to wait until 2008. The switch will (no doubt) be plagued with problems, but is unlikely to be disastrous. Over 70% of households now have access to digital, and this figure grows with every set-top box bought; the Government has announced financial aid will be in place to ensure no-one gets left behind.

A major contributor to the success of digital take-up is the continuing popularity of Freeview. This year saw the platform go from strength to strength (albeit at the expense of other factors) in terms of its channel line-up and appeal. Let’s look back at Freeview’s 2006:

Say hello, wave goodbye
The year began with a pretty bizarre tale: someone’s Freeview box managed not only to send a transmission signal, but also one on the exact-same frequency as the international distress signal! Coastguard helicopters were dispatched to trace the SOS call, only to find it had come from some poor Freeviewer’s front room… Despite being called a “one-off incident”, the same thing happened the next month in February!

Following the closure of the ITV News Channel in December 2005, ITV were able to launch the CITV Channel in March. The runaway success of the BBC’s children’s channels (CBeebies is one of the most-watched digital television channels) and ITV’s reluctance to show children’s programming on the struggling ITV1 led them to launching their own rival channel…

Advertising revenues have been falling almost continually on ITV1 since the launch of multi-channel television. To combat the loss of viewers on their flagship channel, ITV launched as many sister channels as possible: at least if people weren’t watching ITV1, they could still be watching ITV2. This tactic appeared to be working: it even prolonged the life of ITV’s Men & Motors channel (which had been expected to close with the launch of ITV4). Unfortunately, ITV’s coffers were still running low. After a hugely successful trial, they decided that a 24-hour quiz channel - ITV Play - was the way to claw back some cash. It replaced Men & Motors in April…

Rumours that a new channel might be using the space overnight that UKTV History has no use for were proved correct when trashy late-night television channel Smile TV appeared on April 26…

The new series of Big Brother in May saw an end to the broadcast of More4+1 on Freeview, in favour of a live stream from the house. This service was ended before the series finished, however: it was taken off-air in July to make way for the launch of Film4, which moved to Freeview on the 23rd. Channel 4 had announced the movie channel would become a free service in line with their ambition to be seen in as many homes as possible: they believe future revenues can be generated from on-demand content…

Also in July, the launch of Virgin Radio

The massacre of the existing Top Up TV line-up (more in a moment) was a result of Five taking back some of their channel slots from the pay-TV company. Five was lagging behind all the other terrestrial broadcasters, who each had at least 5 channels on Freeview (in comparison to Five’s 1), and needed to beef up its multi-channel presence. On October 15th and 16th, Five Life and Five US were launched…

BBC Parliament had only been broadcasting in quarter-screen 4:3 before November, when it became available in glorious widescreen, although at the expense of picture quality on it and the BBC’s interactive services…

Channel 4 started the Freeview quiz channel phenomenon with Quiz Call - but fortunately they saw sense and replaced it with Film4+1 this November. Cynics would tell you that Channel 4 were eager to get rid of Quiz Call because they feared upcoming legislation would cripple their channel’s ability to make tonnes of money, but whatever their motives it’s actions like this that have helped Freeview to become such an attractive proposition. Even FTN, who are notorious for showing rubbish shows and quiz programmes, are cutting the crap and launching a new half-decent schedule for 2007…

Higher up in the channel numbers, Teletext Games appeared and will launch fully next year, while December has seen the launch of 2 new radio stations, Heart (with regional variations, to boot) and the Radio Music Shop. The text service NHS Direct has also appeared on Sky Text page 800…

The revolution will be televised (and available on-demand)
The decision by Five to take back capacity from Top Up TV could well have sounded the death-knell for the subscription television operator. Instead, they have capitalised on the fact that the unattractive overnight capacity on Freeview could be used to their advantage. By broadcasting content overnight to be recorded on to their new Anytime set-top boxes, Top Up TV have not only survived the change, but deserve to prosper from it. The channel line-up they currently show “live” is - make no mistake - poor: but their new service, especially when combined with Setanta Sports next year, is an exciting addition to DTT.

This year, DTT said goodbye to the live versions of Bloomberg, Boomerang, Toonami, Red Hot and UKTV Food: the hours of the remaining channels was severely reduced. Next year will most likely see further reductions to allow a 24-hour Setanta Sports channel to launch, bringing Premiership football to DTT for the first time since the collapse of ONdigital: by then the lure of Top Up TV Anytime should be attractive enough to see the company succeed.

The number of DTT-plus-broadband services looks only to increase over the coming years. BT fired the opening salvo with the launch of BT Vision: the content looks good, although as with all new developments, concerns over the technology still remain.

2007 and beyond
Switchover begins
2007 looks set to be another exciting year. As people grow increasingly familiar with Freeview (and new digital technologies in general) the opportunities for combining DTT with new services (such as BT Vision or Anytime PVRs) looks set to grow. Switchover will force DTT on to some households, but provided there remains a commitment to keeping the platform alive with quality services - a commitment that will be driven and policed by public demand - the UK looks fairly well set to embrace the digital switchover.

20 December 2006

DTT receivers still flying off the shelves

The latest figures from Ofcom show that 1.4 million DTT set-top boxes and IDTVs were sold between July and September this year. The number of homes with Freeview now stands at just over 7 million (compared to the 6.4 million homes without any form of digital television): 73.3% of the population now have digital telly.

19 December 2006

Switchover help to cost £600 million

The Government will spend £600 million on providing assistance to the elderly, disabled and disadvantaged with digital switchover. Those who receive income-related benefits will have the cost of converting one television set to digital television paid for them; those who do not will only have to pay £40 for the same privilege. The money will come from the television licence fee.

15 December 2006

Heart begins broadcasting on Freeview

Heart has commenced broadcasts on Freeview channel 728 in England and Wales. The service is regionalised: listeners will hear either the London, West Midlands or East Midlands feed of the radio network, depending on their location in the country.

NHS Direct to launch on Sky Text

NHS Direct - the health information text service that has been promising to launch on Freeview since the dawn of time - will be launching on Sky Text. Tuning to channel 108 and pressing the blue button (or going to Sky Text page 800 or 802) currently displays a “coming soon” message.

12 December 2006

Report: Flextech could drop subscriptions

A feud between Sky and Flextech over subscription revenue could see Flextech channels go free-to-air. The channels - including Living, Bravo and FTN - are currently only available with a basic Sky subscription on satellite. A move onto Freeview for the channels could be feasible: Flextech have a 75% stake in the stream used for FTN and UKTV Bright Ideas; rumours suggest that FTN could even be re-branded to become the company’s flagship channel.

11 December 2006

BBC to trial own “on-demand” service

Following the launch of Top Up TV Anytime, the BBC is to launch a trial of its own on-demand service, BBC+, in London. The 3-month trial will see 300 householders equipped with a PVR which automatically records 50 hours of BBC content each week, and that has capacity for 50 hours of personal recordings.

08 December 2006

Radio Music Shop launches on Freeview

Radio Music Shop has launched on Freeview channel 729 (and Sky Digital channel 0208) today. The station plays a wide range of music, all of which is available to purchase by calling 0906 6800081.

07 December 2006

Ofcom reveal post-switchover figures

Media regulator Ofcom has confirmed that 98.5% of households will have access to the Public Service Broadcast multiplexes (1, 2 and B) after digital switchover. This figure matches the proportion of the country that currently has access to analogue terrestrial television. Commercial multiplexes A, C and D will be available to at least 90% of households; improving this last figure is the responsibility of the multiplex owners who would have to apply for additional transmission sites.

FTN to drop Quiz Call - for programmes!

FTN looks to be attempting to shake off its reputation as one of the weakest Freeview channels with a new schedule from the beginning of next year. Several popular shows from its sister channels - including The L Word, Bullseye and The Crystal Maze - will be replacing quiz and travel shop programming.

04 December 2006

BT Vision launched

BT have officially launched their BT Vision Freeview-plus-broadband offering. The service provides on-demand content, delivered via your broadband connection, alongside the standard Freeview line-up. Initially, the service is only available to BT Total Broadband subscribers (as the BT Home Hub is required), although new customers can choose to subscribe to Total Broadband at the same time to take advantage of the special installation offers.

In other news, Teletext Cars is now a regional service, only featuring cars available in your region. As a result, it now uses less bandwidth, most likely paving the way for the launch of Teletext Games. The “Noggin” children’s block on TMF is now known as Nick Jr., and simulcasts the channel’s morning programmes.

30 November 2006

“Anytime” boxes released December 4

The set-top boxes required to access the new Top Up TV Anytime service will begin being sent out to customers from Monday, December 4. Boxes should be sent out on a first-registered, first-served basis. The move coincides with the launch of BT’s rival Freeview-plus-broadband "on-demand" service, BT Vision.

27 November 2006

Teletext Games appears on channel 103

Teletext Games has appeared on Freeview channel 103. The channel will feature Keno, Roulette and Face-Up Hold’em from “the New Year”. It is currently broadcasting some (rather tinny) audio alongside a placeholder. Teletext Games can be found on multiplex A.

16 November 2006

Film4+1 launches on Freeview

Film4+1 has replaced the Quiz Call channel on Freeview. It can be found on channel 32. Quiz Call programming is still available on FTN and overnight on Five. Film4+1 is a temporary measure, filling the capacity until Channel 4 launch a new channel in the slot.

13 November 2006

BBC Parliament goes full-screen

BBC Parliament is now available in full, widescreen on Freeview. The channel had only been accessible as a quarter-screen feed due to space-sharing with the BBC News Multiscreen service on DTT. You may need to re-scan your digital box to see the change: the existing quarter-screen service will move to channel 305. Until then, the service is still temporarily available in quarter-screen.

11 November 2006

Freeview brand gets a new look

As previously reported, the Freeview brand has been given a mini-revamp, with a new logo and website launched today. The new look and “free TV land” promotion can be seen at freeview.co.uk and in upcoming Christmas marketing campaigns.

08 November 2006

Heart, Radio Music Shop appear

Placeholders for radio stations Heart and Radio Music Shop have appeared on Freeview channels 728 and 729, respectively. As yet, there is no data or audio being broadcast. The stations are being carried on multiplex 2 (ITV/Channel 4).

16 October 2006

Five US launches on Freeview

Five's second digital sister channel, Five US has launched on Freeview channel 35. Broadcasting 24 hours a day, initially only showing programming from 16:00 each day, Five US will showcase the best of Five's imports from America and extended coverage of American sport.

15 October 2006

Five Life launches on Freeview

The first of Five's two new digital channels, Five Life has launched on Freeview channel 36. The channel will show children's programming every morning under the Milkshake! brand, with spin-off programming and repeats from Five throughout the afternoon and evening. Five Life will broadcast from 06:00 to 23:00 every day.

08 October 2006

Placeholders for Five Life, Five US appear

Placeholders for new Freeview channels Five US and Five Life have appeared on channels 35 and 36 respectively. Viewers may have to retune to receive the new services which launch later this month.

04 October 2006

Freeview channels change places

A number of Freeview channels have moved to new LCNs (channel numbers) today. ITV4 has moved to 28 (from 30), Film4 moves to 29 (from 31), E4+1 moves to 32 (from 30), ITV Play changes from 35 to 31 and Quiz Call switches to 32 from 36. Five US and Five Life will broadcast on channels 35 and 36 respectively.

25 August 2006

Five confirm new channel details

Five have today confirmed details of the two new sister channels they will launch on Freeview this October. Five Life will broadcast between 06:00 and 23:00 on channel 26, launching on October 15. Five US will broadcast from 16:00 to 01:00 on channel 35, and launches October 16.

02 August 2006

TVTV Digital appears on Freeview

TVTV Digital has appeared on Freeview channel 304. The new service will provide electronic programme guide (EPG) listings for selected digital receivers by broadcasting data overnight between 02:00 and 06:30. It shares capacity with Virgin Radio during these hours.

23 July 2006

Film4 launches on Freeview

Film4 has launched on Freeview channel 31. The first movie shown on the new-look and subscription-free channel was Lost in Translation: from tonight, the channel will broadcast daily from 15:00 to 03:00, showing classic films in the afternoons, blockbusters in the evenings and specialist/foreign films later at night.

20 July 2006

Switchover will start in Whitehaven

The government have revealed details of the first place in the UK to undergo digital switchover. Whitehaven in Cumbria will be the first town to see its analogue television signals switched off and replaced by digital broadcasts in Autumn 2007. The surrounding Border region will not complete its switchover until mid-2009.

18 July 2006

Virgin Radio launches on Freeview

Virgin Radio has launched on Freeview channel 727. The station broadcasts in 128kbps stereo between 06:30 and 02:00, and 96kbps mono between 02:00 and 06:30 when it shares its capacity with YooMedia (who lease the station broadcast capacity).

17 July 2006

FilmFour begins video testing

Promotional video testing has begun on FilmFour (Freeview channel 31) ahead of its launch on July 23. As expected, the testing has replaced the live stream from the Big Brother house (channel 305) before the reality series' conclusion.

05 June 2006

Five announce launch of new digital channels

Five has announced it will launch two new digital sister channels on Freeview in the autumn. "Five Life" will be aimed at a female audience with dramas and soaps, and will also show children's programmes under the Milkshake! brand; "Five US" will showcase first-run US drama such as CSI, Law and Order, Greys Anatomy and Criminal Minds.

The capacity for the new channels will come from the channel slots currently leased to Top Up TV, meaning the subscription television package currently offered by the company will no longer be possible from autumn. Without access to as many primetime streams as before, a new service "Top Up TV Anytime" will see the company switch from providing conventional channels to "on-demand" style programming. Using overnight capacity, programmes will be "downloaded" to a new set-top box, the Anytime PVR, for viewers to watch later in the day at their leisure.

30 May 2006

Sky Text and FilmFour appear on Freeview

Sky Text has today appeared on Freeview channel 108, although the service is still available by pressing red on any Sky channel. Channel 31 has been re-named FilmFour (from More4+1) in anticipation of the channel’s July launch on Freeview.

26 May 2006

“As-live” Premiership games via BT Vision

BT Vision, the Freeview-plus-broadband offering from BT, will carry pay-per-view “as-live” screenings of Premiership games when the new rights package begins in 2007. The games, from Sky’s broadcast package, will be available after the games at 22:00, and will be available for up to 50 hours after purchase.

24 May 2006

Setanta Sports 1 to launch on DTT

English- and Scottish- Premier League sports broadcaster Setanta look to be bringing their flagship channel Setanta Sports 1 to DTT. They are expected to charge around £14/month for the new 24-hour channel, which also carries a range of other matches and sport.

22 May 2006

Top Up TV Pay As You Go to close

Top Up TV’s £2-a-day Pay As You Go service will close on May 31. All credits/vouchers unused by this date will become void.

18 May 2006

Big Brother interactive stream appears on 305

The interactive stream for this year’s Big Brother has appeared on Freeview channel 305; access to the channel’s video content is only available through a red-button prompt on Channel 4 or E4.

Freeview Playback brand to take on Sky+

The Freeview consortium is to launch a new brand to promote sales of Freeview PVRs (Personal Video Recorders). Freeview Playback logos will appear on PVR models from later this year as the nation prepares to replace old analogue video recorders. Like Sky+, PVRs allow users to pause and rewind live TV, and skip through the adverts in recorded programmes.

17 May 2006

More4+1 leaves Freeview

More4+1 has left Freeview to make way for the Big Brother live streaming service. A placeholder on channel 31 advises viewers to tune to More4, and promotes the July launch of FilmFour. More4+1 launched on the platform on Christmas Eve 2005, and lasted only 4 months, 24 days!

Big Brother streaming, FilmFour storming

Reports suggest that Channel 4 will be broadcasting a live Big Brother stream on Freeview from the new series’ launch, only for the feed to be replaced by FilmFour on July 19. A test broadcast on E4 has revealed the service will replace More4+1.

09 May 2006

Ofcom halt Freeview promotion bias

Media regulator Ofcom has lifted regulations which limit the amount of cross-promotion ITV, Channel 4 and five can broadcast for their digital services. They have , however, introduced a new rule which prevents the channels from promoting Freeview over other digital platforms.

08 May 2006

BBC begin broadcasting HD trial

The BBC has begun broadcasting High Definition tests on digital terrestrial in central London. BBC HD1 may appear on Freeview boxes, but HD-compatible equipment is needed to actually see any pictures.

26 April 2006

Smile TV launches on Freeview

Smile TV has launched on Freeview channel 37. Broadcasting between 01:00 and 05:00 daily, the channel broadcasts using capacity leased from UKTV History.

19 April 2006

ITV Play launches on Freeview

ITV Play has launched on Freeview channel 35. The 24-hour phone-in quiz and puzzle channel has replaced Men & Motors, much to the annoyance of many viewers. Unfortunately, ITV stand to make considerable profits from the station, which are more important to the company's shareholders than providing a greater choice of programming.

09 April 2006

ITV Play to replace Men & Motors

The listings for Men & Motors indicate the channel will cease broadcasting on Tuesday, April 11. The channel will then be replaced by ITV Play when it launches at midday on April 19.

18 March 2006

UK leads the world in digital take-up

There is now a higher proportion of households with at least one TV receiving digital TV services in the UK than in any other country in the world. 70% of households now receive digital television via digital cable, satellite or Freeview. In Wales, this figure rises to 80%. No other European nation has a take-up level greater than 50%. The popularity of Freeview is largely responsible: 7 out of every 10 new digital conversions are to the DTT service.

14 March 2006

Top Up Active appears

Top Up Active has appeared on channel 107, but is currently not broadcasting. In other news, the channel name for Sky Three has finally been updated – it had still read "Sky Travel".

11 March 2006

CITV Channel launches on Freeview

The CITV Channel has launched on Freeview channel 75. Broadcasting from 06:00 to 18:00 daily, the new children's channel timeshares broadcast capacity with ITV4.

08 March 2006

ITV Play to launch on Freeview

ITV have announced the launch of a new 24-hour phone-in quiz channel on Freeview, "ITV Play". The decision to launch a dedicated channel follows very successful (read: very profitable) programming broadcast overnight on ITV1 and ITV2. The channel will launch on April 19: it is not yet known where the capacity to broadcast the channel will come from: it could replace Men & Motors.

08 February 2006

FilmFour to launch on Freeview

FilmFour is to launch on Freeview in July, and will also be available free to all Sky and cable customers. The channel will join E4 and More4 on Freeview, broadcasting between 15:00 and 03:00 daily. To compensate for lost subscriptions, films will be interrupted by commercial breaks, but the channel will not have a "DOG" (on-screen logo). In other news, BBC Parliament has moved from channel 85 to 81.

15 January 2006

Freeview box sparks air-sea rescue mission

A faulty Freeview receiver in Portsmouth somehow managed to broadcast a distress signal resulting in a £20,000 helicopter air-sea rescue mission. After a few hours the rescue team traced the "distress call" to someone's house on dry land. The box has been taken from its owner for tests by communications regulator Ofcom. Amazingly, the rogue signal was detected from RAF Kinross in Scotland who then alerted the rescue team in Hampshire.

09 January 2006

Setanta appears nationwide

A placeholder for Setanta Sports' pay-per-view service has appeared on the EPG across the UK on channel 34. The service, previously only available in the Scottish and Grampian regions, is broadcast on multiplex 2 and borrows broadcast capacity from ITV.