31 December 2008

Review of 2008

It's been another busy year reporting on the comings and goings, trials and tribulations, controversies and celebrations which have transformed digital terrestrial television. The new year will bring further changes, and the future of the platform looks bright. But let's not forget some of the news stories from 2008 which have helped to push Freeview to the fore of Britain's digital revolution.

The year started with some sad news: radio station Oneword arguably became the first casualty of the "credit crunch" when it's owners simply couldn't afford to keep broadcasting, and who any potential buyers steered well clear of. The station ceased broadcasting just two weeks into the new year, leaving the future of DAB looking slightly shaky, too. It wasn't long before some positive news came through, though: UKTV began broadcasting in widescreen, while Top Up TV launched their new 250GB Anytime box (and announced a content deal with Disney).

Viewers in Wales lost the CITV channel in February when the children's channel was moved into ABC1's old slot to allow for 24/7 broadcasts of ITV4. S4C countered the move by announcing their intentions to launch a kids channel of their own... and asked to be gifted some capacity in order to do so! Elsewhere, Ofcom's plans to squeeze HD channels onto DTT are met with criticism from the DTG.

Bloomberg left Top Up TV in March, fuelling rumours that it might finally launch on Freeview (it never did), while National Lottery Xtra came to Freeview (but only for an hour each morning). Further wrangling over plans to launch HD channels surfaced, but Ofcom stood it's ground and even announced plans to improve coverage of commercial multiplexes C and D to the UK population – 87.6% of which now had some form of digital TV.

Various reviews of the Switchover programme all came to roughly the same conclusion: that it had been a success. Ofcom's response was to speed-up the process by halving the "limbo" period between analogue and all-digital services in future switches. In other news, Five Life was replaced by Fiver, Sky said they would consider launching their controversial Picnic service on IPTV (via broadband), and Ofcom officially launched their HD-DTT plans.

Ofcom postpone a ruling on Sky Picnic; Rabbit launches and The Jewelery Channel leaves.

Transmission changes leave around 1% of Freeview receivers useless because they are incompatible with the new specifications. Birmingham and the Midlands are the first region affected by the national roll-out of the network enhancements, which only affects boxes that did not adhere to Freeview specifications because they were manufactured before these were finalised. Discovery revamp their presence on Top Up TV, and are joined by Warner Bros content; Setanta extends weekend broadcasting hours; and Virgin 1 went widescreen.

Freeview Playback is re-branded as Freeview+ to jump on the Sky+ bandwagon. Gems TV launch a second channel on Freeview as, due to technical constraints, they can't broadcast on the same channel number from two separate slots on two different multiplexes. Ofcom announce switchover dates for the West and Westcountry. ITV begin advertising a tenth stream on multiplex A. Ofcom advertise two HD slots for Freeview.

Broadcasts of BBC Parliament are suspended on Freeview to allow for the launch of an enhanced BBC Sport interactive service. Thanks to Parliament's recess, Freeviewers can choose between three extra video streams of Olympics coverage using the new service. Elsewhere, the BBC World Service joins other BBC services on multiplex B; it emerges that 250,000 people had to buy new receivers following the launch of new transmission standards; ITV and Channel 4 submit their proposals for broadcasting in HD on Freeview; The Hits is replaced by 4Music; and Sky Three becomes Sky 3.

BT Vision launch HD on-demand content... and at the other end of the scale, Smile TV 2 launches a sub-standard-definition service on multiplex A. Ofcom and Sky get into a war of words over Picnic, which Sky decides to shelve... days before Ofcom provisionally approves the plans! Sony launch their Freeview add-on for the PlayStation 3, the Play TV.

The stakeholders in Freeview are finding it increasingly difficult to agree on decisions, according to reports. Sky is generally thought to be the "bad apple" of the bunch. Five add content to BT Vision; another Freeview slot is advertised on multiplex C or D, which is quickly snapped up by Discovery for a brand new channel. Eurosport and Clyde 1 cease broadcasting on DTT, and CNN announce they will be replacing Nuts TV in the new year. Ofcom finally announce plans for local DTT multiplexes.

Switchover proper begins and ends in the eastern Border region. Mojo Radio ceases broadcasting, and Orange officially scrap plans to launch an IPTV service to rival BT Vision. Five consider launching a kids channel, and Freeview consider the need to have an EPG shuffle.

A huge number of changes to Freeview in January are announced: DirectGov, Discovery's new channel "Quest", CNN, NetPlay and upto three more new services will be joining the platform. Price Drop and Nuts TV will both be leaving. The credit crunch has already snuffed out plans for new radio station Closer to launch, and could claim Ideal World as another victim.

30 December 2008

More Freeview capacity up for grabs

Arqiva, the operator of multiplexes C and D, is inviting bids for some spare Freeview capacity which will become available from January. A 04:00 to 06:00 slot for a television channel is being offered alongside a 24-hour 144kbps stream (for radio or data services). The deadline for proposals is 19 January.

Price Drop TV to leave Freeview

Virgin Media Television have confirmed that Price Drop TV will leave Freeview in the new year. The contract for Price Drop expires on 5 January; it is expected that Discovery's new channel, Quest, will begin broadcasting soon afterwards.

28 December 2008

NetPlay launches on 8 January

NetPlay TV will launch on Freeview channel 48 on 8 January 2009, according to its press release.

15 December 2008

Ofcom to launch local TV auctions

Ofcom will launch an auction process to sell off local multiplex capacity in Manchester and Cardiff in February. It is hoped the process, which could be repeated at a further 79 sites, will encourage community groups to launch new, localised channels.

NetPlay to launch on Freeview

Interactive gaming company NetPlay are to launch a channel on Freeview channel 48 next year, according to reports. It isn't yet known where the capacity to broadcast this new service - be it text or video - will come from.

13 December 2008

Four HD Freeview channels by 2010

Ofcom have confirmed that there will be capacity for a fourth high definition television channel on Freeview by 2010. Public service broadcasters have been invited to submit proposals for the licence, which is being offered on the assumption that "that the latest generation H.264 video encoding and statistical multiplexing equipment will be used when the fourth service is launched". The BBC, ITV and Channel 4 are currently due to launch HD services on DTT.

DirectGov coming to Freeview

DirectGov, the UK Government's online services portal, will extend its reach on digital television with the launch of a service on Freeview in January. Ofcom have issued a licence for the service to Teletext, which suggests that DirectGov will be a text service, along the lines of NHS Direct.

Ideal World struggling

Shopping channel operator Ideal World has seen its share price slashed and has called in KPMG to review its accounting procedures after issuing it's third profit warning in as many months. The channel has laid off 15% of its staff and expects to make a loss of £4million this year.